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Isn't it pretty?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Individuality and The Fountainhead

I recently read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It was a fascinating book, one in which I couldn't figure out what was going to happen (one of my pet peeves about books is that you often know exactly what will happen the minute you pick it up). What really fascinated me about the book was what it said about individuality. The story was about a man, Howard Roark, who stood up for his personal beliefs, which often left him standing alone.

He was often criticized for his individuality. Society, led by the writer Ellsworth Toohey, descried his disregard for popular opinion as selfishness. To not value about what everyone else values meant a lack of caring about others. Standing up for what you believe, not giving in to popular opinion, meant that you only care about yourself. What was interesting is that Roark, who stood proud as an individual, asked for nothing from anyone. He didn't care about money, fame or popularity. He didn't care what others thought, or what they gave him. He freely gave up everything to stand by his individual beliefs. Those who claimed to care about society wanted the fame and fortune, which to me would signify a much greater selfishness than the opposite. Toohey desperately desired to steer society into valuing whatever he told them to. And often, just for his amusement, he told them to value the unworthy. Like sheep, society followed suit. They were enraged at the thought of an individual standing up and daring to say that he could think for himself. I agree with much of what Rand illustrated. What I don't understand is why individuality is so threatening to so many. Why does society care about those who go against the grain? The only answer I can think of is that when someone refuses to follow the beaten path, it is an insult to those who did follow it. Those who popularized the common route want it to be popular. An individual doesn't reinforce that; he makes it less popular just by his refusal to accept it. I guess a lot of people don't like thinking for themselves, it is harder than going along with what you are told. But Howard Roark, by determining himself what is important, was the strongest character in the book. And those who wanted the popular were the weakest. Being a strong individual is not easy, but I believe the rewards are worth it.

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