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Altruism vs. Egotism
To have the fire breathing self-independence opposes the need to conform to the majority. To display one's own strengths, ideals, and talents in a humble manner overpowers the desire to prove oneself as worthy to society. People often forget their ability to remain true to their ideals in attempts to conform to societal pressures. Those same people also believe that the majority always end up correct. However, many times, the majority ends up wrong but seemed right at the time due to normative social influence and conformity. In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand portrays Howard Roark as the alien of society; Roark's individualistic principles and unabashed egotism help reveal the society's assumptions and moral values.
First, after Roark's expulsion from the Stanton Institute of Technology, he does not give up. He continues his life based on his own ideals, especially when it comes to architecture. Roark clearly has talent; talent that goes unrecognized because it seems too unorthodox to fit into the society's norms. Roark shifts from company to company to design a variety of buildings, all austere and simple. Because he only designs buildings the way he desires, other architects view such a quality as shameful. Rand portrays Roark as the alien of society: an effectively influential alien nonetheless. Roark's thoughts and actions influence the way other characters act, react, and develop. For instance, Peter Keating cannot seem to understand why Roark prefers to have no job making no money as opposed to working at another firm, even if it does not allow Roark to express his individualism in his architectural plans. There lies a meaning; Roark refuses to plan out designs that fail to represent him. Although, when Roark struggles to find clients, he works at construction sites, hoping to keep his integrity intact.
In addition, during Roark's trials for bombing the Cortlandt building, Roark explains in his defense speech individuals' rights in a free society and makes a clear differentiation between egotism and altruism (Brown). Roark proclaims, “Men have been taught that the ego is the synonym for evil and selflessness the ideal of virtue” (Rand 681). On the contrary, his belief that in order to attain freedom, one must act in the interest of oneself and not others, as defined by egotism, symbolizes the virtues conveyed among society to become more independent. This contributes to society's assumption that people will conform to their surroundings. In another instance, Roark conveys,” It [this country] was based on a man's right to the pursuit of happiness” (Rand 683). Roark further illustrates that self-independence can help one attain happiness. If society provides opportunity for people to express public opinion and expects less orthodox practices, this would enable individuals to do the right thing, whether it benefits themselves or society. Even though society does everything to try and bash Roark, Roark remains true to his ideals and continues to maintain his integrity.
Furthermore, society's morals consist of a collaboration of each individual's beliefs and ideals. In Roark's inspiring speech, he dignifies, “His moral law is never to replace his prime goal within the persons of others. His moral obligation is to do what he wishes, provided his wish doesn't depend primarily upon other men” (Rand 682). Further strengthening his testimony, he continues to emphasize the importance of individualism and defending one's own ideals. Roark inspires others to reach for their goals and not to let other people pose a threat. Society breeds altruism, making it difficult for characters to detach themselves from it and progress into a more egotistic limelight.
Finally, Rand's portrayal of Roark as the alien of society helps bring out the deeper meaning in it all. By providing Roark with a monologue, used as Roark's defense speech, Rand summarizes all the key points, primarily pertaining to independence, altruism, and egotism. An individual's morals and beliefs should represent the individual himself and not the perceptions of others. Rand presents Roark as a fine example of an individual who defends his beliefs and looks out for himself more so than for others. Roark reiterates individuals' moral obligations which overpower society's moral obligations. Society needed to learn that an unorthodox way of life deems perfectly acceptable, and Roark helps open society's minds to such a perspective.
Brown, Susan Love. “Ayn Rand as public intellectual: notes from the margin.” Studies in the Humanities 35.2 (2008): 180. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 16 Feb. 2010.
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Signet-New American Library, 1993. Print.