The Fountainhead: Rubber Room

The Fountainhead: Rubber Room June 27, 2019

The Fountainhead, part 4, chapter 19

In the aftermath of Roark’s acquittal, oil baron Roger Enright buys the land from the government and hires Howard Roark to rebuild Cortlandt Homes as he originally designed it. But it’s not going to be low-income housing any more: “No questions were to be asked about the income, occupation, children or diet of the future tenants; the project was open to anyone who wished to move in and pay the rent”.

This is meant to resolve the contradiction of a Randian hero building a government housing project, but it only sort of succeeds. After all, one presumes the government is going to build other housing projects – they’re surely not going to give up on the whole idea just because one was destroyed, any more than the builders of the World Trade Center would have left the site as an empty lot – and Roark has given them a guide to doing it cheaply and efficiently. As bificommander pointed out in last week’s comments:

It bears mention that Roark, who naturally sees the evil plots of socialism for what they are, was perfectly happy to go along with helping bring them about.

This poor housing project was supposed to be a capstone of Toohey’s plan to bring about his collectivist Utopia. And it had to be a great building so he could sell the idea. It’s why he couldn’t let his mediocre cronies do it. Only Roark could do it… and would have happily done it if only they hadn’t made a slight change.

After that, the second handers could have merrily copied the design, with or without terrible changes, since not having his design immitated wasn’t part of the deal. They could have build thousands of social housing projects and used Toohey’s brilliant social engineering to force all Americans to live in them. All thanks to Roark.

As for Toohey himself, you may recall that Wynand fired him for disobeying his order not to write about the Cortlandt trial. But in Rand’s world, the government is always on the side of the little guy and a dedicated enemy of big corporations and the wealthy, so Toohey files suit and wins:

Ellsworth Toohey won his case before the labor board. Wynand was ordered to reinstate him in his job.

Apparently, there wasn’t an Objectivist Hero available to make a speech at the hearing. If only Roark had been there, he could have delivered a monologue about why man’s discovery of fire means that Toohey has to lose his job.

Toohey smiled, entering the Banner Building that evening. He stopped in the city room. He waved to people, shook hands, made witty remarks about some current movies… Then he ambled on to his office. He stopped short. He knew, while stopping, that he must enter, must not show the jolt, and that he had shown it: Wynand stood in the open door of his office.

“Good evening, Mr. Toohey,” said Wynand softly. “Come in.”

To Toohey’s bewilderment, Wynand appears content to stand in the door of his office and watch him while he gets to work. Toohey is rattled by this inexplicable behavior, even as he tries not to show it.

Toohey felt the rumble under his shoe soles: the presses were rolling. He realized that he had heard them for some time. It was a comforting sound, dependable and alive. The pulse beat of a newspaper — the newspaper that transmits to men the pulse beat of the world.

…After a while, Toohey said:

“Really, Mr. Wynand, there’s no reason why you and I can’t get together.”

Wynand did not answer.

Giving up on small talk, Toohey picks up a sheet of paper and inserts it into the typewriter. But before he can press the first key:

The presses stopped.

Toohey jerked back, automatically, before he knew why he had jerked: he was a newspaperman and it was a sound that did not stop like that.

Wynand looked at his wrist watch. He said:

“It’s nine o’clock. You’re out of a job, Mr. Toohey. The Banner has ceased to exist.”

This is more than a spiteful gesture towards Toohey, although it’s also that. Wynand realized, too late, that everything he spent his life working for was in vain. The Banner never gave him the power over his fellow human beings that he believed he held, and so it’s useless to him. In a final act of defiance, he bought out all his investors and shut the paper down.

However, unlike Roark, who often goes through long stretches of unemployment, Toohey lands on his feet. He’s rehired almost immediately:

Many newspapers bid for the services of Ellsworth Monkton Toohey. He selected the Courier, a paper of well-bred prestige and gently uncertain policy.

In the evening of his first day on the new job Ellsworth Toohey sat on the edge of an associate editor’s desk and they talked about Mr. Talbot, the owner of the Courier, whom Toohey had met but a few times.

“But Mr. Talbot as a man?” asked Ellsworth Toohey. “What’s his particular god? What would he go to pieces without?”

This is the last thing The Fountainhead tells us about Ellsworth Toohey, and it’s a hell of a sendoff. What it means is that, in this story, the bad guy wins.

Toohey is moving to another paper, where he’s going to resume his sinister propaganda campaign to brainwash the public into supporting socialism. Nothing that happened over the course of this book has delayed his evil master plan in any way. Gail Wynand utterly failed to stop him, and Howard Roark never tried.

How could this have ended differently, if Rand had wanted it to? I’ve got a suggestion:

Shusaku Tani is employed at the Sony plant here, but he doesn’t really work.

For more than two years, he has come to a small room, taken a seat and then passed the time reading newspapers, browsing the Web and poring over engineering textbooks from his college days. He files a report on his activities at the end of each day.

Japan’s strict labor laws make it difficult to lay off workers who no longer have a useful role to perform. Instead, large companies assign them to oidashibeya, sometimes translated as “boredom rooms”, where they’re ordered to perform menial tasks or given nothing to do at all, with the intent of driving them to quit.

Until a few years ago, New York City schools did the same thing to teachers who were deemed incompetent but couldn’t be fired because of union rules. Here, they were known as “rubber rooms”. Some teachers were kept there for years on end.

Some people might say that getting a paycheck for doing nothing sounds like a dream come true. But many workers who’ve been subjected to this treatment testify that it’s a brutal punishment, similar to solitary confinement. Everyone has a need to feel useful and to know that they’re valued, and for most people, the readiest place to find that sense of purpose is through their job. Being made to feel useless day in and day out is a kind of psychological torture, which is the same reason why prolonged unemployment is so hard on the psyche.

If Wynand was the brilliant and ruthless capitalist Rand tells us he is, something like this would have been a perfect way to deal with Toohey. Keep him on the payroll, but don’t let him publish any columns. Move his office to a broom closet in the basement. Make him compile daily reports on some mind-numbing topic, like how many commas were used in each of the competitors’ newspapers that day. Wynand could still have shut down the Banner, but left Toohey as the last employee of a ghost newspaper, coming to work every day to sit in an empty warehouse, cursing his fate as his mind shrivels up from boredom. (Rand could have invented an obscure clause in his contract or contrived some other reason to prevent him from quitting of his own free will.)

This would have been a plausible way to stop Toohey in his tracks. It would also have been a fitting last service for the psychologically-broken Wynand to offer his friend Howard Roark, inflicting a final defeat on the villain who caused them both such grief.

I don’t know if Rand couldn’t think of anything like this, or if this downer ending is what she intended. Maybe she wanted to send a message that collectivism was on the march and her like-minded readers shouldn’t get complacent. But it makes her hero look pretty complacent that he’s totally indifferent to the socialists’ success. In fact, given the opportunity, he’s eager to help them out.

Other posts in this series:

"I don't think other religions can be compared to Christianity. Jews have long had a ..."

Theocracy Watch, 2019 Edition
"The influence of the source material is definitely becoming more conspicuous.Curt, of course, is upset ..."

Commonwealth, V: Junction 6B-497
"OMG! John Ashcroft? I had forgotten all about that idiot!"

Theocracy Watch, 2019 Edition
"But this wasn’t your original argument. You said secular figures were at the forefront of ..."

Theocracy Watch, 2019 Edition

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment