Art critic Ellsworth M. Toohey publishes his Sermons in Stone in 1925 to immediate acclaim. In it he states that it is the architects job to bring architecture to the people. Architects, he maintains, should remain anonymous and never search for “individual glory?(78). Shortly after Henry Cameron is ordered to retire by his doctors he collapses in his office after once more losing a longed for commission. Howard Roark closes up the office and helps Cameron settle with his sister in New Jersey and then wonders where he will get a job. In the meantime, Peter Keating lives high off the hog on New Yorks Park Avenue moving ever upward at Francon & Heyer. His mother has come to live with him so she can control his life. She speaks ill of Katie and suggests instead that Keating court Francons daughter. Keating flees to Katie and inquires whether they are engaged, to which she unequivocally states “yes.?He asks her to keep the engagement just between them.
After he hears about Camerons retirement, Keating asks Francon for permission to hire Roark. Roark accepts Keatings offer only because he needs money but has one stipulation-that he never has to work on design-because he could not stand to see his art destroyed by bumbling others. For the sake of making himself all-important, Keating orders Roark about in front of the office staff and then secretly brings him sketches at night which Roark improves upon, to claim as his own. On a building site one day, Roark takes the blow torch from an electrician named Mike Donnigan and helps the man with a complicated wiring project. The men are delighted that here finally is an architect who understands construction. Roark and Mike become friends over a beer.
After Keating leaves for Washington D.C., Francon gives Roark the opportunity to design a building similar to Camerons Dana building but he wants it done with Classical Greek additions, which in Roarks opinion would devastate the buildings fine lines. Instead, Roark suggests Camerons work be expanded upon. Francon is insulted and fires Roark for impertinence. Roark has a difficult time finding a new job and walks the empty streets alone at night because no one wants to hear about original architecture and everyone, it seems, in the profession wants to recreate traditional forms.
John Erik Snyte finally hires Roark for less money. He works with four other designers who compete for jobs and blends the best features of each designer into the final version. He refers to Roarks work as Modernistic. Simultaneously, a building-trades union strike erupts in New York to voices of loud anger, the loudest that of the anti-union newspapers which are owned by Gail Wynand. Although Ellsworth Toohey “made no secret of his support for the strikers,?he never states so publicly because he writes a column in the Banner, a Wynand paper. When Keating goes to visit Katie one evening and finds her not at home, he is shocked. He sees her at a union demonstration at which her uncle, Toohey, is speaking. They listen as the wealthy Austen Heller, the star columnist of the independent Chronicle speaks: “the freedom to agree or disagree is the foundation of our kind of society?and then they both fall under the spell of the next hypnotic voice of Toohey and the cheering crowd before Keating drags her away (108). The following day, Wynand gives Toohey a raise to keep him quiet, and the strike is settled. Soon after, Keating finds Francon in a fury over his Banner-columnist daughter Dominiques dismissive article concerning one of Francons buildings.
Keating finally meets Francons daughter Dominique at a Sunday afternoon society salon. He has been warned about her prickly temperament and just when he thinks he is getting on her good side with his wit and cultured manners, she suddenly leaves. Meanwhile, Snytes firm has been chosen by Austen Heller to design a remarkable home, one that stands on a craggy seacoast cliff. Heller doesnt know what he wants, only what he doesnt want-the same old thing. After Snyte sets his architects to work, he picks Roarks pure, clean design which Roark has designed specifically for the building site, but then Snyte skews it in favor of traditional architectural accoutrements. When Heller looks at the drawing, he exclaims that the house is close to what he wants, at which point Roark pencils back in his original design. Heller is thrilled but Snyte fires Roark on the spot. Roark walks out with Heller who writes the twenty-six-year-old a check made out to “Howard Roark, architect,?to start his own firm so he can build Hellers house.
Roark stands central in the roster of characters that bring Rands philosophy to life, and the reader is forced to judge each character in terms of Roark. Are they as honest as he? Are they as accomplished as artists as he? Do they easily conform, or do they hold strong to their principles in the face of adversity? And so forth. Anyone who respects or admires Roark is accepted into Rands favored group while anyone who criticizes or disfavors Roark is anathema. For instance, Keating, Francon and the charming Toohey (who will in time become Roarks enemy) might be liked by many others but they are deeply suspect in Rands view. On the other hand Cameron, Mike Donnigan and Heller immediately view Roark with clear vision and thus have favored status in Rands estimation.
Ellsworth Toohey should be watched and gauged as a Satanic figure because he charms his way into peoples hearts. Indeed, he manipulates the multitudes in print and person by preaching a hidden, “soft?form of socialism and communism. His voice is hypnotic, not motivating. Dominique Francon is another character to be watched. She is a seemingly female version of Roark, cold and unfeeling and contrasts strongly with the wishy-washy doormat Katie, and Keatings manipulative mother and the child-like socialite, Kiki Holcombe. Indeed, the elegantly clad Dominique is described in terms of Roarks architecture-clean lines. However, while Roark creates art, she writes about it. What, or whom does she need to become truly alive? Austen Heller gives Roark his chance to fully engage his artistic vision and to see it through to completion.