The Fountainhead: A Friend in Need

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The Fountainhead, part 1, chapter 7

Howard Roark has been left alone and jobless, again, by the forced retirement of his mentor. Luckily for him, though he’s done nothing to deserve it, he has a friend.

Peter Keating marches in to see his boss, Guy Francon, and tells him, “I’ve got to have that man.” When he explains Roark’s background, Francon agrees:

“Oh well… well, speaking structurally, not esthetically, Cameron does give them a thorough grounding and… Of course, Cameron was pretty important in his day. As a matter of fact, I was one of his best draftsmen myself once, long ago. There’s something to be said for old Cameron when you need that sort of thing. Go ahead. Get your Roark if you think you need him.”

“It’s not that I really need him. But he’s an old friend of mine, and out of a job, and I thought it would be a nice thing to do for him.”

It’s truly strange how Rand insists that the world is arrayed against her heroes and wants to see them fail, when her own text repeatedly gives evidence to the contrary.

Whether it was Roark’s dean, who offered him a year off to get his head on straight when he refused to do his homework, or the people who offered Henry Cameron paying work only to have him fling it back in their faces, this story is full of people giving the protagonists opportunities and second chances which they reject. Then they have the chutzpah to insist that the world hates them for their greatness.

Rand would have said that each of these events was a temptation for her heroes to sell out, and they were right to refuse. But that’s only because she labors under the delusion that you should be able to get your own way in everything at all times. Generous attempts at accommodation, in her view, are worthless if her characters aren’t being given exactly what they want.

That evening, Keating drops by Roark’s apartment to extend his offer. He tries to make small talk first, to which Roark responds with his customary tact:

“Just passing by,” said Keating, “with an evening to kill and happened to think that that’s where you live, Howard, and thought I’d drop in to say hello, haven’t seen you for such a long time.”

“I know what you want,” said Roark. “All right. How much?”

Surprised at getting no resistance, Keating says the pay is $65 a week (this equates to about $48,000 a year in 2016 dollars), but that he can fight for more if Roark wants him to. Roark waves him off, but has a different stipulation:

“On one condition,” said Roark. “I’m not going to do any designing. Not any. No details. No Louis XV skyscrapers. Just keep me off esthetics if you want to keep me at all. Put me in the engineering department. Send me on inspections, out in the field. Now, do you still want me?”

If Roark had emotions like a normal human being, he’d be grateful to the friend who offered him a job without him even having to ask. Instead, he has a sulky attitude, saying “You got what you wanted” as if he’s demeaning himself by accepting the offer, and insulting the man who agreed to hire him:

“You want to know why I’m doing it? …Is that it? I’ll tell you, if you want to know. I don’t give a damn where I work next. There’s no architect in town that I’d want to work for. But I have to work somewhere, so it might as well be your Francon — if I can get what I want from you. I’m selling myself, and I’ll play the game that way — for the time being.”

Despite the text’s insistence that Keating is the designated villain, if I had to choose one of these two as friends, I’d take him in a second. Even though Roark’s time with Cameron ended in failure, just as Keating predicted, he didn’t gloat or say “I told you so.”

Instead, he did him a huge favor! He put his own reputation on the line to get Roark a job at a prestigious firm. (When Roark is fired for insubordination, as he will be shortly, that’s bound to reflect badly on the man who recommended him for the position.) Keating even agreed to conditions that Roark put on the offer, despite his total lack of negotiating power. Do you think Roark would have done any of this for Keating if their situations were reversed?

With their business concluded, Keating insists that he really did want to socialize. He suggests they go out for a drink, but Roark refuses with typical rudeness:

“Howard, let’s go out and have a drink, just sort of to celebrate the occasion.”

“Sorry, Peter. That’s not part of the job.”

Talk about ingratitude! Roark is basically saying – again, to the man who just got him a job – that he wants nothing to do with him unless he’s being paid for it.

Understandably frustrated, Keating wants to know what Roark’s deal is:

“That’s not what I mean!” said Keating. “Why can’t you go out for a drink with me?”

“What for?”

“Do you always have to have a purpose? Do you always have to be so damn serious? Can’t you ever do things without reason, just like everybody else? You’re so serious, so old. Everything’s important with you, everything’s great, significant in some way, every minute, even when you keep still. Can’t you ever be comfortable — and unimportant?”

“No.”

Basically, Roark is the guy from this classic Onion article, “I’m Not One of Those People Who Goes Around Having Fun.”

“Howard, why do you hate me?”

“I don’t hate you.”

“Well, that’s it! Why don’t you hate me at least?”

“Why should I?”

“Just to give me something. I know you can’t like me. You can’t like anybody. So it would be kinder to acknowledge people’s existence by hating them.”

“I’m not kind, Peter.”

This brings to mind that Elie Wiesel quote that the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin; both, in their way, are recognitions of the recipient’s importance.

Roark, as we’ve seen, is blind to the existence of human beings besides himself. He sees other people only as vague, colorless blurs that occasionally get in his way. He should recognize how astoundingly fortunate he is to have any friends at all. Instead, the narrative sides with him at every turn, and expects us to view his behavior as entirely sympathetic and justified.

Image: How other human beings look to a Randian protagonist. Via Monik Markus, released under CC BY 2.0 license

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