Many of the characters in The Fountainhead are described as nonconformists to illustrate Rand's idea that nonconformity, which is popularly believed to be a breaking away from social convention, is simply another version of it. For instance, Ellsworth Toohey's minions, the writer Lois Cook and the young architect Gus Webb, take on the title of nonconformist. Cook rebels against social convention by dressing outlandishly, hardly ever washing, building the ugliest house in one of the worst New York neighborhoods and by writing nonsensical verse to malign such restrictions as grammar and punctuation-much in the manner of the era's surrealists and expressionists in the art world. But she is simply focusing on Toohey's slavish beliefs which he uses to control her without ever once thinking for herself. Simply, she reacts against a society she has never explored and thus parallels the conformist who similarly never thinks. Webb, another minion of Toohey, similarly reacts against and attacks all those architects who came before him. With the social thawing towards modernism, he copies the works of Henry Cameron, believing them to be original when they are hardly functional, disfigured monstrosities. Like Cook, he also blindly follows Toohey yet believes himself to be an original thinker. Thus, Toohey only laughs after being taken to task for being involved with a group of rabid individualists.
The real nonconformists in The Fountainhead are Roark and Cameron. The character Henry Cameron, who was inspired by the brilliant real life early twentieth-century architectural innovator Louis Sullivan, fought a battle against the status quo as one of the original designers of the skyscraper, buildings that soar above people to demonstrate man's accomplishments. Cameron suffers defeat after defeat yet never gives in to the social hierarchy that wants him to modify his designs. Similarly, Howard Roark, who suggests the famous architectural innovator Frank Lloyd Wright, goes against the grain by refusing to design the same old outworn Greek, Roman and Renaissance designs and creates instead buildings and homes that blend with or enhance their natural backgrounds. Both Sullivan and Wright struggle against and battle a society that never succeeds in forcing them to conform. Thus Cameron and Roark remain the novel's real nonconformist heroes.
One of the principles of socialism suggests that productive individuals are obligated to selflessly serve nonproductive individuals in society. In The Fountainhead, Ellsworth Toohey preaches this doctrine. Time after time, he utilizes his Banner column "One Small Voice,?to lecture his readers on the intricacies of socialism by playing on their heart strings. Of course, they have no idea this is what he is about. Individuals, he maintains, should sacrifice for society, and if they won't willingly do so, force is permitted. The most productive people should be compelled to serve those in need. Toohey's niece Katie Halsey is a prime example. While young, she is happy, loving and very willing to help others. As she grows older, however, she becomes increasingly unhappy and comes to resent those others to whom she sacrifices all her waking hours in the effort to help. She seeks to break free of this mind-set by running to Keating, but guilt engulfs her. In time, she turns into a completely hypnotized social worker at her uncle's beck and call.
Toohey maintains that there is no room for independent thinkers, or as he puts it, "great men,?who realize that by putting themselves first they can ultimately serve mankind far better. More than anything, Toohey wants Howard Roark to obey. This is why he so much wants him imprisoned so he will be pushed and prodded into obeying authority every day of his existence. In this, however, Toohey has additional motives. He realizes that it is impossible for him ever to reach the level of creator like Roark-he doesn't have the ability-so, by controlling men like Roark, he in essence believes he is better than they. In her character, Toohey, Rand presents a chilling portrait of a totalitarian dictator.