“Howard Roark laughed.”
If you’re looking for something to read this Thanksgiving break (or ever) let me recommend the best recommendation I ever got.
The Fountainhead saved my life.
When I first read it in college I remember feeling relieved, but not because I saw a vision of the ideal, as its author wanted. At the time, I didn’t understand Howard Roark’s seemingly suicidal commitment to his principles.
In fact, my relief came when I read the opening scene of Chapter I, Part IV, in which a young boy “riding his bicycle down a forgotten trail” “wanted to decide whether life was worth living” (503). Like him I “didn’t know that this was the question in [my] mind” (503) — and had been for as far back as I could remember.
In a way, I felt more connected to the author through those words than my four roommates, who didn’t seem to question too much — not our common religious upbringing, nor the conventional ideas of our professors, nor even what they wanted most from life. But like this fictional boy, I was searching more consciously for a “Monadnock”.
I had seen a glimpse of it three years earlier, when I stood gazing up at Michelangelo’s David. I had never forgotten the sense of calm that filled me then in Florence for those long minutes, and the feeling returned as I dreamed with the boy of the magnificent clear sky waiting for him beyond the crest of the hill.
And when he received from Howard Roark the “courage to face a lifetime” (505) I knew that I’d been lifted higher too. Even though the architect’s choices were still enigmatic to me, the sense of unfettered possibilities open to a man made me “laugh” (1) with him when I reread it a few months later.
The Fountainhead for me represents first and foremost a defense for my youthful idealism, which at times I repressed — or even worse betrayed. I felt that much of life was some form of damnation to a “quarry”, one unchosen and unwanted, but a necessary consequence of dreaming. Roark’s integrity to his principles and conscious understanding of why his dreams were actually his deliverance was the feast of courage I’d been starving to see.
I’m still eating three years later.