Rand’s The Fountainhead: The “Problem” of the Female Protagonist
Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel The Fountainhead is a narrative about a young architect named Roark who faces societal opposition to his innovational, or non-traditional, approach to architectural design. The novel depicts Roark’s journey from design school to the establishment of his career, revealing a struggle between his radical architectural ideals and a society deeply invested in both classical architecture and intolerance of Individualism. The theory of Individualism places value upon the individual, as opposed to the communal society or the “masses”. In the novel, the masses value conventional modes of art, such as classical Greek and Latin architectural forms; as Roark’s architectural ideals contrast sharply with those of society, he is at odds with the architects and artistic critics of his time. One critic of his architectural design in the narrative is Dominique, the female protagonist and his love interest in the novel. The characterization and ideals of Dominique exhibited in The Fountainhead reveals that she obscures the fact that her ideals align with those demonstrated by Roark.
Several analytical approaches to the novel examine the conflicted ideals of Dominique within the narrative. One critical approach interprets Dominique’s sarcastic demeanor in the novel as her attempt to underscore the insignificance of the people she chooses to ridicule. Her purpose in ridiculing Roark, among others, is to try to weaken his dedication and resolve of his ideals—both his architectural ideals and his life ideals. It is these same beliefs that Dominique holds secretly. She is at odds with Roark when she attempts to “save” him from inevitable disappointment; she attempts to break down and weaken his devotion to the ideals she believes cannot be realized—because (she believes) the world does not support the successes of humankind. She tries to save him from the disappointment by hastening his failure and thus save him from the prolonged pain of failure she assumes he will experience. Her prediction that his ideals will not be realized because the world is not naturally conducive to his success is called the “malevolent universe premise”. The integration of this premise, exhibited by Dominique’s actions and demeanor, is another critical approach to the novel. I would like to use these two critics to explore the confliction between Dominique and Roark.
I will use both of these critics’ arguments to support one another, and present a reading of the novel that reveals Dominique’s true ideals and character despite the external exhibition of frustration with her ideals. From the critical approaches described previously, I would like to use the approach that suggests that the sarcasm exhibited by Dominique is evidence of her confliction with Roark; it would support the second critics’ claim that Dominique is indeed at odds with Roark in the novel, and that she is combating her own confliction of ideals by targeting Roark with her sarcasm. I would like to then examine the ideals exhibited by Roark in order to derive the ideals that Dominique is not demonstrating her own belief in; by understanding Roark better, I can better understand the ideals that Dominique herself values. The confliction between Roark and Dominique, and her struggle with his ideals is the plot construction that creates a “problem” that the female protagonist must solve in order to achieve self-discovery of her own ideals. When Dominique realizes that Roark is not going to “fail”, she embraces her own repressed ideals that mirror those of Roark. In the end, she realizes her ideals are the same as those held by Roark, and the discovery is the solution to the “problem” the plot creates for her.