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New Ideal - Reason | Individualism | Capitalism

The Fountainhead as a Romantic Novel (Part 2)

Explore the creative methods of Romantic artists.

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Ayn Rand identified the theme of The Fountainhead as “individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in man’s soul; the psychological motivations and the basic premises that produce the character of an individualist or a collectivist.”1

The theme of a novel, Ayn Rand writes, “sets the writer’s standard of selection, directing the innumerable choices he has to make and serving as the integrator of the novel.”2 The plot-theme, she says, is “the link between the theme and the events” — “the first step of the translation of an abstract theme into a story, without which the construction of a plot would be impossible.”3 A plot requires a central conflict situation, and once this has been decided, it becomes the operative standard of selection.4 But insofar as the plot-theme corresponds to the theme, and thus is an appropriate means of translating it into a story, the theme remains the ultimate, abstract integrator of the totality.

The conflict strands in the central situation of The Fountainhead do correspond to the theme. An innovative, independent architect fights a (psychologically) collectivist society; an idealistic heroine is torn between her passionate love for the hero and her withdrawal from values, which she considers doomed by the forces of collectivism; a brilliant man with the soul of an individualist, who seeks to rule the collective, loves and is loved by the hero. The actions that follow by logic from this plot-theme will necessarily dramatize the theme of “individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in man’s soul.”

Early in her career, Ayn Rand wrote in a letter, “That one word—individualism—is to be the theme song, the goal, the only aim of all my writing.”5 The issue of individualism versus collectivism is central to all of her novels. So the theme of The Fountainhead is without doubt expressive of Ayn Rand’s values.6 However, the novel’s plot-theme, and thus the actions that follow from it, is more richly expressive of Ayn Rand’s values than is the theme.

Take the conflict strand “an innovative, independent architect fights a (psychologically) collectivist society.” Here, the single word “architect” represents Ayn Rand’s choice of the hero’s profession, a choice which has enormous consequences for the novel. Everything from the main events to the smallest details involves the practice of architecture.

From all the possibilities, Ayn Rand chose architecture for two reasons, she once said. First, since her youth she had wanted to write a story glorifying the American skyscraper “as a symbol of achievement.” Second, no profession better shows “the creative element in man” than one which combines “art, science in the sense of engineering, and business.”7

The ideas that skyscrapers symbolize human achievement, and that engineering and business best show man’s creative element, are distinctive of Ayn Rand. They spring from her rejection of the conventional mind-body dichotomy, the belief in an opposition between man’s higher, spiritual aspirations and his low, material existence. Ayn Rand champions mind-body union. This is why she makes her innovative, independent hero an architect, rather than (as a conventional writer would have done) a starving poet.

Similarly, she made the heroes of Anthem and Atlas Shrugged scientist-inventors. These heroes also are individualists who fight a “thematic” battle against a collectivist society. But as in The Fountainhead, their specific professions express important values of Ayn Rand’s beyond the thematic advocacy of individualism.

The next plot-theme strand is “an idealistic heroine is torn between her passionate love for the hero and her withdrawal from values, which she considers doomed by the forces of collectivism.” Besides corresponding to the theme, this strand sets up a conflict between the hero and the heroine. In Ayn Rand’s words, the Roark-Dominique romance is “sex through antagonism,” which “of all forms of romance . . . is the most powerful.”8 This value-judgment of Ayn Rand’s is not directly relevant to the theme, but it is contained in the plot-theme and, therefore, expressed in the novel’s events.

Ayn Rand holds that “the essence of femininity is hero worship — the desire to look up to man.” This does not mean that a woman will worship any man; on the contrary, “the higher her view of masculinity, the more severely demanding her standards.” Also, hero worship places demands on the woman: she “has to be worthy of it and of the hero she worships.”9

As a test of strength, a conflict between the hero and heroine of a story dramatizes the essence of sex. The hero proves himself worthy of the heroine’s worship because he bests her; she proves herself worthy of worshiping him because she makes his feat difficult. This is the sexual — and extra-thematic — meaning of the Roark-Dominique romance, and of the John Galt-Dagny Taggart romance in Atlas Shrugged. The issue is captured in the way Dagny smiles at Galt: “it was the dangerous smile of an adversary, but her eyes were coldly brilliant and veiled at once, like the eyes of an adversary who fully intends to fight, but hopes to lose.”10 Similarly, Dominique is speaking as a woman when she tells Roark both that “I’m going to fight you—and I’m going to destroy you” and “I’m going to pray that you can’t be destroyed” (272).

Ayn Rand’s favorite character in Fritz Lang’s movie Siegfried was Brunhild, the Valkyrie who challenges her suitors to physical tests of strength. Brunhild, Ayn Rand commented, should have been the story’s heroine, instead of the “little clinging vine” (Kriemhild), whom the hero loves. As it is, she said, the story is “anti-sex.”11 But in her own stories, Ayn Rand does not make the test of strength between hero and heroine physical — except in actual sex scenes.12 The conflicts are primarily intellectual. In both the Roark-Dominique and Galt-Dagny romances, the heroine is honestly mistaken on an issue of philosophy, whereas the hero wins in the end because he holds the correct view. Her way of casting these conflicts reflects Ayn Rand’s view of heroism as fundamentally intellectual and not primarily an issue of performing physical feats. And this in turn reflects her view of reason as the essence of human nature.

Dominique meets Roark when he is a worker in a granite quarry. Galt is a track worker in the tunnels of the railroad of which Dagny is vice president. The hero of Anthem is a street sweeper. All these men belong at the pinnacle of any rational social hierarchy, yet they are thrown (at least temporarily) to the very bottom. This device is thematic: the hero is an outcast in a collectivist society because he is a brilliant individualist. However, casting the hero down to the lowest echelon of society adds drama not merely to the thematic conflict, but also to the hero’s conflict with the heroine — who (except in Anthem) comes from the highest echelon.

When Dominique meets Roark in the quarry, she is for the first time glad of her position as the chatelaine of the countryside. “She thought suddenly that the man below was only a common worker, owned by the owner of this place, and she was almost the owner of this place” (205). Yet Dominique knows that this man is more than a common worker, and that it is he who “stood looking up at her; it was not a glance, but an act of ownership” (205). Her thrill comes from knowing that, in the test of strength that is inevitable between them, he can best her — even though, in social position, he starts with the severest handicap.

In itself, the theme of individualism versus collectivism has nothing to do with the issue of “sex through antagonism.” But the plot-theme combination of a hero-versus-society conflict and an antagonistic romance offers Ayn Rand unique opportunities to express her sexual values.

The third plot-theme strand of The Fountainhead is “a brilliant man with the soul of an individualist, who seeks to rule the collective, loves and is loved by the hero.” The implied conflict between Roark and Wynand corresponds to the theme; the bond of love between them expresses extra-thematic values. Ayn Rand defined romantic love as the love felt for someone who is irreplaceable in one’s own life: the loved one is a unique individual who, if lost, would leave a permanent void in the lover’s soul.13 In Ayn Rand’s view, love of this nature does not necessarily involve a sexual component; it can exist between members of the same sex, without any implication of homosexuality. Ayn Rand was attracted to the idea of such an emotional bond — in effect, romantic love without the aspect of sex — between two men. She depicts such relationships, in Atlas Shrugged, between Hank Rearden and Francisco d’Anconia, and between Francisco and Galt. And the love between Roark and Wynand is on the same order. As Roark tells Wynand, “You have been the one encounter in my life that can never be repeated” (654).

Leonard Peikoff has pointed to the love between the Marquis of Posa and King Philip II of Spain in Schiller’s Don Carlos as a parallel to the Roark-Wynand relationship.14 The parallel is real, but as one would expect, Ayn Rand’s use of love between two men is distinctive. Unlike Schiller, she makes it an element of a romantic triangle that involves the heroine. In The Fountainhead, Wynand is married to Dominique when he meets Roark. The main heroes of Atlas Shrugged all love Dagny and at some stage have a sexual relationship with her.

Further, in the typical Ayn Rand triangle, there is at least an indication that the two men feel more strongly for each other than for the heroine. And just as Dagny fears that Galt will sacrifice himself and let Francisco have her,15 so Dominique fears that Roark will sacrifice himself and leave her to Wynand (620). But neither man does in the end make this sacrifice.

While these triangles are not specified in the plot-themes of the two novels, the plot-theme conflict strands hint strongly at their possibility and thus facilitate a richer expression of Ayn Rand’s values than does the theme as such.

'Ayn Rand’s admiration for the profession of architecture presupposes her view of mind-body union. The intellectuality of her protagonists and their conflicts presupposes her view of man as a rational being.' Share on X

The plot-theme of The Fountainhead, and consequently the events, expresses not only a broad range of the author’s values, but also their metaphysical presuppositions. Ayn Rand’s admiration for the profession of architecture presupposes her view of mind-body union. The intellectuality of her protagonists and their conflicts presupposes her view of man as a rational being. And to touch on an aspect we have not yet mentioned, the fact that the main personal conflicts of the novel are between good characters, not good and evil, presupposes Ayn Rand’s view that evil is ultimately impotent.

These extra-thematic values and metaphysical views are what really matter in the novel.

“Fundamentally,” Ayn Rand says, “what is important is not the message a writer projects explicitly, but the values and view of life he projects implicitly.16

Art is the means of presenting not a didactic theme, but a concretization of metaphysics by means of “a selective re-creation of reality.”

By a selective re-creation, art isolates and integrates those aspects of reality which represent man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. Out of the countless number of concretes—of single, disorganized and (seemingly) contradictory attributes, actions and entities—an artist isolates the things which he regards as metaphysically essential and integrates them into a single new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction.17

But observe that an artist cannot first select a bunch of disconnected concretes and then glue them together somehow. If he is to create a single new concrete (an embodied abstraction) from the multiplicity of concretes he regards as metaphysically essential, he cannot treat selection and integration as distinct processes. He needs a standard of selection that is simultaneously his concrete integrator. For instance, the naturalist selects on the basis of an observed characteristic pattern, and that same pattern constitutes his unity. The classicist selects on the basis of established conventions about which things go together and form a proper whole.

In and of themselves, the methods of naturalism and classicism carry a profound metaphysical message. The motto of both schools is: What other men have joined together, let no artist put asunder. By the nature of his standard of selection, the naturalist or classicist can present the values he observes in other men, or those of stale convention, but no values that are distinctly his own. This implies the passive acceptance of human values as givens beyond individual choice or judgment — i.e., determinism.

In practice, a classicist or naturalist cannot remain fully true to his method, i.e., completely detached from his own personal values.18 One can tell Racine from Corneille or Sinclair Lewis from Tolstoy. As one small example, Lewis’s portrayal of Elmer Gantry’s career is tinged with a moral indignation that would be foreign to Tolstoy. But the point is that Lewis’s moralism is extraneous to his basic method of creation (in fact, it contradicts his method). The same goes for all his other individualizing touches: they are incidental to the essence of his work.

In a romantic artwork, the artist’s own values are not incidental. The essential attribute of romanticism, in Ayn Rand’s words, is “the independent, creative projection of an individual writer’s values.”19 (This applies not only to writers, but to romantic artists in all the arts.20)

Before we look more closely at the method of romanticism, observe that the projection of an individual artist’s values carries a profound metaphysical message in and of itself. It implies that the individual is capable of choosing his own values — and that this fact is essential to his nature. Thus Ayn Rand defined romanticism as “a category of art based on the recognition of the principle that man possesses the faculty of volition.”21

Romanticism has an objective basis: man does in fact possess volition, and his choice of values is the central issue of his life. It is sometimes asked: what is the value of a school of art which projects individual values, when most of those values are based on philosophical error? After all, the range of values projected by romantic artists is enormous. The values of Ayn Rand and Joseph Conrad, of Victor Hugo and Terence Rattigan, of Edmond Rostand and Dostoevsky and Ibsen and Schiller and Oscar Wilde — these values are not only wildly different, but often incompatible. They cannot all be objectively valid. But neither are the values of men in real life. Men’s actual values differ wildly, and are often incompatible. What they do have in common is that they are chosen by each individual — who is defined by his choice. “Man,” in Ayn Rand’s formulation, “is a being of self-made soul.”22

In this sense, romanticism is the school of art that really does present things as they are.

We have said that a romantic artist’s values are not incidental to his work. Let us now be more precise: a romantic artwork is stylized.

To “stylize” is to condense an object to essential characteristics, relative to a specific value-perspective.23 The object, and the value-perspective, involved may be simple or complex: a single reed depicted in a delicate drawing, or the story of The Fountainhead; an appreciation of a certain kind of graceful elegance, or all of Ayn Rand’s important values and their metaphysical presuppositions. But regardless of complexity, every feature or quality of the stylized object exhibits the essence of the stylizing value-perspective.

This perspective is an abstraction (or a set of abstractions) drawn from observed concretes. For instance, an abstraction of graceful elegance might be drawn from the curve of a swan’s neck, the leap of a ballerina, the posture of an English gentleman, the swaying of a reed in the wind. In abstracting, only the essential characteristic(s) uniting these concretes is retained, while their concrete differences are disregarded. Some of the concrete matter being disregarded will be closely related to the quality of “graceful elegance,” such as the height of the gentleman or the slenderness of the reed, but most of the disregarded matter is irrelevant to the abstraction being drawn: the texture of the swan’s feathers, the length of the ballerina’s nose, the color of the gentleman’s coat. These concretes are wholly accidental.

Now suppose an artist wants to paint a painting with no such accidental concretes: every feature or quality of his subject matter is to exhibit the essence of “graceful elegance.” He cannot succeed by making this abstraction his direct standard of selection. If he tried, what would come to his mind is: a swan’s neck, a leaping ballerina, an English gentleman — with all their concrete features and differences. Even if he focused only on the features most intimately connected with the abstract characteristic of “graceful elegance,” he would be left with an assortment of rather disembodied concrete characteristics like a certain male-figure height or a certain reed thickness. And in order to combine (some of) these in an intelligible artwork — say, in a painting of a gentleman duck-hunter hiding in reeds — the artist would have to fill in a lot of accidental concretes (e.g., a shotgun).

To achieve a stylized object — one purged of the accidental — an artist cannot first select the concretes of his work and then combine them. Like the naturalist and classicist, the stylizing romanticist needs a standard of selection that is also his (concrete) integrator. He needs a core combination.24

Suppose Ayn Rand had tried to write The Fountainhead without a plot-theme, guided only by her theme. The central value-perspective would be unchanged: pro-individualism and anti-collectivism. But without the core-combination idea of an architect’s struggle, it is unlikely that Ayn Rand would have thought of any feature of the actual novel. Instead, she might have thought of the communists she met in Soviet Russia; a brave young student who stood up to them and was sent to Siberia; her own struggle in Hollywood to sell her unconventional story ideas; some Broadway social climber she met when her first play was produced. These concretes might be perfectly good concretizations of the theme — but they range all over the map and would not integrate into a stylized object. The theme of The Fountainhead is too abstract a standard of selection to yield the elements of a concrete unity.

The plot-theme changes the situation. Take the main strand: “an innovative, independent architect fights a (psychologically) collectivist society.” This standard of selection expresses the same value-perspective as does the novel’s abstract theme — yet it is concrete. As a consequence, further concretes selected by this standard simultaneously exhibit the essence of “pro-individualism and anti-collectivism” and relate to a single architect’s career struggle. The result is an object — Roark’s struggle — condensed to essential characteristics.

Not all themes are too abstract to yield a (kind of) concrete unity. In fact, a naturalistic theme, like “a typical smarmy American evangelist,” is a particular unity of concretes: an observed characteristic pattern. Or take “the impact of the Civil War on Southern society.” This theme immediately suggests essential character types — former slave owners, black sharecroppers, carpetbaggers, Ku Klux Klanners — who interrelate in characteristic patterns. In other words, “the impact of the Civil War on Southern society” could easily be a naturalistic theme, yielding a concrete unity of the naturalistic kind. But the characteristics of such a unity would be essential only relative to the purely cognitive abstraction of the given patterns, not to a value-perspective.

However, suppose we supplied this theme with a plot-theme: “the romantic conflict of a woman who loves a man representing the old order, and is loved by another man, representing the new.”25 This standard of selection is also concrete — yet it provides a specific authorial value-perspective: the view that the ideals of the old South were noble but are now obsolete, and that acting on them is heroic but ultimately foolish. Further concretes selected by the standard of this plot-theme will relate to a single woman’s romantic conflict and will be essential relative to the governing value-perspective. The result is an object — the story of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind — condensed to essential characteristics.

The core combination is the means of stylization. It is an engine for selecting concretes that exhibit the essence of a certain value-perspective and combine into a self-sufficient concrete unity, making it unnecessary to flesh out the selection with accidental material.

The value-perspective of a stylized work is always richer than that of the theme alone. As an abstract integrator, a theme cannot be a set of disparate abstractions, like “individualism versus collectivism, architecture as a heroic profession, mind-body union, sex through antagonism, and man as a rational being.” But these values and metaphysical views can all be carried by the concrete integrator — as they are by the plot-theme of The Fountainhead — since a single concrete (of some complexity) may express a wide variety of abstractions. And the principle here is the same as for the thematic value-perspective: on their own, these abstractions would not yield a concrete unity. As expressed in the core combination, they do.

The abstractions expressed in the core combination should integrate into a coherent viewpoint; a romantic artwork should project the values and view of life of an intelligible personality. In the broadest sense of the word, this total ethical-metaphysical viewpoint can be considered a romantic art work’s “theme.” But this kind of theme cannot be condensed into a retainable statement (which is an essential reason why it needs to be concretized in a work of art26) and thus cannot function as a conscious standard of selection or integrator.27

The core-combination device an artist uses must be appropriate to the art form he works in. As we have seen, an architectural core combination differs in nature from a plot-theme.28 But to be the means of stylization, any core combination must be a structural device.

The central idea for the Heller House is the standard for selecting the features that translate that idea into a functioning structure of habitation. A plot-theme is the standard for selecting the events that logically proceed from that central conflict and constitute a plot structure.

Each element of a plot serves a structural function mandated, directly or indirectly, by the plot-theme. In The Fountainhead, Roark’s dynamiting Cortlandt is the lead-in to the climactic resolution of the plot-theme conflict strands. At the very end, Dominique’s rising to meet Roark on top of the Wynand Building rounds out the totality of the novel by briefly concretizing the most important consequences of the climax.29

Note that the structural function of these elements is not just to provide a generic “resolution” or “triumphant conclusion,” but to resolve the particular conflicts of the plot-theme and round out the novel’s particular climax. And it is their highly particular function that determines the form of these elements. In Louis Sullivan’s famous words, “form follows function.”30

For instance, the crux of Roark’s conflicts with society, Dominique, Wynand, and Toohey is the unbreached integrity of his architectural designs. It is therefore appropriate that the climax turns on his ultimate act of upholding this integrity, in regard to some specific building. In other words, the Cortlandt explosion represents form following function. But suppose Ayn Rand had resolved her conflict strands by having Roark’s antagonists die in a flu epidemic. Here form would not follow function — not the function of resolving these particular conflicts.

The form of such a climax would be not only functionally accidental, but also abstractly inessential relative to the novel’s governing value-perspective. A flu epidemic as such has nothing to do with individualism versus collectivism, the nobility of architecture as an expression of man’s creativity, mind-body union, or any of the other abstractions carried by the plot-theme of The Fountainhead. By contrast, the Cortlandt explosion has been cut from the same cloth as the conflicts it resolves — a cloth impregnated with the right kind of abstract essentiality — and so naturally exhibits the essence of “individualism versus collectivism,” “architecture as expressing man’s creativity,” “mind-body union.”

Or suppose Ayn Rand had decided to round out her novel by having Roark and Dominique climb a mountain in Peru. Something about the form of this ending would fit its function: Roark and Dominique would be shown united as a couple; and reaching a mountaintop can be an ecstatic experience, sweeping aside any emotional residue from past conflict. But most of the form in this example would be completely accidental to the function. This ending would not be cut from the same cloth as the plot-theme and its other developments, nor exhibit the essence of any relevant abstractions.

In the actual ending, Roark stands on top of the Wynand Building, the greatest structure in New York, which he has been commissioned to build “as a monument to that spirit which is yours” (692). This is form following function—the function of concretizing Roark’s total victory in the particular battle he fights throughout the novel: the battle to erect his own kind of buildings against the opposition of a collectivist society. Consequently, this rounding out of Roark’s battle exhibits the same essence as does the battle itself: “pro-individualism,” “the nobility of architecture,” “mind-body union.”

As Dominique rises toward Roark, she “saw him standing above her, on the top platform” (694). This, too, is form following function — the function of rounding out the Roark-Dominique relationship, which began in the stone quarry when Dominique “looked down” and Roark “stood looking up at her.” He has won their test of strength; and when she is now looking up at him, and rising to him, this final note exhibits the same essence as does their whole relationship: “femininity as hero worship—the desire to look up to man.”

In stylized art, there is an inherent harmony between functionality and abstract essentiality. Within a structure created by a core combination, the form of each element will naturally exhibit the essence of the core combination’s value-perspective — if the form is determined by the given element’s function within that particular structure. And this is the key to the creative process of stylization, which involves a tricky dual purpose: concrete unity and abstract essentiality. The harmony of functionality and abstract essentiality allows the artist to focus on the former, with the latter following as a matter of course. If a romantic artist were asked how he achieved his seemingly impossible goal — a single concrete whose every feature exhibits the essence of his values — he might answer with Louis Sullivan that “the function created or organized its form.”31

Now, if an artist is to create a stylized object, there can be no external limits to his freedom of selection. If the function is to “organize its form,” the allowable forms of an artist’s values cannot be prescribed prior to the creative process. This is why a classicist cannot stylize.

Classicism deals, ostensibly, with grand value-abstractions — “harmony,” “nobility,” “statesmanship” — but its field of selection is limited to conventional exemplars of these abstractions. If a classicist chooses the theme “the martyrdom of integrity,” he will think of: Socrates, Jesus, Galileo. What about an architect who is put on trial for protecting the integrity of his work? The classicist would politely ask which obscure Greek myth is being alluded to.

His limited repertoire of conventional concretes does not allow the classicist to create a unity of essentials. For instance, in The Death of Socrates, Jacques Louis David combines the concretes of Socrates and Jesus under the theme “the martyrdom of integrity”: he paints Socrates about to drink hemlock — surrounded by twelve disciples. But while the presence of twelve disciples is evocative of the Last Supper and the Passion, it is completely inessential to the abstraction of “martyred integrity.” Yet what is David to do, except create on some such pattern? He cannot work with a core combination whose functional requirements determine the forms of his concretes, since all the allowable forms of his values are given to him by convention. (A classicist who tried to stay true to a core combination would be forced to cheat on his classicist standards, as happened to Corneille with Le Cid.)

By the nature of his method, the stylizing romanticist rejects any external limits to his selectivity other than the nature of the elements of reality. He follows Victor Hugo’s advice:

We must draw our inspiration from the original sources [nature]. It is the same sap, distributed through the soil, that produces all the trees of the forest, so different in bearing power, in fruit, in foliage. It is the same nature that fertilizes and nourishes the most diverse geniuses.32

To which the classicist will answer (in Hugo’s summation): “But the graces; but good taste! Don’t you know that art should correct nature? that we must ennoble art? that we must select?”33

We can see here the essence of two vastly different mind-sets. The romanticist draws his normative abstractions — and, as needed, the concretes which illustrate them — from reality. But for the classicist, there are no normative abstractions beyond those of convention, and these in turn subsume only conventional concretes. Consequently, the classicist cannot even grasp that what the romanticist does is precisely select — and “correct nature” and “ennoble art” — on a level he himself could never dream of equaling.

That a naturalist does not think abstractly about human values is obvious. The interesting point is that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, neither does a classicist.

'Ayn Rand found the gold mine of man’s soul. The Fountainhead is the crown she fashioned.' Share on X

Only the romanticist holds his values as true abstractions — romanticism, Ayn Rand says, is “the conceptual school of art” (“Introduction to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition,” v)—and then, with the help of his core combination, he presents them in a stylized object.

Ayn Rand writes:

I see the novelist as a combination of prospector and jeweler. The novelist must discover the potential, the gold mine, of man’s soul, must extract the gold and then fashion as magnificent a crown as his ability and vision permit.

Just as men of ambition for material values do not rummage through city dumps, but venture out into lonely mountains in search of gold—so men of ambition for intellectual values do not sit in their backyards, but venture out in quest of the noblest, the purest, the costliest elements.34

Ayn Rand found the gold mine of man’s soul. The Fountainhead is the crown she fashioned.


Like Howard Roark, the hero of Edmond Rostand’s play Chantecler dedicates himself above all to the integrity of his work, battles social forces hostile to any individual quest for the ideal, and loves a female who wants him to give up his calling.

Unlike Roark, Chantecler is a barnyard cock.

Rostand’s dramatic fable takes place on a farm and in the surrounding countryside. Chantecler is the ruler of the barnyard. But his exalted calling is his crowing, which heralds — and, he secretly believes, causes — the sunrise.

Like most of Rostand’s heroes, Chantecler is essentially a poet. The mere fact that his profession has nothing to do with science, engineering, or business does not imply a mind-body dichotomy. But such a dichotomy is reflected in the clash between Chantecler’s ideal calling and material reality: he does not in fact cause the sunrise.

The mind-body dichotomy is as central a concern to Rostand as individualism is to Ayn Rand. The dichotomy runs through all of his plays and poetry and was expressed even in his ideas for interior decoration. During the writing of Chantecler, Rostand was building his dream house in the French countryside — and wanted to face his library doors with false book covers representing the planned but unwritten works of other authors (i.e., noble but unfulfilled aspirations).35

Rostand views the mind-body dichotomy as a tragic fact of human existence, and he values above all else man’s unbending integrity in pursuing spiritual values regardless of their clash with material reality. There is always such a clash in Rostand’s plays; an ideal in harmony with the material world would have been regarded by him as insufficiently spiritual to be of dramatic interest.36 This is why he would not make one of his heroes an architect like Howard Roark.

The theme of Chantecler is a simple statement of Rostand’s central value: “An individual must stay loyal to his ideal calling in defiance of all inimical forces—even if his ideal clashes with material reality.” The two strands of the plot-theme correspond to the theme: “An idealistic barnyard cock, who secretly thinks his crowing makes the sun rise, confronts the forces of self-doubt, ridicule and envy,” and: “The hero’s beloved, a pheasant hen, is jealous of his dedication to the dawn and schemes to become his only love.”

This plot-theme is more richly expressive of Rostand’s values than is the theme.

First of all, the hero is a cock, which fact expresses Rostand’s patriotism: the cock is a symbol of France. Also, the cockiness appropriate to a cock — the bold, brash, swashbuckling self-confidence — is both characteristically French and distinctive of a Rostand hero. (Ayn Rand’s protagonists are less self-consciously heroic.)

Next, observe the nonintellectual nature of Chantecler’s conflict with his beloved. The Pheasant Hen is not a passionate idealist like Dominique, but is conventionally feminine, even frivolous. She wants Chantecler to abandon his ideal calling because she craves his undivided affection, an attitude that is meant to be typical of her sex. As Chantecler puts it, the Pheasant Hen is “A woman,—ever jealous of the Dream!”37

Ayn Rand, who knew just as well as Rostand did that most women are contemptuous of ideas (as are most men), would not have made such a woman a heroine. By choosing the Pheasant Hen as an appropriate love interest for his hero, Rostand expresses a lower regard than does Ayn Rand for the importance of reason and the intellect in love affairs — and, therefore, in human life. In other words, he expresses extra-thematic sexual values and their metaphysical presuppositions.

The main plot-theme strand of Chantecler specifies three forces inimical to the hero’s ideal calling: self-doubt, ridicule, and envy.

Chantecler’s self-doubt manifests itself on occasion throughout the play: he sometimes feels unworthy of his glorious mission; he fears the loss of an inspiration whose nature he does not understand; too much introspection of his technique makes him unable to perform. Probably autobiographical on the author’s part, these self-doubts are logical consequences of the belief in a mind-body split. A man will not feel worthy of his ideals if he thinks they are unreachable, or in control of his inspiration if he thinks it comes from a realm opposed to the material world he can grasp by sense perception and reason. Thus, Chantecler’s self-doubts reflect concerns derivative of the author’s broader metaphysical outlook. (By contrast, when Roark sees that he has “been wasting too much paper lately and doing awful stuff” [601], he feels no self-doubt about his inspiration, but simply concludes that he is overworked and needs a rest.)

The force of ridicule is represented in Chantecler above all by the Blackbird—“the professional cynic,” as Ayn Rand once described the type, “whose sole motive is to sneer at everything; specifically, at any kind of values.”38 Chantecler, who worships the ideal, is the main object of the Blackbird’s scorn.

The dog Patou warns of the effects of the Blackbird’s mocking. The black-dressed Blackbird is like “An undertaker’s man, who buries Faith.”39 Because of him, “Whoever speaks of stars today must lower his voice.”40 Patou is proven right when Chantecler attends the Guinea Hen’s fashionable salon and learns that he is widely resented in the barnyard. Chantecler defiantly reveals his secret belief that he raises the sun, and he is met with gales of laughter and scorn.

Underlying such ridicule is envy — a motive clearly stated by the animals who join in a conspiracy to murder Chantecler. “I hate the Cock because I am so plain,” says a Chicken. “I hate him,” says the Duck, “he has no web between his toes, / And so he traces stars where’er he goes.” And the Capon (a castrated cockerel) gives the dry remark, “I do not like the Cock.”41

The Blackbird of The Fountainhead is Ellsworth Toohey, who is driven by envy and hatred of all values, and who uses ridicule in order to destroy. Toohey says:

Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction. Turn it into a sneer. It’s simple. Tell them to laugh at everything. Tell them that a sense of humor is an unlimited virtue. Don’t let anything remain sacred in a man’s soul—and his soul won’t be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man. (636)

Like Chantecler, Roark is resented not just by a single public commentator, but by a broad segment of society. One of the first things we learn about him is that “People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. Some remained staring after him with sudden resentment. They could give no reason for it: it was an instinct his presence awakened in most people” (16–17).

Rostand and Ayn Rand present this kind of feeling not as an end in itself, but in order to stress, by contrast, an issue which in Ayn Rand’s words “is involved in every line of The Fountainhead: ‘man-worship.’”

The man-worshipers, in my sense of the term, are those who see man’s highest potential and strive to actualize it. The man-haters are those who regard man as a helpless, depraved, contemptible creature—and struggle never to let him discover otherwise. (viii–x)

Rostand and Ayn Rand are the only writers who understand this issue and have made it a central motif of a work of fiction. Both The Fountainhead and Chantecler are stressed portraits of a hero who does actualize the highest human potential.

This extra-thematic value-projection is prepared for in the plot-themes of the two works.

The main strand of each plot-theme pits an individual pursuing his ideal calling against a general opposition — “a (psychologically) collectivist society” or “the forces of ridicule and envy” — to be concretized along the way. The individualized conflicts are relegated to adjunct strands. This is not an ideal way to construct a plot-theme, and it is another reason, in addition to sheer complexity, why The Fountainhead technically has a less than ideal plot. Chantecler, a much simpler story, has a similarly loose progression of events.

However, these technical deficiencies are virtues, given the purpose of the two authors.

Observe that Roark and Chantecler are so focused on their work that they barely notice their opposition. Roark does blow up Cortlandt Homes (Ayn Rand always gives her hero the plot’s central action), but otherwise he ignores his enemies and goes on with his career. Chantecler fights a duel with a vicious gamecock (it would not be a Rostand play without a duel), but otherwise he goes on with his crowing. Even in their conflicts with the good characters — Dominique, Wynand, and the Pheasant Hen — Roark and Chantecler assume a curiously passive role. It is the other characters who take most of the dramatic actions — in response not so much to particular acts of the heroes, as to their very existence. The heroes, on their part, simply go on being what they are.

Their detachment from interpersonal conflicts does not make for the best plot progression. But it is necessary for the projection of man-worship. In a stressed portrait of someone who actualizes the highest human potential, the hero cannot be too concerned with other men but must be fully occupied with his ideal calling. There lies his true exaltation.

Ayn Rand and Edmond Rostand share crucial values and have some opposing ones, but their artistic method is identical. Both project their values partly through the theme of their works, but much more richly through the plot-theme; and thus they stamp their own, uniquely individual personality all over their artistic creation.

The “local colour” of a drama — says Hugo, speaking of an individual writer’s values —

should not be on the surface of the drama, but in its substance, in the very heart of the work, whence it spreads of itself, naturally, evenly, and, so to speak, into every corner of the drama, as the sap ascends from the root to the tree’s topmost leaf.42

So it is in The Fountainhead—and in Chantecler.


In the “Preface to Cromwell,” Victor Hugo warns against “false romanticism, which has the presumption to show itself at the feet of the true.”

For modern genius [romanticism] already has its shadow, its copy, its parasite, its classic, which forms itself upon it, smears itself with its colours, assumes its livery, picks up its crumbs, and, like the sorcerer’s pupil, puts in play, with words retained by the memory, elements of theatrical action of which it has not the secret.43

It is the fate of all great romantic art to be copied. In her research journals for The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand notes about Frank Lloyd Wright, “He fought against the cheap imitators of his work, who copied his forms without understanding his principle, who made a new ‘style’ and formula out of his forms.”44 In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand mentions “the men who had been safe in copying the Parthenon,” but who now chose “to walk Cameron’s path and make it lead them to a new Parthenon, an easier Parthenon in the shape of a packing crate of glass and concrete” (474).

Similarly, Ayn Rand has been copied by artists who paint naked men on cliffs, hair waving against the sky (after the opening scene of The Fountainhead), or write novels where the rebellious young hero confronts the dean of his school.

Unable to create and work from original core combinations that reflect their own values, such false romanticists can only copy concretes. Most of them represent nothing more than individual amateurishness and have no significance. But sometimes their efforts come to dominate an artistic field. Hollywood thrillers now consist exclusively of old, endlessly rearranged inventions from an earlier tradition of romantic popular literature.45 As Ayn Rand notes in her journals, much of modern architecture is “modernism in set mass-forms, a modernism as stiff and frozen and unoriginal as the old traditions.”46 The phenomenon of modernism as a new Parthenon is also evident in the second-handed mannerisms of modern painting, like those of cubism (although here there are no romantic leftovers).

This is the opposite of the romantic method — and of the method of Howard Roark. As Cameron tells Roark,

What you’re doing—it’s yours, not mine, I can only teach you to do it better. I can give you the means, but the aim—the aim’s your own. You won’t be a little disciple putting up anemic little things in early Jacobean or late Cameron. (76)

He won’t be, because there is nothing in his art that is not selected by a standard of his own creation.


In the climactic speech of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark states the essence of the novel’s theme when he says that man

can survive in only one of two ways—by the independent work of his own mind or as a parasite fed by the minds of others. The creator originates. The parasite borrows. The creator faces nature alone. The parasite faces nature through an intermediary. (679)

In the novel, Roark represents the creator, who faces nature alone. And he does so primarily by virtue of his method of artistic creation — the same method by which The Fountainhead has been conceived and written. Thus, on a level deeper than its specific content, The Fountainhead itself is the demonstration of its own thesis.

In the “Preface to Cromwell,” Hugo warns artists to “beware especially of copying anything whatsoever.”

It were better to be a bramble or a thistle, fed by the same earth as the cedar and the palm, than the fungus or the lichen of those noble trees. The bramble lives, the fungus vegetates. Moreover, however great the cedar and the palm may be, it is not with the sap one sucks from them that one can become great one’s self. A giant’s parasite will be at best a dwarf. The oak, colossus that it is, can produce and sustain nothing more than the mistletoe.47

For a brief period, a school of art flourished that heeded Hugo’s admonition. Then romanticism was killed as a leading movement by the rise of naturalism and the plague of false romanticism.48

To use a metaphor from The Fountainhead (which Ayn Rand apparently adapted from the “Preface to Cromwell”), “The palm tree had broken through; the fungus came to feed on it, to deform it, to hide it, to pull it back into the common jungle” (474).

As a young woman recently arrived in America from Russia, Ayn Rand one day asked an elderly lady librarian if she had a novel with a good plot and a serious idea. The lady looked at her kindly and said, “I know exactly what you mean. They don’t write them anymore.” Ayn Rand thought, “I will.”49

In 1943, she published The Fountainhead.

The palm tree had broken through once again.50

Reprinted from the English Language edition of Essays on Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” edited by Robert Mayhew and originally published by Lexington Books, an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., Lanham, MD, USA. Copyright © by the author. Published in the English language by arrangement with Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, reprinting, or on any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Do you have a comment or question?


  1. Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual (New York: Signet, 1963), 68. The word “versus” is italicized in the original.
  2. Rand, “Basic Principles of Literature,” 81.
  3. Rand, “Basic Principles of Literature,” 85.
  4. Ayn Rand makes this point in Art of Fiction, 31.
  5. Michael S. Berliner, ed., Letters of Ayn Rand (New York: Dutton, 1995), 33.
  6. As formulated by Ayn Rand, the theme of The Fountainhead could technically express a pro-collectivist, anti-individualist value-perspective. But a collectivist using this theme would probably choose slightly different wording, e.g., he might speak of “atomistic individualism.” This kind of issue is mentioned in Art of Fiction, 17.
  7. Biographical interviews (Ayn Rand Archives).
  8. Berliner, Letters of Ayn Rand, 430.
  9. Ayn Rand, “About a Woman President,” The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, ed. Leonard Peikoff (New York: New American Library, 1988), 268.
  10. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Random House, 1957), 760.
  11. Unpublished note headlined “Siegfried” and dated March 31, 1967, in the Ayn Rand Archives.
  12. The first sexual encounter of Roark and Dominique is the obvious example. But see also the sex scene between Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart: she knows that “her defiance was submission, that the purpose of all of her violent strength was only to make his victory the greater.” Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 251.
  13. Leonard Peikoff, “Eight Great Plays as Literature and as Philosophy,” 1993, lecture 4, “Don Carlos,” question period.
  14. Peikoff, “Eight Great Plays,” lecture 4, “Don Carlos,” question period. I base my treatment of the larger issue of love between men on Peikoff’s discussion of this literary parallel.
  15. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 796–98.
  16. Rand, Art of Fiction, 15.
  17. Rand, “Psycho-Epistemology of Art,” 19–20.
  18. See Mayhew, Ayn Rand Answers, 200.
  19. Ayn Rand, “What Is Romanticism?” Romantic Manifesto, 111.
  20. I discuss romantic painting in my unpublished essay “Caspar David Friedrich and Visual Romanticism.”
  21. Rand, “What Is Romanticism?” 99.
  22. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1020.
  23. See Ayn Rand, “Art and Cognition,” Romantic Manifesto, particularly pages 67, 72. She comments on the stylized aspect of romantic art in Mayhew, Ayn Rand Answers, 224–25.
  24. While a core combination is a necessary means to the stylized, creative projection of an individual artist’s values, it is not a sufficient means if considered as a purely formal esthetic feature. There are mixed cases where a core combination does not engage with and carry the artist’s personal values, but instead is used for a fundamentally classicist or naturalistic end. For instance, certain dramas of the classical tradition, like Oedipus Rex and Le Cid, have brilliant plot-themes—which engage with and carry conventional values. And in some very artistic naturalist short stories, like Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace,” the core-combination device of an O. Henry-like “twist” ending gives poignancy to what is in essence an observed characteristic pattern. By contrast, the twist-at-the-end ideas of O. Henry himself do engage with the author’s values, and his stories are romantic.
  25. These formulations of the theme and plot-theme of Gone With the Wind are from Rand, “Basic Principles of Literature,” 86.
  26. See Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (New York: Dutton, 1991), 414–19.
  27. It does function as a subconscious standard. See Ayn Rand, “Art and Sense of Life,” Romantic Manifesto, 34–44.
  28. I discuss how plot constitutes a value-expressive structure in “What Might Be and Ought to Be: Aristotle’s Poetics and The Fountainhead,” in the present collection, 155. Plot-theme is not the only form of core combination possible in fiction, although it is by far the most important. I mention twist endings in a preceding endnote. For an indication of yet another device, see my discussions of Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in Tore Boeckmann, “Anthem as a Psychological Fantasy,” in Robert Mayhew, ed., Essays on Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005). I discuss visual core combinations in my unpublished essay “Caspar David Friedrich and Visual Romanticism.” But much more needs to be said (and discovered) about the nature of the different core-combination devices in the various arts.
  29. By contrast, the events of a naturalistic story are selected because they fit the reality-based pattern being presented, not in order to serve any structural need of the story as such. A classical column and its features serve no structural purpose (in a modern building). While a classical building can stand, and a naturalistic novel can have a loosely coherent story, structural concerns are not essential to selecting the concretes of such works.
  30. Louis H. Sullivan, The Autobiography of an Idea (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1956), 258.
  31. Sullivan, Autobiography, 290. This process is not automatic but requires creative genius at every step. Ayn Rand once described the challenge of finding the right climax for The Fountainhead as “a real mind-breaker.” Harriman, Journals of Ayn Rand, 165.
  32. Hugo, “Preface to Cromwell,” 384.
  33. Hugo, “Preface to Cromwell,” 363–64.
  34. Ayn Rand, “The Goal of My Writing,” Romantic Manifesto, 165–66.
  35. Sue Lloyd, The Man Who Was Cyrano (Bloomington, Indiana: Unlimited Publishing, 2002), 235.
  36. Unique among Rostand’s heroes is Jesus, who appears in The Woman of Samaria. Rostand being a Christian, his Jesus suffers from no mind-body dichotomy, and interestingly, the play is completely plotless.
  37. Edmond Rostand, Plays of Edmond Rostand, Volume Two, translated by Henderson Daingerfield Norman (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1921), 351.
  38. Harriman, Journals of Ayn Rand, 707.
  39. Rostand, Plays, 236.
  40. Rostand, Plays, 237.
  41. Rostand, Plays, 259–60.
  42. Hugo, “Preface to Cromwell,” 387.
  43. Hugo, “Preface to Cromwell,” 405, some emphases removed.
  44. Harriman, Journals of Ayn Rand, 148.
  45. In order to impose some structure on such hashes, Hollywood has developed its own set of pseudo-classicist rules about “character arcs” and “second-act turning points.”
  46. Harriman, Journals of Ayn Rand, 108.
  47. Hugo, “Preface to Cromwell,” 384–85.
  48. See Rand, “What Is Romanticism?” especially 118–19.
  49. Biographical interviews (Ayn Rand Archives).
  50. I am grateful to the Ayn Rand Institute for a grant that supported the writing of this essay, to Michael Berliner of the Ayn Rand Archives for providing helpful information, and to Robert Mayhew and Gregory Salmieri for making astute comments on various drafts.
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Tore Boeckmann

Tore Boeckmann has lectured and written extensively on Ayn Rand’s novels and literary esthetics. He edited for publication her guide to literature, The Art of Fiction.

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