The Fountainhead

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by Ayn Rand


The Fountainhead has achieved the status of a modern classic because it dramatically concretizes the theme of independence versus dependence, between following one’s own ideas or following those of others. This is of particular importance to high school students who are eager to assert their independence from their parents and need a code values to guide them. The student needs to know to what extent he must follow his parents, when it is his right to assert himself against them, when and if he is being improperly influenced by peer pressure, and that it is his right to resist it. He needs to discover that social pressures pushing him toward unsatisfactory career and marriage choices are not irresistible forces defining his life—that he can oppose them successfully and often should. And he needs to discover that unthinking rebellion against the standards of others—being different just to be different—is as abject a form of dependence as is blind allegiance to others. The Fountainhead appeals strongly to the young—and I have seen this appeal year after year, with my own high school students—not only because its theme is independence but because it presents “a noble vision of man’s nature and of life’s potential.” (From Ayn Rand’s Introduction to the novel.) That Ayn Rand was able to integrate these issues into a plot structure that crackles with conflict can be explained only by the school of writing to which she belongs: Romantic Realism. She is a Romantic in that she projects men as they might be and ought to be. Although not many men may be living up to the ideal of independence, they have the capacity to do so, and a reason why: their success and happiness depend on it. In this, she fundamentally differs from the Naturalist school of fiction, which is content merely to present men as they are. (For further elaboration, see Ayn Rand’s The Romantic Manifesto.) Ayn Rand is a Realist in that her heroes are possible and deal with crucial real-life problems of today; her heroes are never relegated to historical costume dramas, other worlds or flights of fantasy. For all the literary and intellectual achievements of The Fountainhead, it is but an overture to Ayn Rand’s greatest achievement: Atlas Shrugged. For your advanced students who appreciate The Fountainhead and who are looking to go further, there is good news: Atlas Shrugged covers in detail the sophisticated themes that The Fountainhead begins to explore.

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