In her first notes for The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand describes its purpose as “a defense of egoism in its real meaning . . . a new definition of egoism and its living example.” She later states its theme as “individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in man’s soul; the psychological motivations and the basic premises that produce the character of an individualist or a collectivist.”
The “living example” of egoism is Howard Roark, “an architect and innovator, who breaks with tradition, [and] recognizes no authority but that of his own independent judgment.” Roark’s individualism is contrasted with the spiritual collectivism of many of the other characters, who are variations on the theme of “second-handedness” — thinking, acting, and living second-hand.
Roark struggles to endure not merely professional rejection, but also the enmity of Ellsworth Toohey, beloved humanitarian and leading architectural critic; of Gail Wynand, powerful publisher; and of Dominique Francon, the beautiful columnist who loves him fervently yet is bent on destroying his career.
The Fountainhead earned Rand a lasting reputation as one of history’s greatest champions of individualism.