The Fountainhead: Rebel Without a Cause

BrokenChain

The Fountainhead, part 1, chapter 12

Dominique is summoned to a meeting with Alvah Scarret, the editor-in-chief of the Banner. He’s thrilled with her report on life in the slums, and plans to make the “Women’s Welfare Department” a regular feature of the paper, with Dominique as the head columnist. He thinks it’ll be a hit, but she’s uninterested in the promotion. That’s when she confesses to him that she spiked her own story:

“All right,” said Dominique… “Am I fired?”

He shook his head dolefully. “Do you want to be?”

“Not necessarily.”

Like most people, Scarret is perplexed by Dominique. He asks her why she did it, what she could possibly hope to get out of sabotaging her own career. She says lightly that because she likes him, she’ll explain herself:

“I can’t figure you out, Dominique. You’ve done it before. You go along so beautifully, you do brilliant work and just when you’re about to make a real step forward — you spoil it by pulling something like this. Why?”

… “You know, Alvah, it would be terrible if I had a job I really wanted… If I found a job, a project, an idea or a person I wanted — I’d have to depend on the whole world. Everything has strings leading to everything else. We’re all so tied together. We’re all in a net, the net is waiting, and we’re pushed into it by one single desire. You want a thing and it’s precious to you. Do you know who is standing ready to tear it out of your hands? You can’t know, it may be so involved and so far away, but someone is ready, and you’re afraid of them all. And you cringe and you crawl and you beg and you accept them — just so they’ll let you keep it. And look at whom you come to accept.”

The ability to do this, I scarcely have to point out, is a privilege that only a rich heiress like Dominique Francon has. She was born into fabulous wealth; she’s got fuck-you money. She can afford to turn down a job she doesn’t want, because she doesn’t need to work for a living. As we’ll see shortly, she’s full of contempt for common people who, in her view, debase themselves by giving in to those desires; but has it occurred to her that most people have no choice about who and what they accept if they want to survive?

The root of Dominique’s disenchantment, as she explains to Alvah Scarret, is that she’s been repeatedly let down by humanity. People are corrupt, piggish, drunken and vulgar. No one measures up to her high standards, no one she’s ever met has proven worthy of her respect, there is none righteous, no, not even one. So she’s taken the only course of action that seems open to her, which is refusing to care about anyone or anything. If there’s nothing she wants from the world, she can’t be disappointed by not getting it:

“But hell! That’s not the way to look at it. That’s not the whole picture. There’s some good in the worst of us. There’s always a redeeming feature.”

“So much the worse. Is it an inspiring sight to see a man commit a heroic gesture, and then learn that he goes to vaudeville shows for relaxation? Or see a man who’s painted a magnificent canvas — and learn that he spends his time sleeping with every slut he meets?”

“What do you want? Perfection?”

“—or nothing. So, you see, I take the nothing.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I take the only desire one can really permit oneself. Freedom, Alvah, freedom.”

“You call that freedom?”

“To ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.”

In fact, her nihilism goes deeper than that. If she ever does come across something she likes, her immediate impulse is to destroy it, so that the unclean and unworthy world will never be able to defile it:

“You know, I love statues of naked men. Don’t look so silly. I said statues. I had one in particular. It was supposed to be Helios. I got it out of a museum in Europe… I think I was in love with it, Alvah. I brought it home with me.”

“Where is it? I’d like to see something you like, for a change.”

“It’s broken.”

“Broken? A museum piece? How did that happen?”

“I broke it.”

“How?”

“I threw it down the air shaft. There’s a concrete floor below.”

“Are you totally crazy? Why?”

“So that no one else would ever see it.”

Remember that, as I’ve written, Dominique is Bizarro Ayn Rand. In her author’s eyes, she has all the correct premises except one, which causes her to come to inverted conclusions. Specifically, Dominique is right to treat the vast majority of humanity as worthless and beneath contempt; her only error is not recognizing that one truly great person exists who is worthy of her devotion. (One guess who it is.)

Even this bizarre business of smashing the ancient statue seems to be close to something Ayn Rand actually believed. It echoes a scene in Atlas Shrugged where Hank Rearden said that beautiful objects are “wasted” if they’re on display to the public. Both scenes have in common the belief that only the properly discerning – in other words, the rich – should derive pleasure from beautiful things, that they’re defiled if people without Rand-approved philosophical premises are permitted to enjoy them as well.

Alvah, a naturally earnest person, is curious as to how Dominique came to hold such a corrosive philosophy:

“Dominique, my dear,” he said, with earnest, sincere concern, “I wish I’d been your father. What kind of a tragedy did you have in your childhood?”

“Why, none at all. I had a wonderful childhood. Free and peaceful and not bothered too much by anybody. Well, yes, I did feel bored very often. But I’m used to that.”

This would be the perfect setup for an establishing character speech, except that Dominique brushes it off. She breezily says that her childhood was idyllic and there’s nothing in her background to explain why she is the way she is. If she’s a rebel, she’s a rebel without a cause to set her on that track.

This fits with Ayn Rand’s idiom. As we’ve seen before, she isn’t really interested in her characters as characters, only as symbols. She didn’t seem to care that this makes them less interesting and less relatable. In fact, sympathetic and relatable characters might actually be the opposite of what she wants, because that would make them more like those dull, ordinary humans she despises.

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