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Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

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What words can be used to describe a man like Howard Roark? Many have called him an artist, a creator, a modernist. However, his motives have earned him a new title by society : selfless. Nonetheless, Roark's seemingly selfless actions are in fact selfish when seen through Ayn Rand's definition of selfishness.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary selfless is "having no concern for self". Through the eyes of society, Roark is neglecting his physical needs for something greater than himself "You need the commission. Do you have to be quite so fanatical and selfless about it?" (p. 197). Roark refuses a major building contract because it would mean having to compromise his beliefs to create the building. Roark refuses it, despite the fact that he needs the money. The banker who offered him the job sees Roark's stubbornness as selflessness because he is willing to ignore his needs for an idea, that is, modernism. Furthermore, Roark refused Keating's money when Keating tried to bribe Roark into not saying anything about his implication in the Cosmo-Slotnick building. " Then he turned it over, took his fountain pen , wrote on the back : 'Pay to the order of Peter Keating,' signed and handed the check to Keating. 'And here's my bribe to you, Peter,' he said. 'For the same purpose. To keep your mouth shut.'" (p. 193). Roark's gesture can be interpreted as a favour to Keating. He does not want to hurt his friend by denouncing him, therefore he wouldn't have told a soul anyway. He is returning the money because it is unfair for Keating to give a large sum for something that Roark would have done anyway. He is, once again, neglecting his needs for the sake of something greater than him.

Ayn Rand believes "[…] the selfless man is...

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...in one of two ways -- by the independent work of his own mind or as a parasite fed by the minds of others." (p.679) In this passage, Roark claims that the man who does not find his own means to survive, is nothing but a "parasite". This invokes the image of a leech sucking a victim's leg, in order to survive. Roark uses strong imagery to express the disgust he feels for the second-hander. Thus, the esteem he has for himself and the fact that he refuses to compromise make him a selfish man.

To conclude, despite society's belief that Roark is a selfless man, who believes in a greater idea, he has proven to be a selfish man, through the motivation for his actions and his opinion of selfishness. He condemns the selfless man to being a "parasite", a man without a soul. The selfless man has no ego.

Works Cited

Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Plume, 1994.
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