Surrender in The Fountainhead

By Carrie-Ann Biondi

It’s my contention, which may sound counter-intuitive to many Objectivists, that the title of this post is not an oxymoron.(1) Isn’t “surrender” a case of giving oneself up to an enemy, relinquishing ones’ values, giving in to the less-than-best? Isn’t that immoral on Ayn Rand’s view? Well, it depends on what one means by “surrender.” Rand was sensitive to and used multiple senses—both positive and negative—of the word “surrender.” After combing through The Fountainhead with this issue in mind, I was surprised to find at least fifteen instances of this word throughout the novel and that most of the uses are positive ones. There are three contexts of use, with one being negative and two being positive. I’ll describe and briefly analyze these three contexts of use, and conclude both that Rand by far uses “surrender” in a positive way and that she is right to do so. (2)

First, here is the negative use of “surrender,” when it means to give up one’s values. There are only a few places where this occurs, most prominently in relation to Peter Keating and Ellsworth Toohey. One instance occurs when Peter visits Howard Roark after he is fired from John Eric Snyte’s firm and then opens his own office:

Keating wondered why he should experience that sickening feeling of resentment; why he had come here hoping to find the story untrue, hoping to find Roark uncertain and willing to surrender (p. 130).

Another instance is when Ellsworth counsels giving in to flings rather than pursuing true love:

When consulted on love affairs, Toohey counseled surrender, if it concerned a romance with a charming little pushover, good for a few drunken parties . . . and renunciation, if it concerned a deep, emotional passion (p. 302).

In both of these cases, Peter and Ellsworth hope that others will pragmatically surrender in cowardly fashion either to convention or meaningless whims. In short, they hope that others give up on being people of devoted principle. Both of them are viciously motivated. Peter, who is second-handed, lacks integrity and resents Howard’s independence and sterling character. Ellsworth desires to control others and gets perverse pleasure from emotionally manipulating others so that they will become dependent on him. Peter is one of his victims in this regard.

Second, here is the most common positive use of “surrender,” which occurs in a sexual context and reflects Rand’s views about the passionate response of one romantic partner to another. While Rand focuses primarily on a female’s surrender or submission to a man, she also has an interesting scene where Howard surrenders to Dominique Francon, so I include that here as an illustration of Rand’s broader point about the nature of romantic love. Its occurrence is always between Howard and Dominique. Here are a few examples (though there are at least six like this):

It was an act that could be performed in tenderness, as a seal of love, or in contempt . . . . He did it as an act of scorn. Not as love, but as defilement. And this made her lie still and submit. One gesture of tenderness from him—and she would have remained cold, untouched by the thing done to her body. But the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted. Then she felt him shaking with the agony of a pleasure unbearable even to him, she knew that she had given that to him, that it came from her (p. 218).

Then she looked at him. She stood naked, waiting, feeling the space between them like a pressure against her stomach, knowing that it was torture for him also and that it was as they both wanted it. Then he got up, he walked to her, and when he held her, her arms rose willingly . . . her mouth on his, in a surrender more violent than her struggle had been (p. 274).

She tried to demonstrate her power over him. She stayed away from his house; she waited for him to come to her. He spoiled it by coming too soon; by refusing her the satisfaction of knowing that he waited and struggled against his desire; by surrendering at once. . . . He would lie at her feet, he would say: ‘Of course I need you. I go insane when I see you. You can do almost anything you wish with me.’ . . . The words did not sound like surrender, because they were not torn out of him, but admitted simply and willingly (p. 311).

Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead

While some commentators have found problematic the violence mingled with pleasure in passages like these, what is clear from both the larger context of the novel and Rand’s own remarks (3) is that she intended this kind of intensely pleasurable form of surrender as a positive experience. Despite the inverted language that Dominique uses at times (as the internally conflicted person she is for almost the entire novel), she loves Howard. Their love-making is an ecstatic submission of the best in Dominique to what she adores most in Howard. This is Dominique at her most whole-hearted until she resolves her internal conflict at the end of the novel, when she finally embodies with ease a desire for unified happiness in public and across her whole life, awakening at last “with the sun in her eyes”: “[S]he knew that she could not have reached this white serenity except as the sum of all the colors, of all the violence she had known. ‘Howard . . . willingly, completely, and always . . . without reservations, without fear of anything they can do to you or me’” (p. 669). As Lloyd Drum remarks, “Ultimately Dominique’s surrender contains all of the basic themes of The Fountainhead. It is more than a surrender of the body to bodily pleasure. It is a surrender of the soul to the ecstatic possibilities of the human spirit.” (4)

Third, here is the less common positive use of “surrender,” but which is arguably the most general and powerful. It concerns the sense of surrender that, as Joshua Zader insightfully notes, is “closely aligned” with love and occurs “in some spiritual and personal growth traditions.” (5) There are three instances when Howard, Dominique, and Gail Wynand each surrender out of love, but not in a sexual context. The first instance occurs when Steve Mallory is working on the sculpture of Dominique for the Stoddard Temple, but without much luck until Howard walks into the back of the room: “Then he saw what he had been struggling to see all day. He saw her body standing before him, straight and tense, her head thrown back, her arms at her sides, palms out, as she had stood for many days; but now her body was alive . . . a proud, reverent, enraptured surrender to a vision of her own, . . . the moment touched by the reflection of what she saw” (p. 336).

Joan of Arc, 1879, Jules Bastien-Lepage (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)

The second instance occurs when Howard relaxes after a swim at the home he has built for Gail and Dominique: “She [Dominique] thought: This is the tribute to Gail, the confidence of surrender—he relaxes like a cat—and cats don’t relax except with people they like” (p. 586).

The third instance occurs when Gail reflects on his power in relation to Howard while they are on a cruise together on Gail’s yacht: “As he stood at the rail, watching Roark in the water, he thought of the power he held in this moment: he could order the yacht to start moving, sail away and leave that redheaded body to sun and ocean. The thought gave him pleasure: the sense of power and the sense of surrender to Roark in the knowledge that no conceivable force could make him exercise that power” (p. 603).

What is striking about this third use of “surrender” is the experiential and moral rightness of it. Somehow, this is not a giving in to some force external to one’s agency, but rather, is a profound expression of one’s deepest sense of self. These three individuals are most truly themselves when they surrender to a love they feel for one another that is rooted in a love of their own best selves. I find Scott Schneider’s gloss on this idea helpful: “In all three cases, the surrender is of one’s will to emotions/values. In the negative case, they are false values or anti-values. In the positive cases, struggling against these values would be contradictory, since the values in question go to the person’s core, and surrender is the recognition of that.” (7)

Surrender as an integrative expression of one’s highest values can be seen as a spiritual journey toward self-understanding, growth, and wholeness. When commissioned by Hopton Stoddard to build the Stoddard Temple, Hopton articulates (as the conduit for Ellsworth’s planted words) the non-religious spirituality that Howard has about his self/work in the face of Howard’s admission that he does not believe in God:

We want to capture—in stone, as others capture in music—not some narrow creed, but the essence of all religion. . . . The great aspiration of the human spirit toward the highest, the noblest, the best. The human spirit as the creator and the conqueror of the ideal. The great life-giving force of the universe. The heroic human spirit. . . . You’re a profoundly religious man, Mr. Roark—in your own way. I can see that in your buildings. . . . [W]hat I want in that building is your spirit . . . , Mr. Roark. Give me the best of that (pp. 319-20).

Howard is then described as having “learn[ed] something about himself, about his buildings, from this man who had seen it and known it before he knew it” (p. 320). This is the very thing that Henry Cameron also saw and told Howard about at a more fundamental level, when he saw a photo of Howard’s first office shingle “Howard Roark, Architect”:

And I know that if you carry these words through to the end, it will be a victory, Howard, not just for you, but for something that should win, that moves the world—and never wins acknowledgement. It will vindicate so many who have fallen before you, who have suffered as you will suffer. May God bless you—or whoever it is that is alone to see the best, the highest possible to human hearts (p. 133).

All of these religious/spiritual words are Rand’s own way of reaching toward something about the self, a loving embrace of one’s true self in its richest complexity that often reaches and moves beyond discursive, conscious thought. If we trust, perhaps surrender, to the best within us and listen to what it shows us, then we can grow as individuals and in connection with the best in others. “[T]he highest possible to human hearts” is found there in those places beyond words in the world and in our self in that world. It is often precisely consciously held beliefs—false ones—that get in the way of individual wholeness. The examples of Dominique and Gail show this point. They both fight Howard tooth and nail because of their fears and false beliefs. Dominique’s salvation is that she finally embraces in a fully embodied and integrated way her love of what Howard rather than Gail stands for. She finally gets one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s maxims, which could have been uttered by Rand: “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. . . . It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Many might not be comfortable with Rand’s uses of “surrender” in The Fountainhead, but her carefully chosen language is undeniably there and needs to be contended with for what it is. The language of surrender provides insight into what it means for heroic man to be a person of “self-made soul” and to become who he potentially is.

——————————————-

(1) This essay began as a July 29, 2014 Facebook post of mine, “Surrender in The Fountainhead,” in partial response to a more general Facebook discussion on the nature of submission, surrender, and obedience and whether any of these could be compatible with Objectivist principles concerning rationality and choice. I would like to thank various participants in both the general and specific discussions for their thoughts and feedback on this topic. My gratitude especially goes to Kurt Keefner for engaging in extended discussion on this topic and his generous invitation to share his blog space, and to Joshua Zader for his feedback on and promotion of these discussions.

(2) All citations to The Fountainhead are to the 1971 New American Library edition.

(3) For example, Rand’s remarks such as rape’s being “a dreadful crime” and “if it’s rape—it’s rape by engraved invitation,” seem intended to convey the consensual nature of Dominique’s sexual surrender to Howard; see Letters of Ayn Rand, ed. Michael Berliner (New York: Plume, 1997), pp. 282 and 631. (The second image in the post depicts that scene as portrayed by Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal in the film version of The Fountainhead.)

(4) Lloyd Drum, July 29, 2014 comment on my July 29, 2014 Facebook post “Surrender in The Fountainhead.”

(5) Joshua Zader, July 29, 2014 comments on his Facebook re-posting of my July 29, 2014 Facebook post “Surrender in The Fountainhead.”

(6) This description of Dominique reminds me of the painting “Joan of Arc” that I chose to include above in this post. It’s stunning to see in person, especially her eyes beholding a vision of her own. The painting is Jules Bastien-Le Page’s “Joan of Arc” (1879), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

(7) Scott Schneider, July 29, 2014 comment on my July 29, 2014 Facebook post “Surrender in The Fountainhead.”

10 thoughts on “Surrender in The Fountainhead

  1. Pingback: Surrender, But Don’t Give Yourself Away | Policy of Truth

  2. That was very interesting. In fact, it’s provoked lots of different thoughts in me, but just one for now: I wonder whether what explains the difference between the positive and negative instances of “surrender” is that the positive instances all involve giving-in to or accepting what Rand called “the metaphysically given” whereas the negative instances all involve giving-in to what Rand called “the man-made,” where the man-made is not metaphysically given, and yields an outcome that is suboptimal to what might have been. Rand: “The metaphysically given is, was, will be, and had to be. Nothing made by man had to be: it was made by choice” (“The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 37 of the Centennial ed). Going quickly over your examples, I think my suggestion works on all of them.

    Interestingly, Rand says in the essay that the metaphysically given “must be accepted,” but she doesn’t say that we ought to “surrender” to it. (The same is true of the prayer she cites at the beginning of the essay.) I suspect that she used “surrender” for literary purposes, but recognized that it had potentially misleading connotations in a philosophical essay. Ultimately, the positive meanings of “surrender” are equivalent to “accept.” It’s just that “accept” would have been too anemic a word to use for the contexts you describe above. “Enraptured acceptance of a vision of one’s own” doesn’t have quite the same effect as “enraptured surrender…”

    –Irfan

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    • Actually, having just written that, it occurs to me that the basic difference between “surrender” and “acceptance” is that “surrender” follows a struggle, but acceptance need not. So maybe “surrender” is there in novels because (often, not always) “surrender” follows a struggle whose ultimate goal is acceptance.

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      • That’s a great point about “surrender” occurring after a struggle, while “acceptance” is generally more straightforward. I also think that you are onto something when you say:

        “I wonder whether what explains the difference between the positive and negative instances of “surrender” is that the positive instances all involve giving-in to or accepting what Rand called “the metaphysically given” whereas the negative instances all involve giving-in to what Rand called “the man-made,””

        I think that this mostly fits. However, since man is “a being of self-made soul,” and Dominique struggles mightily before positively surrendering to Howard or to her own best self, then there is a sense in which she surrenders to something that must be created by man. I know that this is not what Rand means by the “man-made” (which has to do with the primacy of consciousness), but the “metaphysically given” (in relation to human choice and character) needs more fleshing out in order to develop this insight and analysis.

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        • I still think it fits. Rand thinks that the metaphysically-given refers to a necessity that “is, was, will be, and had to be.” In cases of volitional action, the necessity in question is some requirement of man’s life qua man. So Dominique isn’t surrendering to Roark’s action merely qua volitional; she’s surrendering to a volitional action qua expressive of some requirement of man’s life qua man. And requirements of that type are, were, will be, and had to be. Of course, it’d be a challenge to find the right way of describing “requirements of that type.”

          I do agree that the given/man-made distinction needs a lot more fleshing out in relation to cases of volitional action. In some ways, I think the “Metaphysical Versus Man-Made” essay is more fundamental to ethics than “The Objectivist Ethics,” and involves more complex issues. It also has obvious application to Rand’s views on literature, since she defines Romanticism in terms of its conception of volition.

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  3. Purely by coincidence, I happen to be reading Bernard Knox’s The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy (U Cal, 1964), and found it amazingly and unexpectedly relevant to this topic. In his first chapter on “the Sophoclean Hero,” Knox writes:

    What the hero is really asked to do, the demand behind the appeal to reason and emotion, the advice to reflect and be persuaded is–to yield, eikein. This word (with its compounds) is the key word of the Sophoclean tragic situation; it occurs in every one of the six plays in the significant context of the attack on the hero’s resolution.

    It seems to be a favorite Sophoclean word; not only is Sophocles unique among the dramatists in his use of the aorist formation eikathein, but also the use of this word group to characterize the demand made on the hero of the play is almost exclusively Sophoclean. ….

    The hero refuses to yield. And in his reply to the demand that he should, he uses another word characteristic of the Sophoclean tragic situation, ean, ‘to leave alone, allow, let.’ “Let me be thus distraught” (eate m’od aleuin, 135) says Electra to the chorus when they try to moderate her mourning for Agamemnon. “Leave me alone, get out” (oukoun m’easeis, 676) shouts Oedipus tyrannos to Creon…

    It is no easy task to urge surrender on the hero, in fact it is difficult to tell him anything at all; he will not listen (pp. 15-18).

    I take it that “eikein” could also in principle be translated as “surrender” (though I don’t know if it ever is).

    A speculation: could it be that Rand’s heroes are non-tragic because they do surrender (to reason) where Sophoclean heroes refuse to? Sophoclean heroes refuse to because they take the surrender in question to be surrender-to-a-person rather than surrender-to-some-metaphysical-feature-of-reality. But they’re tragically mistaken.

    There are also interesting echoes of James Taggart’s “don’t bother me, don’t bother me” speech in Atlas Shrugged in Electra’s response to the chorus above, and Oedipus’s to Creon. In some contexts, perhaps a failure to surrender ends up being a form of evasion, and the evasion leads to tragedy. Perhaps that’s why all of Rand’s novels are fundamentally exercises in persuasion: the drama arises from the fact that one character has to persuade another of the truth of some claim(s), or else tragedy will ensue.

    Anyway, I’ll leave it there, but there’s a lot more to say, which suggests that it’s a great topic, ripe for comparisons/contrasts between Rand and many other authors.

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  4. Pingback: Scruton on Beauty: Six Platitudes (Part 2 of 3) | Policy of Truth

  5. I just happened to notice an interesting discussion of the concept of “surrender” in sexual contexts in Martha Nussbaum’s “Objectification,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 24:4 (Fall 1995), throughout the piece but especially section III.

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  6. Pingback: Carrie-Ann Biondi on Kurt Keefner’s “Killing Cool” | Policy of Truth

  7. I happen to be reading Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love right now, which turns out to be highly relevant to this discussion (subtitle: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination), so I thought I’d mention and recommend it here (a review). Just another proof that no discussion ever really ends at PoT.

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