Howard Roark laughs as he recalls he has just been expelled from architectural school at the Stanton Institute of Technology. "He knew that the days ahead would be difficult,?but is not at all bothered by this state of events and dives from a granite cliff into the lake below as if he had not a care in the world (15). A strong individualist with an enormous vision of how buildings should be built in the year 1922-modern and functional and not traditional and impractical-after an invigorating swim he returns to the boarding house which is run by his fellow student Peter Keating's mother, who informs him that the Dean wants a meeting. Keating is graduating that day from Stanton. The Dean informs Roark that he is being expelled because he has not followed architectural tradition and continued to insist on modern design and that if he agrees to change course, the school might reinstate him at a later date. Roark stands his ground and leaves.
Fifty-one year old Guy Francon, of the architectural firm of Francon & Heyer, is the speaker at the Stanton commencement ceremony. One of the heads looking at him in adoration belongs to the brilliant and very handsome Peter Keating. Intoxicated with his own self-worth, Keating believes the crowd is there to see him graduate. The brightest graduating student, he has been offered a scholarship to the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts and a job at Francon's firm. He asks Howard Roark, whose judgment he values, for his opinion after the ceremony and Roark tells him to make up his own mind: "never ask people . . . about your work,?and just when Keating is about to choose the scholarship, his mother manages to talk him into accepting Francon's offer (33). Roark tells him that if he really wants to learn, he should go to work, even though he considers Francon to be a "bastard and a fool?(35). Roark then informs Keating that he is going to work for Henry Cameron, a brilliant but drunken has-been who once upon a time designed the magnificent Dana Building. A very happy Keating, with dreams of glory, wires Katie, his girlfriend, that he is coming to New York.
Keating is accepted into the office at Francon & Heyer and ingratiates himself immediately with everyone he thinks can help him climb the corporate ladder. After the architecture designer Claude Stengel tells him to take a drawing to Francon, he immediately sees that the hung-over Francon is merely a buffoon who does no work and relies completely on Stengel. Keating plays on Francon's insecurities and befriends his new boss by offering him clever quips that he can use in social gatherings and by making inane architectural suggestions: "Mr. Stengel will be delighted to change it if you advise him to?(42). Meanwhile, Roark goes to work for Cameron, the once-great architect who continues to toil diligently with great love for his art: "Henry Cameron loved his work. That was why he fought. That was why he lost?(46).
Keating rises higher and higher at Francon & Heyer and within two years, he has secretly arranged to have anyone who stands in his way fired by making them ineffective and by making himself indispensable. He stops at nothing to gain prominence and only feels twangs of conscience with Catherine Halsey, whom he calls Katie. She adores Keating, waits patiently for him and totally accepts his shortcomings. Keating seems to love Katie, and will not take advantage of the fact that her uncle is Ellsworth Toohey, the most renowned architecture critic in the country who could catapult him to the highest ranks of architectural success. However, he asks her not to introduce him to her uncle on the grounds that it might corrupt their relationship. Meanwhile, Henry Cameron attempts to warn Roark about an extremely bleak future if he fails to bend to the will of the people and his profession. He will suffer because in spite of designing the most beautiful buildings, they will remain on paper and never be erected and he will watch as mediocre others reap commissions because they are willing to recreate the past: "you're too good for what you want to do with yourself?(62). Despite this, Roark maintains he will accept such a bleak future.
Keating arranges a private commission for Stengel, the chief designer at Francon & Heyer, and afterwards fits himself into Stengel's job. Francon comes more and more under his spell. However, after Keating receives his first design job, his confidence fails him and he runs to Roark in the middle of the night for help. Roark cleans up Keating's poor designs and creates a building of clear graceful lines. Keating is embarrassed because Roark sees right through him but Keating accepts his shame to gain credibility at work and runs off stealthily into the night. Meanwhile, Cameron loses another commission and uses a copy of a trashy news rag, the Banner, which is owned by Gail Wynand, to illustrate to Roark what the public desires.
In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand utilizes the novel form to communicate her Objectivist philosophy, and in this regard, she employs stark, simple language to portray her characters?personalities so there can be no mistaking the good characters from the bad. From the opening chapters we realize Roark is good and Keating is bad. Thus, Cameron, who is aligned with Roark, is good while Francon, who is one of a kind with Keating, is bad. Roark adheres to Rand's philosophy and Keating does not.
Peter Keating is the name given to the first of the four parts of The Fountainhead. Ellsworth Toohey, Gail Wynand, and Howard Roark make up the additional parts. The protagonist Howard Roark encounters each of the others at various parts of his life and thus serves to shed light upon Roark's own characteristics and the ways in which exceptional, ground-breaking artists are forced by society to suffer. Each individual man portrays a principle. While Roark represents individual strength, inspiration and conviction, Keating depicts weakness, theft and doubt. Roark is quiet, abhors attention, and is associated with nature: "he stood naked at the edge of a cliff ?15). Keating, on the other hand, is brash, in constant need of reinforcement and associated with society and the city: "The halls were packed with bodies and faces so tightly.one of the heads.belonged to Peter Keating (28). Yet, both men attend the same school and start work in the same city at the same time. The novel alternates between these two men and their encounters with success and failure while they follow their individual mentors, the self-serving, lazy Guy Francon and the strongly individualistic, hard-working Henry Cameron.