Even though I don’t really agree with Ayn Rand’s ideas anymore, I must say that that she had a profound effect on my life. I remember reading ‘The Fountainhead’ and being in a completely different universe. She inspired me and many others to think differently. It doesn’t matter what she says, what’s important is that she has the guts to say things that are not ‘nice’. For this reason, I can never ‘hate’ her.
In ‘The Fountainhead’, Ayn Rand has two characters: Howard Roark and Peter Keating. Both are aspiring architects. Roark is an idealist. He accepts no compromises when it comes to his work. He believes in complete integrity: He undertakes projects and designs buildings and structures according to his own unique vision. He doesn’t bow down to anybody or any situation. He is so uncompromising that he doesn’t even care whether he gets the credit for his work or not. If the world doesn’t let him design things the way he wants, he will opt for physical labor. On the other hand, Peter Keating is a people pleaser. He wants name, fame and money. He is so desperate for approval that he asks Roark to design stuff and puts his name on it. The book is the study of these contrasting worlds.
Obviously, you fall in love with Roark and you despite Keating. Roark is who we want to be, Keating is what most of us are. In real life, we are both. I do understand that Rand had to paint a black and white picture to showcase her ideas. However, there is a lot of contempt when Rand writes about Keating and characters who are like him.
In ‘Atlas Shrugged’, Hank Rearden is a Roark like character. And what does he do? He has an extra-marital affair and he is unapologetic about it. Now, whether an extra-marital affair is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depends on context. To be very honest, society’s idea of two people spending their entire lives together is sometimes cruel, BUT the problem here is that Rearden HATES his wife and he TRULY believes that he is superior to her. I’m not even talking about feminism here. In both the books, men and women (who are idealists like Roark), treat most people as inferior. Well, at this point it must be said that there is nothing wrong in feeling superior to someone. But there are some questions that you can’t help but ask:
Why do you have to HATE people if they seek approval? Of course, you have the freedom to choose whatever values you want to, but isn’t it human to seek approval? Seeking approval makes you vulnerable and it’s okay and even important to be vulnerable sometimes. I used to hate Peter Keating, but now I kind of empathize with him. Hank Rearden gives an impression that he has a “right” to have an extra-marital affair because his wife is just a despicable low life who deserves to be cheated. Her ‘sin’ is that she is just an ordinary woman who wants ordinary things in life. She is just a regular wife with mundane expectations. But Hank thinks her needs and desires are just not ‘worthy’ because only a particular type of needs, desires and values deserve respect.
To be continued. ..