If you were to ask me why I love my favorite book, I honestly couldn’t entirely tell you. It’s The Fountainhead, a 700 page very subtle, philosophical tome of a book, so that would explain some of it. Ayn Rand, the author, crafted her own controversial philosophy to be able to pen this book, and then embodied it in her main character, Howard Roark, her model of the perfect man. Roark lives in a way that’s completely different from the rest of society, and Rand shows how the rest of society reacts to him by making him interact with characters that are either like him to some degree or totally unlike him.
Roark, for example is aloof, and only has true connections with about 6 people throughout the (700+ page!) book. By writing her main characters that way, Rand shows that she values independence, and not being tied to anyone. And this is an admirable quality in itself, but that doesn’t work quite as well if you have a family and don’t just spring up fully formed and parentless, as Roark does to readers. I’ve been described as independent, and value it, but also realize that Rand’s version is too extreme for most people to live in society.
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But there are other places where that same extremism is attractive. Howard Roark is passionately drawn to his work. An architect by trade, he is presented as the most visionary and competent architect in the business. He learned his trade from the ground up, by starting with menial jobs. He looks at any raw material and sees potential, and what he could build from it. I admire this work ethic, and hope to embody it myself.
Roark never abandons his morals either. He lives strictly by his convictions, while others are presented as living in contradiction to what they believe, or worse yet, not having any belief at all. Even when others turn against him, and popular opinion turns against him he refuses to live any differently, which is something that I aspire to do as well.
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Rand’s general view of society is awful, though. Roark’s antagonist, Peter Keating, is presented as a man who has built his life around his mother’s ambitions, and his desire for popularity rather than his passion. At his mother’s insistence, he squelches his passion for art and becomes an architect as well, though he has no talent for it and manipulates others for his success. The majority of the characters in the book are like Keating, I have a hard time having such a negative view of society. We all want to identify as a Roark-like figure, but the truth is that most of us are probably in the middle between him and Keating. Rand’s scale leaves little room for a middle ground, though.
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You can’t have a Rand novel without extremism. If you were to cut out all of the extreme characters you would have nothing left for a plot. This does Rand’s style a disservice, though, making it sound heavy-handed and allegorical. In reality it’s very subtle, and you have to piece together character motivations from the tiniest gestures and remarks. Rand doesn’t spell anything out. And this makes the novels interesting to read, but also very dense. If you were to present the kind of dialogue that Rand uses to me in a talk-show I would hate it and think it petty and overdramatic. But somehow if you pair it with some strong ideas and characters I eat it up (in fact, I even called it philosophical trash in discussing it with a friend).
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Maybe I’m drawn to the books in part because the view of society is so different than the traditional moral view is. That difference can be fascinating. So sometimes the books can be infuriating, but even preparing for this piece I could feel myself getting sucked in again. My attraction to this book is something I don’t understand, but hopefully with time and a few more re-readings it will make more sense.