The Fountainhead of My Inspiration

I didn’t know why it had taken me so long to get to know this book, but I was glad I finally did. Holding this thick book, The Fountainhead, in my hands, I was more than pleasantly surprised that a book published years before I was even born could resonate with me beyond my imagination. Howard Roark, the architect, spoke my language and uttered my words, some of which I could only say inside my mind. But he said it loud, one-on-one with people and with groups in public. I relished in his clarity, his visions, and his complete lack of fear as a human being who is always reminded that to be safe, we need to “get along with others,” “climb the ladders,” and “work hard to make a living.”

In the over 700 pages of the book, life seemed to carry him along pretty fine, no matter when he got a great and grand commission to build, or when he needed to work for wages in a granite quarry, no matter when it was him who received the soul-touching love life, or when he lost his woman to a world that seemed to hate him.

Moving through the pages, I was so very glad that I met him, a fictional character as he seemed to be. I couldn’t have enough of him, this person who was considered antisocial. But he, in my eyes, was one of those very rare people who are actually fully human!

On the surface level of the storyline, it is a book about how an artist, an architect, chose to stay true to his art and his work, no matter how hard it could get and how many shortcuts were offered. On a deeper level, it was quite philosophical. The author, Ayn Rand, was considered a philosopher as much as a writer. Yet, there’s even more depth to it. As my soul was resonating with Howard, his calm nature, his matter-of-factness, his sovereignty… He stood for our own perfect and self-sufficient spiritual nature.

The storyline was very engaging and twisting. Many nights, it was late. I told myself I had to put it down, but I couldn’t, not before I flipped through the next pages or even chapters, learning that it would be okay, that he would be okay, before I could close the book and go to bed. However, very soon, I realized the book was more about characters. I don’t hate the parasite Peter Keating who constantly and shamelessly stole Howard’s work to climb his ladders. I don’t hate Ellsworth Toohey who chose to use his all-encompassing brilliant understanding of human nature to purposefully do harm to the human spirit. Toohey is the hypnotist in the book. He knew how to use a whole bunch of words as his tools to mess with people’s minds and draw people to his ideology and standards. I don’t hate him because I understand his need to steal souls presupposed that he didn’t have a full-functioned one. His need to hoard power presupposed that he didn’t have enough power. I don’t hate Guy Francon, an incompetent person in his craft who rose to an extremely high position in his industry. I don’t hate Gail Wynand who shamelessly robbed talented people and broke their spirit for his own business gain. In a way, I can see myself in all of them. Each character can represent an aspect of me – the clear one, the fearful one, the competitive one, the defeated one, the struggling one.

A majority of people have long been hypnotized out of their true nature into “collective thinking”; therefore, they’ve inevitably become “second-handers.” Coming from communist China, I knew the “unifying thoughts” never worked for me, as thinking is a very private affair. After coming to Canada, I realized that even though there is less political force to regulate one’s thoughts, there is no lack of other forces, overt or covert, to thought conformity. Staying clear, conscious, and aware, like Howard did in the story of The Fountainhead, is rare, but so encouraging after reading this book. In the two trials he went through, without hiring a lawyer, he defended himself. The long “speech” he made in front of the jury in the last trial was priceless. I am so glad Ayn Rand put them into words like that.

Howard Roark, this innocent “anti-social loner,” is a person of light, shining through the pages into my heart of soul.

My favourite little dialogue was between Toohey and Roark toward the end of Part II of the book. No matter how Toohey was trying to extend a hook to Roark, Roark just simply, politely, and not-waste-a-single-word-ly, didn’t take it.

Because if one takes the hook, that’s how a chain is formed.

Here’s the dialogue:

“I understand your work better than any living person… That’s a great deal, isn’t it, Mr. Roark?… You haven’t many people around you who can say that. It’s a greater bond than if I were your devoted, but blind supporter.”
“I knew you understood.”
“Then you won’t mind talking to me.”
“About what?”
In the darkness it sounded almost as if Toohey had sighed… Toohey pointed to the building… went on softly: “What does it look like to you? Like a senseless mess? Like a chance collection of driftwood? Like an imbecile chaos? But is it? Mr. Roark? Do you see no method? You who know the language of structure and the meaning of form. Do you see no purpose here?”
“I see none in discussing it.”
“Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”
“But I don’t think of you.”

A good book is ageless. How rich our world is because of Howard, because of Ayn Rand!

No matter how long it took me to put my hands on this book that had been existing quietly all these years, my heart is smiling knowing that such a book exists.

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