I was twenty years old perusing the classic fiction section of a favorite bookstore. The kind of bookstore that was small with friendly people who were more friend than clerk. I had just finished Great Expectations and was hoping for some more “modern” fair. I purchased The Fountainhead” for 1.99 in a hardcover edition. The book was a little banged up but for 1.99, why bicker?
The first sentence showed me that this would be an audacious read. There he was, the protaganist, standing naked upon a cliff about to dive into the choppy sea below. The symbolism of that first sentence was lost on me until I read on further.
I have since read the book many more times and although I found the writing to way too descriptive, the idea of the book was what resonated with me.
Anyone who knows The Fountainhead will try to tell you that this is a young idealist’s kind of story. It appeals to young people in university who are full of vigor and are chafing to make their mark in society. I did read this during my twenties but the idea that it should no longer appeal to me now that I’m in forties is ridiculous.
Howard Roark is his name and integrity is his game. No one, not his lover or anyone else will change who he is. He is unmoved by the forces that circle around him like a bunch of vultures and he stays true to himself despite those who would make him kneel. He is me, or rather who I would like to be. I identify with him because I think like him despite everyone teling me to do the opposite of what I believe.
The antagonist of the story is Elsworth Moncton Toohey. His intitials are EMT which spell empty and that’s exactly what he is. An empty shell of a man who can manipulate his way into people’s lives by preying on people’s fundamental weakness of seeing their own values through other people’s eyes. He is a small not very strong man who is purely evil. He cannot beat you with strength but he will beat you the best way possible….he will make you beat yourself. Ellsworth hates Howard in the worst way and tries to ruin him but has trouble doing it. Howard can’t be bought, cajoled, persuaded or blackmailed into anything.
Then there’s Peter Keating, a man of no self worth who is lauded by Ellsworth and therefore thinks he’s great because others like him. By the end of the book, I felt sorry for this character as his destruction was of his own making….and he knew it but in the end was helpless to stop the fraud that he was.
These three characters are the makeup of what society is. Most of us are Keating, striving to be acceptable and not believing in who you are but what you appear to be. How being politically correct is more important to him than being true to himself. How other’s opinions are golden to him and how in the end, it’s impossible to change. Blissful until you realize that it’s should have been the other way around.
Some of us are Ellsworth in that control is everything. Religion is the most common Ellsworth analogy in that one has to come to into it voluntarily. Then it sucks out every single individual thought you could have until it leaves you so malliable that it takes you for everything. It destroys from within. There are other Ellworth’s out there like governments that have turned regions into nanny states. Schools that teach nonsense instead of facts ( I’m looking you religious based schools…itelligent design as fact???). Then there is television morality, like a bunch of ravenous vultures of human dignity. Picking a topic and focusing on it in ways to make you think a certain way. Complete with ominous music to accompany their directing of where you should think. Using emotion as fact instead of actual fact as fact. Corporations that suck the life out of individualism in order to contol your thoughts and money. What’s sad is that even though its blatant, people just fall for their schemes all the time. Like how governments invent a problem and then propose a solution to the made up problem. Just ask victims of Tort Reform.
Then there is Howard. In my circle of friends and in the workplace I am the Howard character. I have paid a heavy price in terms of social status for saying what I believe to be true. I back up what I say with facts that annoy the others who can’t properly back up their own claims. But, I would rather live a life of solitude than mingle with people who just can’t think for themselves. I am not always right and have been proven wrong. The key word here is..proven. Proof is what’s needed, not feelings or forced politeness that makes the backbone of political correctness.
What I have found is over time, people you truly respect even though they may have different opinions do show up in my life and I treasure these people for they are as rare as a perfect day.
I’ve lived this way all my life despite the setbacks….l hope that if Howard were real, he’d be proud.