Selfishness And Selflessness In The Fountainhead

Even today, the impact that literature has on society is still striking. The Fountainhead was a novel written by Ayn rand that had themes that were so resonant with its readers, they became the catalyst for a political revolution and aided in the formation of Libertarians. The Fountainhead, often called “a novel with ideas,” makes some interesting claims about selfishness and selflessness. The novel defines selfishness in a unique way, which supports Rand’s central message of encouraging individualism. Rand exposes the true nature of each character, and her belief about selfishness and selflessness. Rand reverses the meaning of’selfishness’, which is often associated with negative connotations. She uses this to the advantage of her theme by using the words’selfless’ instead.

In The Fountainhead selflessness is seen as a mistake, while selfishness is considered a virtue. Rand asserts that you need to be an independentist and stop relying on others’ opinions. Howard Roark’s self-proclaimed (and proud) selfish character in the passage below gives a good example: “The Thing that is Destroying the World.” You mentioned something. The ideal that they deny exists?” “They’re mistaken.” The ideal does exist, though not as they think. For a long while, I didn’t know what to make of people. They don’t have a self. They are a part of others. They are living second-hand. Gaze upon Peter Keating (Rand 633). Rand argues that despite the negative connotations of selfishness, being selfish simply means putting yourself first and putting your opinions before others. In order to achieve your goal and pursue happiness, it is essential to prioritize your own needs and wants.

Rand’s belief about selfishness is shaped by her views on selflessness. Rand views a person who is selfless as someone who has no sense of identity or self. Rand says that in the quote, selflessness means a lack of identity or self. It is not a selfless act done for someone else, which often receives high praise. Rand states that although evil is typically associated with selfishness it is actually the lack one’s own identity that is responsible for the most “despicable actions”. Ellsworth M. Toohey, the character who is the “ultimate soul collector” in the novel, is a good example of this notion. Rand promotes selfishness in her novel by saying that, even if someone is selfish and does selfish things, they cannot be selfish without a sense for themselves. Rand defines selfish characters as those who act solely to satisfy their own personal desires, while selfless characters only act for the approval and praise of others. Peter Keating’s character development is a representation of this concept. Keating used to be a well-known, successful architect who was praised by many. By the end, Keating’s life is empty. Rand uses Keating’s rise-and-fall story to illustrate that true happiness is not determined by the opinion of others.

According to Rand’s definition of success, a confident person with a strong sense of themselves is the best indicator. Rand’s selflessness definition is closely tied to an individual’s indecision. Most often, people let other’s opinions influence their decision. Rand believes that people shouldn’t seek advice when it comes to making important and life-changing choices. Howard Roark’s statement on page 22 “If Peter you want my opinion, you have already made an error” is a good example. Ask me. Asking anyone. Never ever ask anyone. Never ask people about their work. Don’t You Know What You Want? How can anyone stand not knowing? (Rand22). Indecision is a problem that can only be solved by finding oneself. Rand’s statement expresses that she is not satisfied with indecision and encourages each person to act according to their desires.

Rand argues in The Fountainhead that it is important to be an individual, to think for yourself, and to have a strong sense of self. Rand presents multiple ideas with one central idea by focusing on abstract themes like selfishness, selflessness and individualism. Rand’s words had already been associated with presumptions, but she creates an interesting and complex outcome by refusing to conform to the general beliefs. Selfishness is viewed as an admirable trait that expresses individualism, worth, and opinions. Selflessness can also be seen as a mistake, since it leads to a lack of identity. Rand argues, too, that an individual cannot be selfish if he or she does not have a self-identity. And if you don’t know yourself, then it is impossible to act selfishly. Selflessness will always lead to indecision. It is this indecision that creates the “cult incompetence” in society. Rand’s message to us is simple: be yourself, do what you love, pursue your dreams and enjoy your freedom.

The Fountainhead. The Fountainhead is a novel that follows the life of an innovative and uncompromising architect. New York: Penguin Group, 1943.


  • davidwong

    David Wong is a 29-year-old educator and blogger who focuses on helping students learn in creative and interesting ways. He has a background in teaching and has been blogging since 2006. David's work has been featured on a variety of websites, including Lifehack, Dumb Little Man, and The Huffington Post.