The Fountainhead: Don’t Ever Change

The Fountainhead: Don’t Ever Change August 17, 2018

The Fountainhead, part 3, chapters 4 & 5

After their conversation about how awful oceans and mountains are, Dominique asks Gail Wynand when they’re going to have sex, since that was the whole purpose of this trip. Wynand says they’re not; he’s changed his mind:

He had said it quietly, with an odd kind of simplicity, as if he were standing helpless before a fact he could not alter.

“Will you marry me?” he asked.

Wynand tells her that she’s “the cleanest person I’ve ever seen” and that, ironically, the way she approached him in the first place convinced him of this. “I’ve spent my life pulling the strings of the world. I’ve seen all of it. Do you think I could believe any purity — unless it came to me twisted in some such dreadful shape as the one you chose?”

Dominique says this wasn’t the outcome she had intended. Wynand reasons with her, telling her that he knows she’s chosen him as “the symbol of your contempt for men” and he accepts the role. That being the case, he argues that she might as well go all the way with it:

“If you wish to commit an unspeakable act as your revenge against the world, such an act is not to sell yourself to your enemy, but to marry him. Not to match your worst against his worst, but your worst against his best. You’ve tried that once, but your victim wasn’t worthy of your purpose. You see, I’m pleading my case on your own terms… Incidentally — since it is of no concern to you — I love you.”

Dominique thinks of the Banner and how it’s always tried to tear Roark down: trashing his work, cheering his defeat in the Stoddard trial. She says yes.

When Dominique returns from her trip, Peter is sullen and angry, assuming she had sex with Wynand as was the agreement. She doesn’t bother to disabuse him, but tells him to go meet with Gail Wynand himself to discuss the contract for Stoneridge:

“What I have to tell you, Mr. Keating, should never have needed to be said or done,” said Wynand. Keating had never heard a man speak in a manner so consciously controlled. He thought crazily that it sounded as if Wynand held his fist closed over his voice and directed each syllable. “Any extra word I speak will be offensive, so I shall be brief. I am going to marry your wife. She is leaving for Reno tomorrow. Here is the contract for Stoneridge. I have signed it. Attached is a check for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. It is in addition to what you will receive for your work under the contract. I’ll appreciate it if you will now make no comment of any kind. I realize that I could have had your consent for less, but I wish no discussion. It would be intolerable if we were to bargain about it. Therefore, will you please take this and consider the matter settled?”

Peter snaps, “You can have my consent for nothing,” presumably meaning he’s sick and tired of being married to Dominique and having his nose rubbed in her infidelities. When Wynand asks if that means he doesn’t want the money, Peter says he’ll take it anyway, snatches up the contract and storms out.

Dominique packs her bags, but before she goes away, she visits Steven Mallory in his studio. Since learning that he was the one who made the statue of her, Gail Wynand has become Mallory’s patron, and with Wynand’s patronage has come riches. He seems healthier and happier, and he’s moved into a new, bigger space that he’s decorated with art and sculpture from around the world.

She had not seen Roark for twenty months. She had called on Mallory once in a while. Mallory knew that these visits were breakdowns in a struggle she would not name; he knew that she did not want to come, that her rare evenings with him were time torn out of her life. He never asked any questions and he was always glad to see her. They talked quietly, with a feeling of companionship such as that of an old married couple; as if he had possessed her body, and the wonder of it had long since been consumed, and nothing remained but an untroubled intimacy. He had never touched her body, but he had possessed it in a deeper kind of ownership when he had done her statue, and they could not lose the special sense of each other it had given them.

I actually kind of like this idea. Unlike Roark, who has the emotional range of an inanimate carbon rod, the two of them are just human enough to be believable. Like Eddie Willers in Atlas, it’s Rand’s second-tier characters who think and act in the most recognizably human ways.

This isn’t a luxury that Rand permits her heroes. Almost invariably, their only responses come from a strictly limited emotional repertoire: icy contempt, violent sexual passion, impersonal conversations about making money, or all three at once. The idea of warmth, of two people who genuinely enjoy each other’s company having a comfortable and pleasant conversation, isn’t something you see in her novels very often – or at all.

Mallory tells Dominique before she asks that Roark is out in Ohio, building a department store:

In a pause, she asked:

“How is he, Steve?”

“As he’s always been. He doesn’t change, you know… I often think that he’s the only one of us who’s achieved immortality. I don’t mean in the sense of fame and I don’t mean that he won’t die some day. But he’s living it. I think he is what the conception really means. You know how people long to be eternal. But they die with every day that passes. When you meet them, they’re not what you met last. In any given hour, they kill some part of themselves. They change, they deny, they contradict — and they call it growth. At the end there’s nothing left, nothing unreversed or unbetrayed; as if there had never been an entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out on an unformed mass. How do they expect a permanence which they have never held for a single moment? But Howard — one can imagine him existing forever.”

This is such a telling glimpse into Ayn Rand’s worldview: she thinks of learning, change and personal growth as a character flaw.

According to this philosophy, the only way to be a heroic individualist is to hold all the same opinions and values, unaltered, from the moment you emerge from the womb until death. If you gain wisdom and perspective as you get older and accumulate life experience, if you realize some of your former beliefs were mistaken and trade them for better ones, that’s not a proof of growth or maturity; it’s a sign that you’re a worthless non-entity who’s tangled up in self-contradiction. She goes so far as to say that it’s equivalent to “kill[ing] some part” of yourself – as if changing your mind was a kind of mini-suicide. (Rand sticks to this viewpoint in Atlas Shrugged, where her protagonists, even when they’re children, are never child-like, just miniature versions of their adult selves.)

This is the same mindset as the brittle certainty of the religious fundamentalist. It’s the attitude that all important truths have already been revealed, so any change can only be in the direction of error. Moreover, if you do change your mind, it’s tantamount to admitting that you were wrong the first time – which obviously means that you never be trusted again. Creationists use this exact argument as a reason to deny science.

Whether it’s Objectivism or Christianity, the fundamentalist worldview holds that the safest thing to do is to never change your mind and never admit you were mistaken about anything, regardless of the weight of the evidence. But this is a false sense of security. As I’ve often observed, it offers no certainty but the certainty of error. No ideology or philosophy contains the whole truth about the world; the cosmos is far too complex for human minds to circumscribe it in this way. The best we can hope for is a series of better and better approximations.

I shouldn’t have to add that, for someone who claims to uphold reason as Ayn Rand does, this attitude is the antithesis of reason. Reason demands openness to all the facts, recognition of our own fallibility, and willingness to change your mind if new evidence arises that contradicts what you previously believed. To start out with the conclusion and claim that no evidence can alter it, no matter what, isn’t reason, but dogmatism.

Image credit: Ralph Hockens, released under CC BY 2.0 license

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