The characters are all right, if a little one-dimensional, Jane Austen Society of Obstinate headstrong girl shirt which is pretty much Rand’s trademark. Gail Wynand is about the only dynamic character in the book that really actually learns anything from the events and grows as a result if albeit rather predictably. Dominique Francon has an actual character arc, if not a terribly compelling one. Ellsworth Toohey is definitely the most self-aware villain of any of Rand’s works, but still a pretty flat character who is e-Ville mostly just for the sake of being a bad guy. He’s arguably the most realistic socialist that Rand puts in her novels as an antagonist, but still pretty overblown. Howard Roark as a protagonist isn’t fantastic but has a point, at least. I’ll give Rand credit for emphasizing Roark’s integrity and perseverance in the face of a world that doesn’t appreciate his foresight and doing it in a way that doesn’t make the character seem ridiculous or obstinate in the face of reason.
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He does actually challenge the reader to think about whether Jane Austen Society of Obstinate headstrong girl shirt or not they are dismissing genius because it’s unorthodox, and that’s worthwhile. The character relationships, both romantic and platonic, are ugly. Like much of Rand’s stock-in-trade when describing her ideal romantic relationships, they’re typically fairly dysfunctional and transactional, and her descriptions of sex are usually at least borderline rape when not occasionally pole vaulting over the line. Even the friendships are pretty lacking, and again, very transactional. The primary theme of individualism vs. conformism is actually a decent one and comes through reasonably well if a bit unsubtle at times. Rand certainly bludgeons the reader to death here less than she does in other novels. But it’s a worthwhile theme to explore, and makes Roark a worthwhile character, if not an inspiring one.
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