Howard Roark’s character in The Fountainhead is unwavering and beyond the effects of time, people, and mass opinion. Much of Roark’s effectiveness and integrity is drawn in contrast, a contrast to the ever-changing beliefs of those around him. These differences, and Roark’s steadfast character, can be tracked through the two trials of Howard Roark. The first trial, the suit against Roark from Stoddard, involves the same cast of characters as the second, when Roark is accused of dynamiting Cortlandt. The differences in these characters’ testimony, the different atmospheres of the court room, and the different nature of the trial all illustrate Rand’s primary theme of the integrity and necessity of the egoist.
The differences show not only the changing of mass opinion influenced by the powerful, but also the changes that Roark’s philosophy brings about to those whom he interacts with. The first trial in many ways mimics in a smaller proportion the philosophy brought out in the second. The result is the increased success of Roark’s testimony in the second trial, not towards the verdict, but to the reader.
Behind the existence of Stoddard v. Roark is the influence of Ellsworth Toohey. Toohey, the anti-Roark, is the champion of altruism and collectivism. He is opposed to individualism in order to rule the masses: “Empty man’s soul—and the space is yours to fill” (636). Toohey’s influence spreads far and wide. He has created every respectable board in every respectable creative field including architecture, literature, drama, and the press – and through his influence over the people within these boards, along with his architecture column in the well-known newspaper the Banner, he can control public opinion, tell the masses what to think, to love, and in essence destroy their souls. The only thing standing in the way of Toohey’s goal is what he calls the thinking man. As he explains his philosophy to Keating, he pushes the eradication of reason and rationality in man: “You tell him that there’s something above sense. That here he must not try to think, he must feel….Suspend reason and you play it deuces wild. Anything goes in any manner you wish whenever you need it. You’ve got him” (637). Toohey attempts to destroy the freedom of mind and the self-respect of every man. As for the individualism of Howard Roark, he says, “Can you rule a thinking man? We don’t want any thinking men” (637). Thus, Toohey sets out to destroy Roark, to turn the hatred of the masses he controls against him. He uses his influence over Hopton Stoddard to push him into giving the commission for the Stoddard Temple to Howard Roark. Stoddard then embarks on a voyage while the Temple is being built. When it is completed, Toohey criticizes the temple in his column as “the cell of a megalomaniac” that exudes “arrogance, audacity, defiance, self-exaltation” (339). The most important aspect of Toohey’s plan is the choice of the Stoddard Temple. Toohey (with the masses following) and Roark’s philosophy differ in the area of man’s place in the world. Toohey encourages humility and insignificance; Roark exemplifies the ego and greatness of man. Because of this difference, Toohey knows Roark will build a Temple of “self-exaltation,” one that he can easily discredit with the public sentiment of altruism and the religious conviction of self-sacrifice. He just as easily convinces Stoddard to sue Roark. Toohey and his influence on the masses is the driving force behind Howard Roark’s first trial.
The audience at this trial is obviously under Toohey’s control, both directly through his testimony and indirectly through his influence over public opinion. The crowd consists of all of Toohey’s proteges and colleagues, “everybody knew almost everybody else.” The atmosphere radiated a feel of “‘our bunch,’ ‘our boys,’ ‘our show’” (348). As a result, when Toohey testifies, his speech that proves the Stoddard Temple as a “monument to a profound hatred of humanity” elicits a burst of applause from the audience (350). The effect of this atmosphere is also apparent over the judge of the trial. Although the lawyer objects to Dominique’s testimony, the judge lets her continue because “he knew that the audience was enjoying it, in the sheer excitement of scandal, even though their sympathies were with Hopton Stoddard” (356). The audience seems to be driving the verdict towards Stoddard’s victory.
The two most important pieces of testimony, besides Toohey, are those of Peter Keating and Dominique Francon. Keating is Rand’s exemplary case of a “second-hander,” all his life Peter had never created architectural works of his own mind, but used history and Roark to construct his greatest buildings. At the start of his testimony, Keating is asked to list his great masterpieces, among which is the Cosmo-Slotnick building, a building designed by Roark. A change comes over Peter as he testifies against Roark, the man who is responsible for his success. His behavior is marked both with guilt and a desire for public approval: “He kept his eyes on the audience…he looked as if he were begging the crowd for support—as if he were on trial before them” (351). Keating uses this feeling, and his discomfort with Roark’s integrity, to turn his testimony into a drunken rage against Roark. Keating doesn’t understand he is a second-hander, but does understand that it is Roark who is making him feel inadequate and soulless. He blathers “I don’t see what’s so wrong with trying to please people” and later, talking about Roark’s respect for architecture and his true creative field, “What’s so damn sacred about it? …We’re only human…Why can’t things be simple and easy? Why do we have to be some sort of God-damn heroes?” (352). It is only later with Roark’s help that Keating realizes what he has become, what he in fact has always been. But at the first trial, Keating lashes out against his sense of inadequacy, made visible by Howard Roark.
The plaintiff’s case proceeds with a string of architectural greats, men who have built their careers copying the great buildings of history without a single new idea, and ends finally with the testimony of Dominique Francon. Dominique is perhaps the most complex character in The Fountainhead. It is clear she recognizes Roark’s genius yet does not believe such genius can exist in this world of mass opinion and widespread collectivism. She loves Roark, yet she tries to destroy him. Her testimony at the first trial illustrates her conflicting feelings, feelings that will change by the time Roark’s second trial begins. To begin, Dominique seems like she’s testifying against Roark. She says that Stoddard should have sued “‘not for alteration costs, but for demolition costs’” (355). She says she agrees with all the preceding testimony against Roark, and she agrees that the Stoddard Temple is a threat to humanity. But she adds that the witnesses have not told the whole truth. “The Stoddard Temple is a threat to many things. If it were allowed to exist, nobody would dare to look at himself in the mirror…don’t ask them to achieve self-respect. They will hate your soul” (356). Dominique understands why the masses hate Roark. Roark has never succumbed to the opinion of others, has always upheld his convictions and ideas. She blames Roark not for building the Stoddard Temple incorrectly, but for building something most of the world can never understand or appreciate. She asks, “What is the use of building for a world that does not exist?” and later adds, claiming to prove the attorney’s case, “The Stoddard Temple must be destroyed. Not to save men from it, but to save it from men” (356-357). After Dominique’s testimony, the plaintiff rests.
Throughout the plaintiff’s case, Roark refuses to question witnesses. After each witness, he says calmly, without fail, “No questions.” Roark does not offer a defense because he feels he doesn’t need to. His attitude, like the Stoddard Temple that Dominique describes, triggers hatred from the masses. Before the trial begins, the audience stares at Roark, alone at the defense table, and notices angrily that “he did not look crushed and he did not look defiant. He looked impersonal and calm.” The crowd could not accept this reaction to a public scandal, and could not accept that Roark was unaffected by the public’s opinion of him. As a result, all of the audience “hated him after the first few minutes” (349). A similar theme occurs on the witness stand. Each witness the plaintiff presents offers an opinion of Roark’s temple, and Roark doesn’t care about the opinion. Roark’s independence of opinion is evident through out the novel. For example, when Toohey is finally alone with Roark and asks what Roark thinks of him, Roark simple says, “But I don’t think of you.” Roark is completely independent, and the Tooheys of the world have no power over him. Accordingly, when asked to cross-examine witnesses who only have expressed opinions about him, Roark refuses. He also calls no witnesses of his own. He simply lays pictures of the Stoddard Temple in front of the judge to see. This reaction is very different from that of his second trial. But it is not because Roark has changed over the course of the novel, but because of the nature of the second trial itself. Because the second trial is fundamentally different from the first, Roark is able to testify. For now, however, public opinion wins, and Hopton Stoddard wins his suit against Howard Roark.
Many years later, Howard Roark is put on trial again, for destroying a low-rent housing project called Cortlandt. Peter Keating, whose business is now failing, asks Roark to help him design Cortlandt in order to revive his firm. Roark agrees on the condition that the buildings are not altered in any way. Cortlandt is Roark’s masterpiece, a problem he had been working on for years, and a building he could never build because of the public’s opinion against him. However, Keating breaks the agreement, and, partially because of Toohey’s agenda, the buildings are altered by “two second-handers” that Toohey is trying to glorify. However, the trial does not exist because of Toohey, as in that of the Stoddard Temple. The trial exists because of Howard Roark’s ideals. Toohey, although he did know Roark designed the housing project, did not plan that Roark would go to the extreme of destroying Cortlandt. Roark himself is behind his trial because Roark needed to destroy the building. The nature of the second trial of Howard Roark is essentially different from that of the first. In the first, Roark was asked to justify his own work to others, which he felt no need to do. In the second, he must justify the destruction of not simply Cortlandt Homes, but what the altered Cortlandt Homes stood for.
The atmosphere of the trial is changed. Toohey’s entourage is still in tow, but many others are present at the trial, “the human mass” whose “faces stood out, separate, lonely, no two alike” (674). Although they had come to witness the sensation of the trial, this audience is very different from Toohey’s celebrities of the first trial. These people “each had known a moment when, in lonely, naked honesty, he had felt the need of an answer” (675). This crowd is not under the utter control of Ellsworth Toohey. True, the crowd is referred to as the “human mass” and they’re motives for coming are not for sympathy on either side of the case. But they all are searching for an answer, an answer that Roark can provide for them.
Another difference in this second trial is the presence of the jury that Roark, as defense, has a hand in choosing. The decision of Roark’s fate is no longer in the hands of a judge who simply wants to please the crowd or his own whims. Roark also chose a “tough-looking jury,” one made up of a variety of occupations (675). Each jury member looked as if he would not respond to an appeal for mercy. The jury is consistent with Roark’s philosophy. Roark does not appeal for mercy – he sees pity not as a virtue but as a vice. By choosing such a jury, Roark is choosing a fair judgment, one free of the altruism that he opposes. Therefore, by the decision of this jury , and by the masses searching for “an answer” at the trial, Rand recognizes that the masses are capable of understanding Roark’s philosophy, and affirms that the reader, too, can understand.
The prosecutor’s case, unlike the plaintiff’s, exists not as a string of opinions about Roark, but only a string of evidence proving Roark was in fact the builder who blew up Cortlandt. On the second day of trial, the prosecutor’s only sensational witness is a much-changed Peter Keating. Although the testimony was supposed to be that of “a famous architect publicly confessing incompetence,” Keating bored the audience with his admission of guilt. Unlike at the first trial, when Peter cries out against Roark, Keating now knows that it is too late for him, that he is a second-hander. Earlier, he goes to Roark for approval, but this time for the paintings that he had always wanted to paint, but had forgotten because of his motivation for the lucrative profession of an architect. Roark had only to say that it was too late. Now Keating knows he has lost his soul. His testimony is described as having the tone of “only indifference” (676). Even the audience notices Keating’s surrender to his loss: “When Keating left the stand, the audience had the odd impression that no change had occurred in the act of a man’s exit; as if no person had walked out” (677). Keating realizes that he has lost his soul to collectivism under the guidance of Toohey. He can do nothing to save it. Dominique, although directly involved in the case, is not asked to testify. She now understands Roark, and is able to fully love him.
Finally, after Keating’s testimony, Roark makes his case. He is now able to testify, because he need not defend what he created, but explain what he destroyed and why he destroyed it. He destroyed the evils of collectivism that Cortlandt Homes represented, and he is defending the destruction of the collectivism that is engulfing the United States. Roark’s testimony describes the persecution of the thinking man, the egoist, throughout the ages of history. He also describes a choice, not between altruism and domination, but between dependence and independence. Within independence is “the only gauge of human virtue and value” (681). He describes the second-handers, who only use the creations of others and depend on what others think of them. He describes the rulers of men who are not egoists but second-handers who depend on the submission of their subjects to rule. And he finally describes the true creators to which he dedicates his testimony. Roark’s speech is extremely abstract. It is only effective, not to the jury, but to the reader, because of the changes that have taken place from one trial to the next. We have seen the extremes Roark is discussing in each of the characters of The Fountainhead. Because of the reader’s close relation to the characters, there is a concrete foundation upon which Roark’s abstract philosophy rests in the reader’s mind. Rand uses the changing characters and build-up of philosophy between the trials to support Roark’s testimony. Between the first and the second trial Keating surrenders to the loss of his independence to Toohey, Toohey outlines his philosophy clearly to Keating, Dominique finally accepts Roark as part of this world, Gail Wynand, not born to be a second-hander, almost saves himself and then succumbs to the mass opinion. The path of each character shifts and converges at Roark, whose path is unchanging. The culmination of these transformations and philosophies is in the second trial, and Roark’s testimony achieves the purpose of The Fountainhead – to spread the ideals of individualism and objectivism. And because the jury picked by Roark understands, as Rand believes the reader should understand, he is acquitted.