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Peace On The Streets: Analysis Of Altruism And Egoism In Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead

1502 words - 6 pages

The ultimate motive of both the altruist and egoist is personal gain. Separating the two ideologies is the method by which this is accomplished. For the altruist, addressing the needs of humanity is purportedly the sole purpose of existence. Egoists, on the other hand, refuse to act if an action does not directly benefit themselves. In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand addresses the function of altruists and egoists within society through character development. There are four characters in particular who distinctly exhibit the attributes of altruistic and egoistic individuals: Catherine Halsey, Peter Keating, and Ellsworth Toohey possess altruistic qualities; whereas, Howard Roark is explicitly egoistic.
By definition, altruism is "the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others". Through vigorous analysis, however, I have established it to be a complex ideology whose followers can be divided into three categories: slaves, abusers, and advocates. The slave abides by the ideals of 'pure' altruism. In other words, he does not act according to personal need or desire; humanity is all that matters. This is altruism in its purest form and is the branch of altruism which envelopes Catherine and allows her to feel a sense of purpose. Yet, much more common is the abuser of altruism. He is the altruist who ascertains and seizes any opportunity for personal gain by abusing the ostensibly philanthropic ideology. As ironic as this seems, it is common practice for one to proffer with the intention of receiving something in return. Peter Keating demonstrates how such an abuser manipulates altruism into a golden ladder by which he may reach success. Reigning over even the most conniving abuser is the omnipotent follower of altruism: the advocate. Naturally an abuser himself, this individual promotes altruism, specifically of the slave form. This subtle manipulation allows him to rise above the rest of the population and impinge it through veiled supremacy. In The Fountainhead, this advocate is Ellsworth Toohey.
Catherine Halsey is ensnared in the slavery of altruism. Pure are her intentions; destructive are her actions. In the early stages of the novel, Catherine may be described as "innocent and sweet and pretty"(Rand, p.233); however, her demeanour regresses to that of a perplexed, brooding individual who has lost all self-confidence and vigour. Under her uncle Toohey's manipulation, she becomes obsessed with contributing to society. Neglecting her own well-being, though a characteristic of many altruists, causes her to fall into the trap of her philosophy. Catherine fades away; faceless in the midst of a social movement, she is merely another of Toohey's sycophants. She denies her discontent. She claims that she is happy. Her façade disguises the ubiquitous primitive desire to pursue her individual interests. A fear of falling deeper into misery arises without warning and causes Catherine to panic profusely: "'I...

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