Struggle Between Excellence And Mediocrity In The Fountainhead

1553 words - 6 pages

Struggle Between Excellence and Mediocrity in The Fountainhead  

    Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead is a story of the struggle between men of greatness and men of mediocrity. An individualist to the core, Rand defines a man of greatness as one who is independent and uncompromising, one who derives his self-respect from his accomplishments and integrity rather than the approval of others. Rand defines a man of mediocrity, by contrast, as one who doesn't care about actually being competent and upright so long as he appears that way to others. Rand refers to these mediocre men as second-handers, because they get their self-respect second-hand, from the approval of those around them. In The Fountainhead, a man of greatness, Howard Roark, must struggle against these men of mediocrity, who either, like Peter Keating, pretend to greatness, or, like Ellsworth Toohey, seek to destroy greatness itself. As she chronicles the lives of these men, Rand refutes the idea that life sometimes requires a man to compromise, to soften his convictions when they are no longer accepted or convenient. By the end of the novel, it is the independent man of greatness that has emerged victorious and the compromising second-handers that lie fallen around him.
       Still, Rand doesn't pretend that the success of the independent man comes quickly or easily. When the book begins, Peter Keating has just graduated with honors from the Stanton Institute of Technology, while Howard Roark has just been expelled from that same institute as a result of his refusal to compromise his artistic integrity by designing buildings that look like Tudor chapels or French opera houses. In the months that follow, Keating claws his way to the top of the prestigious Francon & Heyer firm by flattering his boss and sabotaging the reputation of a well-loved draftsman, while Roark struggles to make ends meet working at the failing firm of his idol Henry Cameron, an uncompromising modernistic genius who has fallen from public favor during architecture's neoclassical phase. Keating, however, whose position within his firm is based on manipulation, not original accomplishment, is soon confronted with his own incompetence when he tries to design a building for the Cosmo-Slotnick competition. After several frustrating attempts, Keating realizes his own ineptitude, and, abandoning any attempts to design something unified and honest, decides to instead focus on pleasing the jury by straddling styles and designing a compromise building: a skyscraper, but one in keeping with the style of jury-member Ralston Holcombe's favorite Italian palaces. As with all compromises in The Fountainhead, the results are hideous. And just as Keating compromises his buildings, Keating also compromises himself, hiding a mediocre structure behind a flashy facade. As a result of these compromises, Keating becomes depressed and turns to drinking as a means of coping with the sense of dissatisfaction brought about by making...

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