The altruist and the egoist, destined rivals in Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, move through life intertwining with each other in an intricate battle of superiority. Howard Roark’s bold theses of the two personalities express themselves through the motives and methods of four complex beings, including himself. During their lives, Peter Keating, Ellsworth Toohey, and Catherine Halsey embody the role of the altruist through manipulation, parasitic behaviors, dependent minds, and a lack of self-respect while claiming to act only upon the virtue of selflessness. Howard Roark’s desire to thrive through his passion of creation and his determination to have an independent spirit and mind allows for him to leave this world as conqueror of the parasitic man. “No man can live for another. He cannot share his spirit just as he cannot share his body” (712). The ability to excel in life does not come when feeding off of the inspiration, beliefs, and work of others; the independent man exists through his own mind and stands as a victor while the parasitic slave lies humbly at his feet.
Ellsworth Monkton Toohey learned from a young age to please the public through manipulation. Toohey’s crude philosophy of selflessness teaches man to “feel small” and to “feel guilty” for his individuality (665). He accepts as truth that man should care not about his own self, but to submit his self to the service of others. His hunger for power and strong will differentiate him from the typical altruist; however, “there are several such altruists in the world today”(632). Toohey’s main principle destroys man’s aspirations and integrity through “internal corruption” and convinces man of his own insignificance. He testifies that the ideal man should “take orders”— which philosophy results in Toohey’s abhorrence and fear of Roark. Toohey becomes Roark’s adversary, for he cannot convince Roark that he is “incapable of [selflessness]— what man has accepted as the noblest virtue” (665). Roark’s spirit thrives through creation, and selflessness is not in his nature. Toohey’s hunger for power and his lack of self-respect become the source of his altruistic motives and methods. Toohey is a “parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves” (712).
Catherine Halsey’s admiration for her uncle Ellsworth and her desire to achieve selflessness overpowers her ability to have a mind of her own; her insecurities allow for her to feed off of others. Catherine’s character is degraded by how she behaves, how she works with others, and how she presents herself. Her countenance screams insecurity at everyone she meets and forces others to view her as she views herself. In consequence to her choices, Catherine understands that she “must forget how important Miss Catherine Halsey is” and rid herself of “the most stubborn of roots, the ego” (375). Her obsession with pleasing her uncle forces her to believe that her efforts are worthless; she will never be ideal in the eyes of the world. Catherine retreats from her selfless desires, begins to “demand gratitude” from others, and hates those less fortunate than she (373). She acts cruel and bitter towards those she loves, and depends upon those she grew to despise.
“Howard, I’m a parasite. I’ve been a parasite all my life…. I have fed on you and all the men like you who lived before we were born” (601). As Peter Keating realizes his popularity is fading, he runs to Roark for help. By doing so, he submits to his parasitic tendencies and loses what he has left of his dignity. Keating’s previous fame and fortune came from the deceptive ways of Ellsworth Toohey and the powerful mind of Howard Roark; he rarely made a decision of his own. Keating depended upon the talents of others to carry him through life and bring him success. His first house, the Cosmo-Slotnick building and Cortlandt Homes were all designed by Roark, but Keating took the liberty of receiving the credit. His ability to feed off of others rewarded him with money, popularity, and publicity; but like with all sins, resulted in his rapid downfall. Keating claimed to have “nothing to give,” but he lacked the courage to try (601). His fear of failure, ironically, pushed him towards his lonely and unsuccessful ending; his priority of acceptance and his lack of genuine self-esteem pulled him away from the only woman he ever loved. Peter Keating “degrades the dignity of man and the conception of love” through his motives and behaviors. His choices are made, not based upon his desire to create or excel, but based upon his obsession of beating Howard Roark no matter the circumstance. His physical and personal charm gave him a head start, but when they cease to exist, he has nothing left by which to benefit others. Keating “uses altruism as a weapon of exploitation” and succumbs to the belief that “dependence is a virtue” (712).
Howard Roark, on the other hand, fights the world and its altruistic inhabitants with the vitality it takes to succeed. His egoistic spirit adds to the fire burning within him to “live for his work” and excel through his “own mind” by breaking through the enclosed ideals of modern architecture. Roark’s theory of the creator needs no other man, for “his main goal is within himself.” Compared to the parasite who “exists in order to serve others,” the creator embodies a soul that is entirely his own and watches as the parasite becomes the slave that feeds off of the superior man. Roark stands as a victor before men with knowledge that the natural man cannot succeed unless he “survives through his own mind” and explodes through life with a sure testament of his individuality (712). The free spirit and mind one must possess in order to succeed becomes a necessity for Roark as he is forced to come face-to-face with the inevitable battle between the egoist and the altruist, the creator and the parasite.
Through the lives of Ellsworth M. Toohey, Peter Keating, Catherine Halsey, and Howard Roark, new light is shed on the controversial themes of altruism and egoism and their definitive determinacy of failure or triumph. In the course of Roark’s life he is faced with obstacles that would destroy most men, but because of his determination and his firm foundation in his own principles and philosophies, Roark becomes immortal in the sense of his creations and his character. “Then there was only the ocean and the sky and the figure of Howard Roark” (727). The ideal man stands tall with an independent spirit of strength, value, and prosperity, and runs with full speed to his triumphant ending. Howard Roark, conqueror of dependence, exalts over the Earth’s inhabitants as the ideal man.