What Is The Fountainhead About?

I’m hoping the novel “The Fountainhead” is about you, how you’re like Howard Roark.

Unfortunately, odds are good it’s not.

So what’s “The Fountainhead” about?  It’s about individualism.

Who is Howard Roark?

Howard Roark is the main character in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.”  He’s an unwavering, uncompromising individual.

Roark stands for integrity, truth to one’s self, serving no one but himself.  He stands against mainstream thought and conforming to the whims of others.

Roark is an architect, but the farthest from a normal architect.  If you had to label him, you’d call him a “modern architect” because his designs run free of mainstream architecture, with no hint of borrowed qualities of classical work.  I originally wrote that his architecture was opposite of mainstream, but that’s not right.  He’s free from the influence of mainstream, not purposely opposite.

In short, Roark is his own man, and Roark’s work is his own work.  He fights this principle with zero compromise, despite almost certain obscurity and poverty.  (Spoiler: don’t worry, he wins)

The “Second-Handers”

The second-handers are the people around Howard.  While Howard strives to be an individual, it’s the second-handers that give him shit about it.  And each second-hander does so in their own way.

Second-Hander Gail Wynand

Gail Wynand appears to be a power-hungry newspaper boss, but secretly is a Roark-wannabe.  Wynand is the full individual minus the courage and integrity.  He’s “successful” much like some might consider Dick Cheney (a successful dick).  Wynand is tested to his ultimate edge, and almost wins.

Second-Hander Dominique Francon

Beautiful potential, but meek.  It’s harsh for me to call Dominique a second-hander, because she’s so close to great, but too scared to go for it.  Dominique reminds me of the famous Henry David Thoreau quote: “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation.”  Dominique quietly admires Roark, but rarely takes a stand.  Only until she’s built up courage from years around him does she ‘win.’

Other Second-Handers

Wynand and Dominique are the two figures most in Roark’s life, but there are others.  One is Roark’s old school chum, a soulless parasite, a borrower of ideas seeking the fast-track.  Another is a behind-the-scenes evil bastard who seeks to squelch independent thought.  There are more, but these two shine as second-handers.

stand up tall Roark

Our Own Second-Handers

See the connection?  All these second-handers are our own.  Naysayers, quiet admirers, and the power-hungry who’d rather you stay subservient.

How do you react to your second-handers?

  • Do you try to apologize for your beliefs? (Roark wouldn’t)
  • Do you conform to just the most important ones in your life?  (Roark wouldn’t)
  • Do you lead a life of quiet desperation? (Roark wouldn’t, nor would Thoreau)

The way you stand for your own beliefs (and strive to your own successes) is what defines you as a Roark, a Wynand or a Dominique.

What About You?  Are You an Individual?

Odds are good you see yourself as an individual.  We all do.  That’s what makes it easy to fantasize about living abroad.

Odds are better you’re more conformist than the ideal Howard Roark.  We all naturally conform to some degree.  That’s what makes culture shock what it is: difficult.

But to be a successful and happy expat, you must have a little “Howard Roark” in you.  You have be comfortable in your own skin, comfortable not having to be like everyone else, both at home and in your host country.  You must be an individual.

To find out, I’d recommend reading “The Fountainhead.”  Who do you sympathize with?  Are you closer to the ideal Roark or are you another second-hander?  Knowing this ahead of time will help you with living abroad.

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An American who likes to move around. I now live on the eastern Canadian seaboard. My job? A stay-at-home dad for two cute but demanding bosses. My wife? Also cute; not so demanding. My wife and I both love travel. We met in South Korea, travelled across Australia, India, Europe and beyond. We lived in Czech Republic for four years. Many stories to tell and experience to share. If you let me, I will help you travel as we do. Enjoy.

4 thoughts on “What Is The Fountainhead About?”

  1. I am definitely not an individual yet. I care way too much about what others think. It isn’t something that comes easy especially because most of us depend on our parents for the first 18+ years and then we latch to school, job, religion, friends, television or anything that will tell us what to do.

    I am working that out in my mind. I am so close to leaving the 9-5 to pursue my individual path. That may include future travel but not likely expat.

  2. hey Micah. Great to see your comment.

    And don’t be too down on yourself….the part where you said ” so close to leaving the 9-5 to pursue my individual path” — that makes you more an individual than most already!

    Thanks again for coming aboard,

  3. I will definitely check this out as part of my slew of reinforcements getting me through the what-if’s!

    1. Great Amie.

      In my humble opinion, one of the more important messages of The Fountainhead is “Be true to yourself.” That’s easy for us 80-85% of the time, but sometimes, it’s pretty darn tough. (Wynand would agree)

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