There have been a lot of people asking about the character of Dominique Francon in the book The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. This essay will attempt to clarify her character in the context of that story.
For lack of a better term, let us talk about the characters of The Fountainhead in terms of power. Not derivative power, but real power, the power to create – not simply the role of directing or utilizing others’ power to create. There are six major characters in The Fountainhead, each of which demonstrates a different archetypal relationship to the creative potential of human beings.
Howard Roarke is the pure creator, independent: He has the power to create and uses it, and does not allow that power to be directed by anyone but his own will.
Peter Keating is a wielder of others’ power. He is derivative and dependent. He can only work with what others give, including opinions about his own self-worth. This is emphasized by the fact that Keating must consult with Roark each time he attempts to create a building that is not based on someone else’s plans, or on history’s designs.
Guy Francon is just like Peter Keating, except that Peter was gradually turned from being a creator to being a user. For Peter, it began when his mother wanted him to be an architect rather than an artist; from that point on, he lost his will to create by degrees until he had no capacity left. For Guy, he has always accepted the role of user and feels no attraction to any other state of being.
Ellsworth Toohey wants to make everyone dependent, so that they must turn to him for whatever they need. He, like Roark, is also a wielder of power, but instead of using that power to create, he focuses his energy on removing everyone else’s will to create, so that in the end they must follow his will. This is not strictly the opposite of Roark, but it does oppose the fact that Rand would like all humans to be like Roark – whereas Toohey wants no one else but himself to have that power (and thus he hates and fears Roark, since Roark’s existence runs counter to his plans).
Gail Wynand is also a creator, like Roark, who realizes that people need his power to create – they must feed off of him. He hates this, and in reaction, plays on this need to punish his enemy. Roark’s character does not need to punish anyone, because Roark does not care about people’s need to use his power: he just doesn’t offer it for sale. But Wynand had sold his power to society in order to gain what he believed was the upper hand. It is this realization which undoes him toward the end, though Roark constantly tries to get him to see that there is no reason to care about his past, so long as he gives up on his plan of revenge and turns his attention to creating.
And last, Dominique Francon: She sees that people need her to create, and she also hates this need. Her response is to not give people what they want. By removing her power from the world, it cannot be misused. In this way she expresses her hatred for the world by starving of it of the very thing it needs most. Wynand believed he was causing the world pain by misusing the needs of people, and yet this still allowed them to survive; Dominique wants to see the world die by depriving it of what it needs to continue. Of course, she is also depriving herself, and so there is a kind of suicide implicit in her course of action.
Dominique knows that Roark has this power too, and that the world wants it; and because of the world’s need it will try to harness Roark according to their desires. She tries to stop Roark because she doesn’t want to see this happen. She tries to defeat him because she loves the power he wields so much (which is also an expression of love for herself, because she recognizes this same power within herself). So whatever she does to Roark, she is also doing to herself. For this reason, the relationship between Howard and Dominique can best be understood if they are viewed as one individual acting toward itself.
This is why Dominique wants to be dominated by Roark: because the will to create is sublime and her heart wishes it to triumph – even if that means overcoming her aim of withholding that power from the world. When Roark “takes possession of her”, this is like Dominique’s soul re-taking possession of her own destiny and not letting the world’s need dictate a pattern of inaction (which has caused Dominique’s life to become the antithesis of the world – an exact negative – which means it still has the very form she abhors).
Roark sees that Dominique subjugates herself to the world in this reverse fashion and he shows her the way out: Not to care. Follow the creative urge wherever it leads, and what the world does in response is its own problem. When Dominique finally understands this, she is able to stop living in terms of the world, and this is when she allows herself to marry Roark and join him in “his world” (the world of power, rather than the world of dependence).
At one point in the book, Dominique helps Toohey to attack Roark. This is not because she wishes to see Roark made dependent, in the way that Keating is dependent (which is Toohey’s real plan). Rather, she wishes Roark to understand the evil of the world, and since Toohey is actively promoting this evil, he is its clearest and most direct representative. If Roark sees this, she believes, he will join her in her crusade to starve the world (which becomes the task of John Galt and company in Atlas Shrugged).
Partly this cooperation with Toohey is self-defense, because by not creating Dominique has made herself bitterly unhappy, while she sees that Roark is doing the very things she will not allow herself to do. If Roark can exist in the world, she can too; but if Roark cannot, then she has been right not to try. In this way, attacking Roark can answer for her the question of whether it is safe to develop one’s power in a world filled with people who want to take advantage of it. Roark’s triumph over Gail (which is not really a triumph over Toohey) answers this internal question for Dominique.
How does Roark undo Gail’s plan of destruction? Whereas Dominique wants to destroy the needy world by starving it, Gail tries to destroy it by forcing it to wallow in its own squalor. Gail does this because, fundamentally, he makes the error of believing that everyone feels the same way about human beings as he does. However, the world is just fine with degrading itself, so long as Gail continues to provide them with what they need to survive. This fact is what tires Gail to the point of suicide, just before he meets Roark.
Since the world cannot be shown how disgusting its choices are, and since it’s only desire is to feed off the power of the creators – no matter how abasing that position of servitude becomes – Gail has chosen for himself a pointless crusade. Dominique’s approach would actually succeed (as Galt shows in Atlas Shrugged), although it must come at the price of her own self – a cost Galt avoids by banding together all the creators in a separate society.
But since Gail cannot achieve what he seeks, and realizes his impotence before his enemy, ultimately he does not want to live among them anymore. But then he finds Roark, and discovers in him someone who represents a different kind of life. This life is what Gail and Dominique were born for. (Rand often calls this world “the world we saw in our youth”, because at that time people are unaware of the needy structure of society). When Gail sees this vision, incarnate in an individual (Roark), it gives him hope. He struggles with his hope, at times defending it, at times attacking it, until he sees that his own actions (that is, giving over his creative power to the world’s desires) has been the very reason why this perfect world does not exist for him. This realization ruins him, depsite Roark telling him that the past does not matter: only how we use our creative power matters.
This is what conquers Gail Wynand, in that Roark proves to him the futility, and the wrongness, of his task. And when Dominique, too, sees that the world does not need to be “beaten” – because it is a non-entity which those of power needn’t consider – she is able to join Roark in his world and free herself of her hatred. Gail remains in his hatred, however, because he now hates the world for what it has tricked him into pursuing all his life. Or rather, he hates himself for having allowed the world to draw the lines of battle.
The character of Peter Keating’s girlfriend, incidentally, is a minor one, because she simply represents another version of Keating himself: Someone who started out innocently, but due to parents and society convinced herself that being a user is better than being a creator, until in the end she becomes exactly what Keating is: a hollow shell, to be given a purpose by others who in turn seek their purpose from others (a chain that ends in people like Toohey).
All of these themes are also to be found in Atlas Shrugged: where Galt’s group is similar to Roark, but uses Dominique’s plan to weaken the world and force it to grant them more freedom; and where Francisco d’Anconia is like Roark, but using Wynand’s plan to hasten the world’s destruction so that it must accede to Galt’s demands; and where Dagny Taggart is a kind of “proto-Roark” who unwittingly allows the world to control her power because she has yet to realize that the creator need answer only to her own desire to create.
And the reason why Galt’s group still responds to the world (in Atlas Shrugged) by withdrawing from it? Because of the extent to which the lawmaker’s actions have made it impossible for them to create freely. I believe Rand took this approach because she saw litigation and the patterns of society leading us more toward a world of dependence than independence in the years that followed the publication of the The Fountainhead. Otherwise, I think she would have focused more on Galt’s character independent of the world, rather than give the world she despised so much a second thought. In that sense there is a strange irony in that Roark’s character would never have written a book like Atlas Shrugged – even though it is the beauty and viability of Roark’s manner of living that Rand is trying to promote. I can only understand this as her way of reaching out to a later generation’s youth, who had become so distanced by the mid-40s from Roark’s world that she felt it imperative to present her ideas to them in terms of their own.