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Overcoming fear: Transformation of Dominique Francon
Liberty Institute, India Monday, September 21, 2009

Sushmita Sircar
In portraying the triumph of the ideal man it was necessary for Rand to define the nature of such a triumph. The success of a creator lies in creating, in doing his own work, according to the standards he sets for himself. An important function that Dominique’s conflict and eventual evolution serves in the plot is to illustrate this point. Sushmita Sircar was one of the semi finalists in the annual 'The Fountainhead Essay Contest 2009', organised by the Ayn Rand Institute, USA.

It is commonly accepted in popular culture that perfection of any nature is not humanly possible, that humans are, without exception, flawed, thus making compromise acceptable. Ayn Rand’s purpose in writing The Fountainhead was to refute this perception by portraying the ideal man and his inevitable triumph in the world.

Howard Roark is the personification of the ideal man. A creative genius, he is an individualist, a self defined egoist who cares about nothing but his work in architecture, not even what others think of it. He lives life by his own standards, refusing to sacrifice his values or his work to any living being. Self sufficient and self sustaining, he is what Rand defined as a ‘selfish’ man.

Dominique Francon is defined by Rand as a “perfect priestess”. She is like Roark in many ways- capable of independent thought and judgement, able to see all that is best in the world and appreciate it, selfish.

In her subsequent book Atlas Shrugged, Rand outlines her ideas on love, which, according to her is merely an extension of identifying similar values and ethics in the other person. Dominique and Roark are thus bound to fall in love with each other.

Rand sets the scene for this development in a conversation between Dominique and Alvah Scarret regarding a statue of Helios. Dominique admits that she purchased the statue because she admired it immensely, and then deliberately broke it so that no human eyes would ever see it again. Both the statue and Roark are physical embodiments of the ideals Dominique holds. It is therefore inevitable that she should fall in love with Roark, and equally unavoidable that she should try to destroy him.

Both acts of destruction stem from her pessimistic worldview. 

Dominique is aware of the very best possibilities of men. But brought up all her life surrounded by mediocrity and often mediocrity held up as genius like her father Guy Francon’s works, she does not believe in the capacity of greatness to succeed in a world characterized by the pedestrian. And in this lies the fundamental difference between Dominique and Roark.

This difference is brought out by two conversations in the book. The first is Dominique’s with Peter Keating. When asked by him what she thinks of the Enright House, designed by Roark, she responds, “I don’t think of it.” (248) Later in the book, Ellsworth Toohey asks Roark his opinion of him. And Roark responds, “But I don’t think of you.” (389) While the Enright House stands for the world of creators, of men like Roark, Toohey epitomises the worst of ‘parasites’, who cannot appreciate Roark’s works yet depend on men like him for their survival and self-respect.

Though both Dominique and Roark are aware of the existence of these almost disparate worlds of creators and parasites, their level of understanding of and responses to them are different. Both realize that the two worlds cannot coexist but this realization holds separate meanings for them. Roark is oblivious to the existence of the people like Toohey and Keating. As Steven Mallory tells him, “You know of it. But you don’t really believe it.”(331) He is concerned only with leading his own life and seeking his own happiness. Dominique, however, is painfully conscious of the people that make up the majority of the world, and so, refuses to be happy in a world she detests.

To her, Roark’s works are sacred, and erecting them in a world that is not worthy of his works is equivalent to sacrilege. She finds herself jealous of Roark’s surroundings, of the people who speak to or look at him- evidence of her desire to protect him from the real world.

When she tries to ensure that any commission that Roark has a chance at goes to Keating, an architect without a spark of originality, it is her way of trying to ensure the world gets what it deserves- mediocrity, and not genius in the form of Roark. Her newspaper articles violently denounce Roark’s buildings, subtly veiling her admiration for them and her disgust for the world.

Dominique even approves of Toohey trying to destroy Roark. Toohey’s motivation is that his quest for power over men’s minds is baffled as long as men like Roark who are capable of independent thought and reason succeed in the world. Dominique, however, aims to destroy him because she does not believe in his ability to succeed in a world where men like Toohey can flourish. Both attempt to destroy greatness; Toohey, because he wants the mediocre to flourish, Dominique because she does not believe the two should ever compete.

Her position at the Stoddard Temple trial is a metaphor for her struggle. Though ostensibly speaking for the prosecution, she is, of course, defending Roark- from defeat in a world that is capable of reducing him to working in a granite quarry. When Roark loses the trial, Dominique concedes her failure to reconcile the two diametrically opposite worlds, and see the one she loves being destroyed at the altar of the other. Her marriage to Keating is a desperate attempt to make herself immune to the pain caused by her beliefs by immersing herself completely in the latter world. She knows that she cannot marry Roark and be happy as long as she believes that he is fated to lose.

In portraying the triumph of the ideal man it was necessary for Rand to define the nature of such a triumph. Success was not to be measured in materialistic terms, nor identified through recognition or fame, nor through any outside approval. Rather, the success of a creator lies in creating, in doing his own work, according to the standards he sets for himself.  An important function that Dominique’s conflict and eventual evolution serves in the plot is to illustrate this point.

Initially, she holds the view that the success of the individualist is not possible in a world where altruism and self-sacrifice are the prevailing values. Therefore, she leads a purposeless existence, doing things like writing for the Wynand papers because they ‘amuse her’, and is unconcerned with furthering her career. When she comes across Roark’s works, and, in Roark, a personification of the ideals she holds, she still does not believe in his capacity to succeed. In fact, she hates Roark for putting up his structures- not because they are bad, but because they are too good for the world he builds them in, a world impervious to his creations. In the Stoddard Temple trial, Dominique says, “When you see a man casting pearls without even getting a pork chop in return- it is not against the swine that you feel indignation.” (356) 

Unable to endure the conflict between these two worlds, she marries Peter Keating, and, subsequently, Gail Wynand, both of whom stand for the worst qualities of mankind. However, during her marriage to Gail, she realizes that he shares her worldview, and was not the kind of person she had assumed the creator of a tabloid like the Wynand papers would be. But when it came to choosing between a life of ideals and failure, and a life of no ideals and success, he chose the latter, while she chooses the former. He does not believe in ideals and integrity and is shown to have a sado-masochistic penchant for ruining people like Dwight Carson who are considered to be principled and unbreakable by everyone.

Till, that is, he comes across Roark and hires him to build a house for the couple.
In a conversation, Gail admits to Roark that his childhood dealings with incompetent adults made him long to “reach the day when [I’d] rule those people... and everything around [me]”. Interestingly, similar experiences made Roark “want to do my own work in my own way and let myself be torn to pieces if necessary.”(529) Gail thus becomes “the worst second hander of all- the man who goes after power”, even as Roark stays true to himself. (608) 

Watching the contrast between the two men, Dominique is finally forced to reali

This article was published in the Liberty Institute on Monday, September 21, 2009.
Author : Ms Sircar is a student at the Convent of Jesus and Mary College, in New Delhi.
Tags- Find more articles on - Fountainhead Essay Contest | Fountainhead Essay Contest 2009

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