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The Effect of Fountainhead

Ayn Rand

This is not a story nor is an opinion piece but just an experience of a discussion session that I want to share. Fountainhead, a major literary success, read by most authors and loved by most readers was the central point of discussion. The name itself attracted book lovers to a small hall in Vile Parle. There were many first time attendants in an active Meetup group, Book Exchange Club.

The discussion started with few takers of objectivism. The host was carrying Fountainhead, the famous Ayn Rand book in her hands. Soon, the hall was filled with more enthusiasts.

Initially, I felt a bit discomfort on seeing small clusters of people, with none having a place for a new joiner like me. But, as the story began, I was engrossed in the aura of characters created by Ayn. I had not read the whole book yet I could remember all key characters of the book.

The bright and confident looking lady took out small chunks of events from the book to weave the story for a refresh. She not just presented the story but also the views of Ayn Rand on Objectivism. At first, she had been dominant enough to not let any interference but often, she was interrupted by another fine lady who had a take on every part of the story. More than a discussion, It sounded like a two way talk till some more people participated.

There was a small break given when she asked others to continue the story but there was none comfortable enough to take it forward and she was asked to continue as she knew finer details. We waited for her to complete after which she gave chance to everyone.

When everyone was asked to present views one by one, many unique views came but with common patterns of fictional jargons. I came up with one without and said,’ I didn’t want to be a good girl and this book told me that there was nothing wrong in that”, people laughed and I smiled.

I do not have the capacity to register views of everyone but here are some I can remember. I would particularly not name anyone not just to keep anonymity, but also because I do not remember their names.

I remember one guy saying that he was more of an altruist for he came for the discussion despite his dislike for the book. His views were obviously not welcomed by advocates of objectivism and were laughed at. Another girl added to the view of discomfort with the character Dominique whom she found foolish and of disturbed mind.

For those who have not read the book, my descriptions may not sound comprehensible so I take a chance to tell the story here.
The story begins with a naked man standing on the rocks, highlighting the boldness a reader can expect from the book. This man called Howard Roark is an architecture student who has his own ideas of the field that he is not willing to part with in any case. He sees himself as an individual creator of the art and reserve the right to own the ideas in full.

Opposite to him is another architect, Peter Keating who believes in making everyone happy by making adjustments. Getting results and getting famous are his motivations. He is often helped by Roark but credits are always taken for self.

Roark, a strong follower of individualism does not get acceptance in the university because of his strict ideals and has to leave the college. Peter, on the other side excels with top scores and gets a job in the most respected architecture firm founded by Cameron.

The story goes is a fight between communism and individualism.  Howard Roark with strength of his character remains unaltered despite rejections. Peter on the other side uses deception to get ahead. He cheats, he kills and he also gets to marry Roark’s girlfriend Dominique, who is another very strong and complex character in the book. She is unhappy with her life, is looking for an exile through self-torture and loves Roark but yet she marries Peter, the  growing businessman.

Peter’s career soon goes down and is then helped by Gail Wynad, owner and chief editor of a publication in exchange of a generous offer to marry Domnique. The second marriage of Dominique comes as another blow to Roark yet he lets her love go.

In the end, Roark succeeds unexpectedly with his unique ideas and gets to design several buildings. However, one of his designs are modified before beginning construction without his knowledge. This project called Cortlandt becomes very successful but Roark bombs the building and has to face a trial. In this trial, he justifies his reasons for his conduct.

He said that he was a creator and he wanted the building to look the way he imagined but the actual result was not what he wanted. He claimed that he did not get the price of his work which was not the money but the ability to see the building as he wanted.

There is one beautiful speech by Roark  in the end which I cannot replicate but you must read it from the book or you may choose to watch the movie based on the book. The story ends with most awaited contract given to Roark by Gail, to create tallest building in New York, on his own terms and exactly as he wanted. Gail tells Roark that he did not want to see Roark again while signing the contract and after Roark leaves, Gail shoots himself accepting the defeat.

The final victory of Roark is shaped by the dominant figure standing against the self constructed tallest building of New York. Domnique comes back to him.

Let us now have some reader views.

There was one lady whom I knew nothing about except that she was not an Indian. She told that when she was in her college, this book was like the bible for behaving like rebels. She got applaud from others but I particularly did not agree with her. Being a rebellion means you are going against others but if you are following someone, be it a rebellion himself /herself, you are actually not a rebellion because rebellion is a person who has his own views or individuality that he or she practices without considering others views. But, that’s only my view. For others, she had a great time.

Another foreigner expressed his wonders  about how religious bodies would have reacted to the ideals presented in this book. There was no response to his thoughts, may be because people found it difficult to understand what he was saying. I was continuously looking at him with sticky eyes to understand what he was saying. I wonder what he may be thinking about me! About the response of religious bodies, I am sure they must be breaking their heads and their wrath would have been faced by Ayn Rand. The 12 rejections from publisher itself suggest that her defiant views were not welcomed instantly.

There was a girl who could not come, but had sent a letter which was read. It was a long letter so I would only present the crux here. She did not particularly agree with Ayn Rand on virtue of selfishness. Her view was that she could feel pleasure helping others which was not a selfish act. But her views were countered by the presenter of the story. She had said that if one is able to gather happiness by helping others then that itself reflects that one is actually practicing objectivism.

There were few people who said that the book has changed their lives. I don’t know if that was true but if it did positively, then may be the author was able to create a better world. The discussion was heated and people had many strong views about objectivism.

In total, most agreed with the concept of objectivism and liked the views of Ayn Rand. I particularly liked the story, the way two worlds of individualists and communists were presented. Common takings agreed by the most were:

  • Being Selfish is not being self-centered but doing what you like
  • Highest responsibility of a person is to serve one’s own goals.
  • You must do what you wish to do without worrying about what others believe.
  • It was necessary to understand individualism and follow it to resolve problems in the world.
  • For making others happy, it is important to first make oneself happy.

Overall it felt good to be a part of a crowd that did not have a problem with who I was, even if I did not want to be a good. Instead, when I had said that I didn’t want to be a good girl, one girl said, “I like people who don’t want to be good”.

I don’t know how these people behaved at their homes but here, everybody was looking for liberation, was advocating objectivism, and sounded like preachers of individualism.

It was a different environment from what I have been through earlier where people always wanted to be on the social side, religious, and good. But here everyone wanted to be what they were.

May be, it was not the way they always talk but was the effect of Ayn Rand and her principle of objectivity which took over, not just the discussion but minds of people who participated . I could feel the strength of the personality of the author, from the way people were advocating her principles. It was like a wave of change that they wanted to bring to the world. I liked the aura!

I am a book lover and have read many books and rarely do I find authors who are able to capture imaginations to this extent. Ayn Rand is one of them.

I would not become Roark after reading the book like one girl said that everybody had started to behave like Roark in her college of architecture, after reading the book for I do not want to lose my individuality.

There were two more people from the architecture background and they were particularly interested in this book because they were told about this book in their institutes or colleges. I didn’t know that this book was considered important even in architecture schools. There may be some elements of architecture that these students could have learned from this book that I am not aware of. But it was wonderful to know that the book has captured not only the concept of objectivism well, but also bits of architecture, the occupation of the protagonist making it worthy to become the part of the curriculum in architecture schools.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Girish Agarwal
    January 20, 2015 at 8:14 am

    Well written. It depicts a stark knack of observation within and around.

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