“I think we have a great deal in common, you and I. We’ve committed the same treason somewhere” (Rand, The Fountainhead 494). These are the words of Dominique Francon, spoken to Gail Wynand in Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead. Neither of these characters is the protagonist of the novel, nor do they illustrate The Fountainhead’s central theme, “Man as he should and can be.” Rather, they serve to illuminate an equally important theme in the novel: the depiction of “‘second-handers,’ those who shift the center of their lives from their own egos to the opinions of others” (Rand, The Journals of Ayn Rand 90). What causes men and women to betray their own rational egos in favor of the actions and concerns of others? And what is the inevitable consequence of this kind of treason?
The lives of Dominique Francon and Gail Wynand give clear answers to these questions. Dominique and Wynand are characterized by an inexorable self respect, a superlative productive capacity, and a system of values that holds the self as the highest good. Both fervently believe in the ideal of man as an individual; however, they concede that the existence of this ideal in their world is an impossibility. Life in a world of corruption and mediocrity has jaded them into accepting that the good—honest behavior, integrity, perfection—can never survive or succeed in the world. This one fundamental fallacy causes both Dominique and Wynand to lead second-hand lives, but their way of life, their motivation and their ultimate fate differ drastically, sharply contrasting resilience with surrender.
Though Dominique and Wynand share a basic premise, the two implement their philosophy in vastly different ways. Disgust for the world causes Dominique to seek total independence from it. She endeavors not to love or desire anything or anyone, because she believes it is the kind of world in which good things are destroyed while mediocrity reigns. This deep-rooted disgust reveals itself in a conversation between Dominique and her newspaper editor, Alvah Scarret. She relates a time when she fell in love with a statue, a depiction of Helios the sun god (Rand, The Fountainhead 145). After obtaining the statue from a European museum, she destroyed it. She threw it down the air shaft because she could not bear to think of this statue gazed upon by the thousands of mindless, selfless people inhabiting the world. In truth, Dominique’s cool and detached nature is a disguise for a bitterness that controls her life. Her antipathy for the petty, ugly and incompetent enslave her to them. By caring so much about these people, she has become a second-hander herself, letting her defiance dictate her motives and rule over her life.
Rather than withdraw from the world, as Dominique seeks to do, Wynand’s approach is to gain power over it. Wynand grew up in the slums of New York and rose rapidly to a position of power in the newspaper business. Originally, Wynand only wished to gain power as a means to the end of using it for good. He believes that if he temporarily sells himself to gain public admiration, he can later force a moral way of life on the world with his money and influence. When he explains his life to Roark, he admits, “I’ve sold my life, but I got a good price. Power….Now I can use it for what I want. For what I believe” (The Fountainhead 604). What Wynand does not understand is that this eventual return of power to the self can never and will never happen. For “if a dictator, such as Hitler, for instance, has to play down to the mob in order to hold his influence and rule—does he rule? Or does he merely give orders as long as he gives the kind of orders the mob wants to obey?” (Rand, The Journals of Ayn Rand 79). In the end, such a man can never rule unless he satisfies the mob, and so his life and his motives are in fact dictated by others.
Moreover, Wynand becomes so involved with the process of accumulating control over others that he begins to reverse the roles of “end” and “means.” His means of spreading a moral philosophy, i.e. his power, becomes the end and motivation of his life. Wynand begins to seek out men of exceptional devotion to their ideals. He systematically breaks them down until they agree to work for him, writing articles directly opposed to the ideals they once championed. When Dominique asks why Wynand seeks to destroy the lives of men of ideals, he answers simply, “Power, Dominique. The only thing I’ve ever wanted. To know that there’s not a man living whom I can’t force to do—anything” (Rand, The Fountainhead 497). No longer motivated even by the desire to spread his own ideals, Wynand has become the worst kind of second-hander: the man who chases after power (The Fountainhead 608).
The final victory of Howard Roark’s acquittal in the Corlandt case is the last piece of evidence required to condemn Gail Wynand. The outcome of this trial is the supreme symbol of the individual’s triumph over the mob, achieved precisely because of Roark’s refusal to betray a single ideal to purchase success. Wynand has long accepted that he has sacrificed his integrity, but until Roark’s triumph, Wynand was convinced that it had been necessary and justified. When faced with tangible evidence that a man of uncompromising integrity can and will ultimately succeed, the foundations of Wynand’s life crumble. He not only recognizes the second-hander he has become, but is forced to face the image of what he might have been. In his last soliloquy before disappearing from the novel, Wynand states bitterly, “Anything may be betrayed, anyone may be forgiven. But not those who lack the courage of their own greatness….[N]ot I. I was not born to be a second-hander” (The Fountainhead 663).
Dominique’s motives differ from Wynand’s, which ultimately saves her from a similar fate. Dominique is motivated by a sense of justice. She wants to protect what is good as much as she wishes to punish what is evil. Dominique meets Roark while he is working as a common laborer in her father’s granite quarry. When she discovers who he is, and the immense value he represents, she acts in perfect accordance with her system of values: she seeks to destroy him. In all its warped, twisted complexity, this is quite simply a protective action. Dominique is convinced of Roark’s ultimate demise in the face of the petty, faceless vacuum that she desperately opposes. She seeks to destroy him, so that he will be spared the attrition and the years of struggle, because she fears all that awaits him is defeat. She is acting once again on the principle of the broken statue: she would rather see Roark destroyed than taken advantage of by those in the world who least deserve it. She wants to give the world what it deserves, and in her estimation the world does not deserve Howard Roark.
When Dominique leaves Roark at the beginning of their relationship in order to destroy him, Roark tells her, “You must learn not to be afraid of the world. Not to be held by it as you are now….They won’t destroy me, Dominique. And they won’t destroy you” (The Fountainhead 376-77). Dominique cannot initially accept this. She strives to damage him, she marries Peter Keating and then Wynand in an attempt to stop caring so much for the ideal that Roark represents. It is only on the eve of the Corlandt trial that Dominique realizes he is stronger than all of this. The mediocrity, the ugliness, the empty shells of men that live on this earth: none of this can matter in the face of Roark’s axiomatic confidence in his own productive ability. Lying on the shore of a lake, Dominique looks at the world and finally sees that it is his earth, not theirs. “They don’t own it. They own nothing. They’ve never won….One cannot hate the earth in their name. The earth is beautiful. And it is a background, but not theirs” (The Fountainhead 666).
The fallacy held by both Dominique and Wynand cannot stand by the end of the novel; Roark’s life affirms that a collective entity, no matter how hostile to those of ability, is impotent against the primacy of the individual. The fundamental difference between Dominique and Wynand lies in how they choose to integrate this new philosophical truth into their lives. Dominique discerns that her philosophical premises do not match reality; painfully but successfully, she changes her life to align with what she now knows is true. Wynand, however, cannot change, cannot forgive himself, and ultimately surrenders to his demise. Ayn Rand understood that not everyone is a Howard Roark; humans are fallible, which makes it paramount that each individual constantly search his or her premises for contradictions and mistakes. Objectivism champions the mind that is not satisfied with a static understanding of life and continually seeks further knowledge. In Dominique and Wynand it becomes clear that those who can discover their mistakes and rectify them thrive in this world, while those who do not are in danger of a long fall.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Signet, 1971.
Rand, Ayn. The Journals of Ayn Rand. Ed. David Harriman. New York: Plume, 1999.