Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead

This book could as well have been a theory of her philosophy with the ideal person being Howard Roark and the others just examples of variations of imperfect people. The story was just a prop, a background to the real intention of explaining her philosophy. Probably, that's what makes the book attractive to many. A philosophy told as a story. Few other books if any do this, none as far as I know. And this very form adopted to explain a philosophy is what creates problems. All the characters are integral in the way they are portrayed, each a different single colour. No hues allowed. The differences between them are crystal clear. Though very unrealistic, this could still be pardoned if not for her ruthless disapproval of Peter Keating when he wants to pursue his passion later in life. Sorry, but there are no second chances. It's like once she has defined Peter Keating, she wants no confusion in his characterisation because if he reforms, Peter Keating won't be Peter Keating, he will become Roark which cannot be allowed. There can only be one Peter Keating and one Howard Roark. The characters don't seem to breathe. She holds them tight and puts them in their slots with her obsession with perfection.

Towards the end of the story, she even leaves the pretence of a story and gets into a preachy tone, defining the concept of a second hander and on and on. Not that it doesn't make sense. Some of it does. The problem is not with the content but with how she goes about delivering it. She doesn't let the readers choose the characters they like. She tells them what is good, what is bad, what is ugly. She gives her own opinion and she is present throughout the novel like an unnamed invisible character in the story shouting what she has to say. She is not a neutral narrator just telling a story of Roark, Keating or Wynand. She has already decided what she wants the reader to pick from it and what to think about it. Every time before Roark or Dominique enter the scene, there are sevaral hints given to prepare the reader for their entry and how the reader should feel when her hero or heroine enter. She almost announces them loudly. A halo each would have completed the picture.

She compels her readers, especially the younger folks, (I was one of them), to try hard and convince themselves that they are Roarks or Dominques. If one fails to do so, one is left with no choice but to see oneself as a Keating or a Wynand or a Toohey which doesn't make the reader feel good. This is disturbing. Reality is not among the choices. Most youngsters, after reading this book, start calling themselves Roark and probably judge themselves all the time to live upto the ideal nature of the character. This is brutal. It kills the identity of the reader if the reader buys her philosophy. It makes them convince themselves that they always had a purpose in life, an undiscovered passion. If there was no story but just theoretical philosophy, it wouldn't have been so bad as there wouldn't be an example of a real life character called Roark who makes it possible to imagine an idealistic life lived. People would've cut it off saying this is just philosophy which cannot be put into practice and would have taken it in a lighter sense.

Also, because of her obsession with her philosophy, even her novels become repetitive. I couldn't go beyond a few pages of Atlas Shrugged or We The Living after reading The Fountainhead. To be honest, this book, The Fountainhead, shook me for almost a month when I was judging myself, comparing myself to the characters in the book, how much of whom I was. It's not a nice feeling. However, better sense prevailed. Maybe, all that I said is triggered by my discomfort with her philosophy but I do believe I have been honest with my evaluation. Anyway, one should start from one's own vantage point and see what one makes of her novel or her philosophy.

No comments:

Post a Comment