Ellsworth Toohey

1. Collectivism “in man’s soul”

Let’s talk about the character of Ellsworth Toohey. Ellsworth Toohey, as a character, is essentially unchanged over the course of the novel, and he’s like Howard Roark in that respect. Howard Roark in his essential self is the exactly the same person from the beginning of the novel to the end of the novel. You know, we see him go through a process of struggling against society, struggling to, you know, achieve success and to be able to do his work as an architect. But in the core of his being, he is who he is from beginning to end. Ellsworth Toohey is the same. He is essentially unchanged. In the essence of his being, he is the same person from when we meet him at the beginning of a novel to the end of the novel. And there’s a reason for that. There’s a sense in which Howard Roark and Ellsworth Toohey are the two polar opposite characters in the novel.

You know, Ayn Rand stated the theme of The Fountainhead is “individualism versus collectivism, not in politics, but in men’s souls.” Well, Howard Roark is the embodiment of individualism in a man’s soul, and he shows what that means. What individualism means, not in politics, but, you know, accepted as a moral philosophy in the core of a person’s being.

Ellsworth Toohey is the opposite side of that equation. He is the embodiment of collectivism in man’s soul. Throughout the novel, he preaches the ideals of self-sacrifice, selflessness, altruism, collectivism. So he represents it intellectually. He lives by that philosophy and he influences people. He acts towards the other characters on the premise of this philosophy. And this is what he represents in the story. His role in the story, essentially, is to embody the philosophy of collectivism and to show what its real meaning is, what the soul of a collectivist really is. Now, what we see in Ellsworth Toohey is basically—he—in essence, he acts as a force of destruction that rips through the lives of all the other characters. When we see him in action, it’s acting towards the other characters. And he schemes and plots throughout the novel to to bring out the worst qualities in all the characters and to tear down any positive values, or desires, or any positive qualities that they have. This is how Toohey acts towards the other characters.

Now, we don’t meet him in Part 1. We hear his voice giving a speech, but we don’t actually meet him in Part 1. We meet him in Part 2, and Part 2 of the novel is the part that’s named after Ellsworth Toohey. And there’s a sense in which Part 2 is Ellsworth Toohey’s story. This is where we learn about his childhood and his life. This is where we actually meet him in person for the first time. We, you know, we see his physical description, and we see him in a conversation. And this is really where we see him in action. You know, how he acts towards the other characters—Peter Keating, Katie Halsey, Dominique Francon, and Howard Roark. This is where we really, really see him in action. In a certain way, Part 2 represents the height of his successes. You know, it starts at the beginning with him interacting with Peter Keating, and at the—and it ends with the Stoddard Temple, which is his, you know, most significant success against Howard Roark, against Dominique, etc. So the best way to understand Ellsworth Toohey I think is to see him in relation to the other characters, how he acts towards them and what he’s trying to accomplish in his actions towards them. So this is what we’ll go on to look at.

Now, we—in Part 4, we find out what Ellsworth Toohey—we see indications of this in Part 2, but in Part 4 is where we really find out explicitly what Ellsworth Toohey is after because he explicitly tells us his motivations. And he, you know, says in an abstract statement everything that we’ve seen in action, in it—in his actions toward the other characters throughout the novel. Um, he tells us in his speech to Peter Keating towards the end of the novel.

So let’s take a look at how Toohey acts towards the other characters, and then we’ll go on to look at some of his deeper motivations. 


2. Toohey and Peter Keating

Let’s start by looking at Toohey in relation to Peter Keating. What is Toohey’s, uh—you know, what is Toohey’s relationship to Keating? What are his goals with respect to Keating? Well, he is—his basic goal is to boost Keating professionally, to promote him as an architect. So he praises him in his column. He uses his influence to help Keating get clients and to rise to the top of the architectural profession. Why does he do this? Is it because he thinks Keating is a great architect? No. It’s exactly the opposite. He knows that Keating is a mediocrity. He knows that he’s just like all the other architects. He just copies the styles of the past—that he has no, you know, creative spirit of his own. And even worse than that, he knows that Keating is a fraud. He knows that his best designs were designed by somebody else, and he approves of that. So his—with respect to Keating, he’s knowingly boosting, promoting, supporting somebody who he knows is an empty you know, second-rate mediocrity. Um, and he has a very specific purpose in mind in doing this.

Um, we know, you know, what—he behaves this way towards all the—all the professions. You know, literature you know, painting, sculpture, all the different fields. His goal is to undermine the standards of greatness in these professions by raising up as an exemplar of greatness in the field somebody that he knows is not great. So he tells us this in his speech at the end of the novel what he’s after here. And what he’s after is to wipe out the very concept of greatness. Um, and in each of these professions, the way he goes about doing this is to, you know, basically oppose, and reject, and ignore the individuals who represent, you know, truly great examples of working that field and in their place, to replace them with mediocrities. And this is the role that Peter Keating plays in Toohey’s plan.

Now, at the same time as he’s trying to, you know, boost him professionally and support him professionally, he also works very hard to undermine Keating’s self-esteem and to destroy him spiritually. Um, he, you know, takes away from him. He works hard to get Keating to renounce, you know, the one authentic value that he could be said to have, which is his love for Katie Halsey. This is really the only real value that Keating displays throughout the novel. And Ellsworth Toohey does everything he can to discourage the marriage and discourage the relationship, and he succeeded—he succeeds in this. He gets Keating to—you know, he encourages Keating’s—in place of this, he encourages Keating’s marriage to Dominique Francon and he does this knowing that Keating doesn’t love Dominique. His goal in trying to bring them together is, again, to try to destroy them both spiritually and you know—and he also succeeds in this.

Keating doesn’t marry Katie. He marries Dominique. And you know, it—the effect that it—that this has on Keating’s life is to—you know, even though he starts out the novel as somebody who is essentially spiritually empty, this just makes it even worse. And you know, his professional success, which he never deserved in the first place doesn’t bring him any joy or happiness. And his marriage to Dominique, which wasn’t based on anything except his desire to impress other people, you know, that doesn’t bring him any joy or happiness. What it—what this accomplishes for Peter Keating is to completely empty him spiritually and make him wholly dependent on Ellsworth Toohey for any kind of spiritual guidance. So this is all part of Toohey’s plan, which he, you know, conceives at the age of 15—to go around collecting souls. Well, Peter Keating is one of the souls that Ellsworth Toohey collects.


3. Toohey and Dominique Francon

What about Ellsworth Toohey in relation to Dominique Francon? Well, with Dominique Francon, Toohey recognizes that she is torn by a certain kind of conflict. That she—he sees and recognizes that she worships greatness, that she’s an idealist. That she, you know, loves Howard Roark, is passionately devoted to his work, thinks it, you know, a work of genius and greatness. But at the same time, he also sees that she that she is conflicted about this, that she resists this, that she thinks that the world as it is isn’t worthy of Howard Roark. And he sees that she is in certain respect, you know, wants to oppose Hoard Roark. She doesn’t want him to cast his pearls, you know, before the swine of the world. Uh, she doesn’t want him to design these great buildings in the world as it is because the world doesn’t deserve it. So he sees that she has this basic conflict and he uses this as a tool. He tries to sort of prey on her in this way.

The first important interaction, or the first major interaction between them is after she sees the drawings for the Enright house. And Toohey is the one who talks about Howard Roark and Peter Keating in relation to them. And he’s the one who tells her that they went to school together, that they started out together. And he paints for her a picture of Howard Roark, you know, who he too recognizes Howard Roark’s greatness and Peter Keating’s mediocrity. He just has a different attitude about it as we’ve—as we’ve discussed with respect to Peter Keating. So he’s the one who paints for pic–for Dominique, this picture of Howard Roark, the genius, the great architect being beaten by Peter Keating. And the greatness of his work being ignored by the world in favor of the mediocrity who is Peter Keating. And so upon hearing this, this is—this is what drives Dominique to even more fervently want to oppose Roark. To stop him before he even, you know, to stop him from being destroyed by the world, to in effect have a mercy killing rather than seeing him being slowly tortured and murdered by the world. She’d rather stop him before his career even gets going, and stop him from having to live through the horror of the kind of life that Ellsworth Toohey projects. That she says this is what Roark has in store for him.

So basically, Toohey goads Dominique on and brings out her worst elements, brings out her pessimism, and brings out her fears about what is in store for Roark. And he encourages her to join with him in boosting Peter Keating and fighting Howard Roark. And so she forms an alliance with Ellsworth Toohey. They have completely opposite motives. They don’t do it for the same reason, but temporarily they share the same goal. And so, Toohey is able to, uh, convince Dominique to form an alliance with him and they work together in this way. Now, this continues through the beginning of Part 2 of the novel. Uh, Dominique takes certain actions to try to take clients away from Roark and to send them off to Peter Keating. Now, she doesn’t really have that great an effect on Roark. The kind of people who, you know, can be so easily influenced, you know, are not really Roark’s kind of people anyway. So even though she works against him, it’s not—it’s somewhat superficial in its actual effects on Roark’s life and career. But nevertheless, she’s fighting him and she’s trying to oppose him—trying to oppose Howard Roark.

Now, what happens over the course of Part 2 is that in spite of her efforts and in spite of Ellsworth Toohey’s best efforts, Roark starts to succeed. He starts to get clients. He completes the Enright House. He completes the Cord Building. He gets the contract for the Aquitania Hotel, and it starts to shake Dominique’s pessimism. She starts to get a certain sense of hope that maybe, you know, maybe it—and she says to Ellsworth Toohey, “Maybe you and I are wrong about the world.” She starts to see hope that maybe there is a chance for someone like Roark to succeed in the world. And it’s—and it’s when—it’s after Dominique and Ellsworth Toohey have this conversation where she’s—where she says, “Maybe we’re wrong about the world,” and that she points out and highlights the fact that Roark is succeeding inside—in spite of their efforts. This is when Ellsworth Toohey goes home and thinks about Hopton’s daughter. This is when he conceives of his scheme of the Stoddard Temple. And his goal here is twofold. Again, he wants to, um—he wants to oppose Howard Roark. He wants to try to stop him in his career, but this is also a way for him to act against Dominique, to reinforce her conviction that Roark doesn’t have a chance in the world and that she should be fighting to oppose him—to reinforce her, you know, self-destructive elements. So, again, just as in the case with Peter Keating, Toohey’s goal is to tear down people’s values and to bring out their worst elements, to bring out their most self-destructive elements. And this is how he acts toward Dominique Francon, as well.

Now, the Stoddard Temple in this respect is a success, so Roark is stopped in his career. He’s been sued by a client. He’s—it—you know, Toohey plays this up as much as he can that it—that what he perpetrated was a fraud you know, and so he manages to accomplish a certain setback in Howard Roark’s career. And in the person of Dominique Francon he does exactly what he set out to do. He reinforces her worst convictions and her, uh—he reinforces these mistaken beliefs that she has about the world, and he basically drives her to, you know, want to do the worst to herself, to bring the suffering upon herself. And it’s after the Stoddard Temple that Dominique Francon marries Peter Keating. And, again, this partly—this comes about through Ellsworth Toohey’s encouragement. He does everything he can—working on Peter Keating, working on Dominique Francon. He does everything he can to bring this marriage about. And, again, it’s not because this will be a value to the—to both of them, you know. It’s it’s—with respect to Peter Keating, having Dominique Francon as his beautiful trophy wife will help him professionally, and it will destroy him spiritually as we’ve—as we’ve discussed.

In the person of Dominique Francon, again, he’s–she’s–he’s hoping that—he knows that, not only does she not love Peter Keating, but that she absolutely despises him. And in encouraging the marriage, Toohey is trying to goad her along on the path of self-destruction. Now, what they—what he discovers over time is this doesn’t really work. Peter Keating is not a strong enough force. He’s not a—he’s not a strong enough personality to be a match for someone like Dominique Francon. Marrying Peter Keating is not going to be enough to destroy Dominique. So Toohey concocts yet another plan, and that is to try to put Dominique Francon in the path of Gail Wynand. And so he is the one, again, who sort of engineers this scheme by which Dominique Francon is in effect going to sell herself, prostitute herself to Gail Wynand so that Peter Keating can get the Stoneridge commission. And, again, it’s an attempt to you know, encourage Dominique along the path of spiritual self-abasement.

Now, ultimately, all of this fails in the case of Dominique Francon. What she discovers over the course of her development through the novel is that, ultimately, she was wrong about, you know, the nature of the world and the chance of someone like Howard Roark for success in the world. And by the end of the novel you know, Toohey fails with her utterly. She is, in the end of the novel, free of the world. She comes to see that, you know, Roark does have a chance. And in the end, she goes back to Howard Roark and, you know, is able to live in the same way that he lives in the world, free of other people and unconcerned with the rest of the world. So in terms of Ellsworth Toohey, what we see with respect to Dominique is he has the goal of trying to destroy her spiritually, trying to bring out her worst elements, trying to encourage her along on the path of self-destruction. And in the case of Dominique, he fails in that.


4. Toohey and Howard Roark

Let’s talk about Toohey in relation to Howard Roark. From the moment he sees the first drawings of the Enright House, Toohey recognizes Roark as someone that he has to oppose and fight. Toohey basically is a—in essence, is a—is a person who has no independent creative spirit of his own. He has the ability to recognize greatness, and recognize the innovative qualities, the spiritual greatness that Howard Roark represents, and recognizes the greatness that his architecture represents. But Toohey Toohey’s perspective on this is because he has—he, himself, has no independent creative drive. He is the paragon of spiritual second-handedness. And he recognizes that someone like Howard Roark is a threat to him. There’s no room for an Ellsworth Toohey in Howard Roark’s kind of world. In a world that seeks out the best, that seeks out greatness, and that—and that, you know, wants to find people like Howard Roark to—you know, the innovative creators. There’s no room in a world of innovative creators for someone as, you know, spiritually empty as Ellsworth Toohey.

And there’s something about Howard Roark that makes Ellsworth Toohey think of his own destruction. Think about the description when Toohey first actually sees Roark in person at Kiki Holcolme’s party. This it the the reaction—this is—this is the reaction that Toohey has.

“Toohey moved through the crowd and smiled at his friends. But between smile and sentences, his eyes went back to the man with the orange hair. He looked at the man as he looked occasionally at the pavement from a window on the 30th floor, wondering about his own body were it to be hurled down, and what would happen when it struck against that pavement.”

So Toohey has the judgment to recognize great art. But, again, as we’ve seen when—in talking about Peter Keating, his attitude towards great art is to want to destroy it and to—and his method of trying to destroy it is to oppose and fight you know, the representatives of great art and replace them. And enshrine in their place mediocrities—to raise up Peter Keating and to destroy Howard Roark. This is what he’s out to do. And, initially, his attitude towards Howard Roark is to just ignore him. You know, he’s the great eminent architecture critic. He says nothing in his column about Roark’s early buildings. And, you know, the—by implication, Roark is not worthy of talking about. And all he talks about is Peter Keating and how wonderful his buildings are. This is his initial attempt to boost Keating and oppose Roark.

Now, this doesn’t work. You know, Roark continues to get commissions. He continues to get clients. Eventually Toohey has to bring out the bigger guns. So when Dominique, you know, comes to him and points out how Roark is succeeding, again, this is when Toohey concocts the plan for the Stoddard Temple. And he develops this very complex scheme and works out all the different element of it, you know, to encourage Hopton’s daughter to choose Roark as the architect, to give him an assignment that would induce Roark to design a great temple to human individualism, a temple of the human spirit. You know, that building that carries the message that man is great and noble, and, you know and that brings out the sort of individualist spirit. And he’s easily able to convince Hopton’s daughter that this is not what you know, what you—the kind of temple that he should have built. He convinces him to sue Howard Roark as a fraud, and he manages, you know, to set back Roark in his career. Um, you know, to have him successfully sued by a client, you know, in effect for committing fraud, and smear him across the pages of the papers as an unreliable, unworthy architect who nobody should have anything to do with. So he exceeds in this goal, but in the end, you know, this is not enough to stop Howard Roark. Um, in spite of all of Toohey’s best efforts, Roark is able to find his kind of people out there in the world. People who aren’t, you know convinced by Ellsworth Toohey’s philosophy, people who aren’t subject to Ellsworth Toohey’s influence. You know men of independent judgment who value—who recognize the greatness of Roark’s work and seek him out. And over the course of the novel, Roark manages to succeed in spite of everything Toohey does.

And the other important thing about Toohey’s relationship to Roark is that from Toohey’s perspective, he’s totally focused on Howard Roark. For him, it’s the—from the moment he sees him, he recognizes him as this threat, and he recognizes him as someone to contend with. And he is completely focused on what he’s going to do about Howard Roark and to Howard Roark. But from the other side, Roark barely even notices Toohey’s existence. He knows about him as an art, you know, art critic, but he doesn’t, you know, pay any attention to what he says, what he does. You know, from Roark’s point of view, you know, there is no Ellsworth Toohey in the world. It has no relation to the work that he wants to do and the kinds of clients that he wants to find. As far as he’s concerned, Ellsworth Toohey is completely irrelevant, doesn’t matter, doesn’t even exist. And the scene that captures this beautifully is—so after the Stoddard Temple fiasco, after Tooley has accomplished what he wanted to, Roark has been sued. The Stoddard Temple is going to be, you know, disfigured. It’s going to be destroyed by, you know, mediocre architects hired for the purpose. It’s going to be turned into the Hopton Stoddard Home for Subnormal Children. Right?  So Toohey has accomplished what he wants to, and he’s going to destroy this building that Howard Roark created. And Roark goes to see the building. And Toohey’s been waiting around for him, you know, to interact with him, to see, you know, what does he think of all of this. And Toohey asks him, you know, nobody’s around here. He says to him, “Nobody’s around here. Why don’t you tell me what you really think of me?” And Howard Roark’s answer is, “But I don’t think of you.”


5. Toohey’s basic motive

So what is Toohey after? What’s his motive? What’s driving him? Well, in Part 2, we get the story of his childhood. And we see, you know, through the various incidents that are shown, you know, we see some of the kinds of things—we see some of—we get an indication into some of his motives and the kinds of things that are driving him. And in Part 4 of the novel, in his speech to Peter Keating, he tells us explicitly what he’s after. And what he’s after is power over men. He wants to rule men’s souls. And, you know, at the age of 15, he formulates the goal of collecting souls, and this is what he acts on through his entire life.

Now, he—his basic method of collecting souls is by preaching the philosophy of collectivism, preaching the philosophy of altruism. His goal is to kill men’s sense of values, kill their independent pursuit of happiness in order to turn people basically into puppets who are subject to his control. If he’s able to convince people that altruism is a moral ideal, that self-sacrifice, the renunciation of personal values is a moral ideal, he manages to get them to, you know, renounce any kind of selfish individual pursuits in life. And he manages to convince them to give up everything that’s important to them. And, you know, in effect what he accomplishes is he destroys their self-esteem and turns them into somebody who’s, you know, looking for someone who tells them—who can tell them what to do. So this is Toohey’s methodology in going about collecting souls. And we see this, you know, in the way that he acts toward Katie Halsey, toward Keating, toward all the people he comes into contact with as a vocational advisor, you know, in college. He advises people to give up the—you know, when he sees somebody who is passionate about a certain career, his advice is to give that up. He doesn’t want anybody to be passionate about anything. He wants them to sacrifice their values and you know, when they’ve given up everything that’s important—given up every important aspect of themself, they have nothing left and they come to Ellsworth Toohey seeking leadership. So this is his basic mode of operation. And Ayn Rand described the character of Ellsworth Toohey in her notes in preparing for the novel. This is part of her description of Ellsworth Toohey.

“Toohey is the paragon of spiritual second-handedness. Basically, Toohey is noncreative. He has nothing of his own to offer to himself or to others. His evil lies in the fact that he knows it, accepts it, and glories in it. Toohey knew himself to be incapable of intrinsic superiority or independence. He made of this his virtue. He dedicated himself to the destruction of all superiority and all independence. He accepted consciously the negation of all values, of all ideals, of all that is high and noble in men, with the full realization of the meaning of such values, not in frustrated for an ideal, but in cold and deliberate hatred of all integrity. He chose to be consciously evil. He is the great nihilist of the spirit.”


6. Cortlandt Homes: Toohey and Gail Wynand

So what is Ellsworth Toohey’s role in the plot climax of the novel, in the whole Cortlandt Homes incident? Well, Toohey’s role is, again—in effect what he’s after in his part in the Cortlandt Homes affair, is to try to stop Roark, and also he’s after Gail Wynand. So Toohey has surreptitiously over many years been planting his employees in The Banner. And his goal, ultimately, is to take over editorial control of The Banner. Now, of course, he’s not somebody who can do this in head-to-head combat with Gail Wynand. That’s not—that’s impossible, and this is not how Ellsworth Toohey works. He doesn’t fight things directly. He fights them indirectly. He fights them through internal corruption. So he manages to put his people, all these souls that he’s collected—he gets them into key positions in The Banner and has influence over this you know organization of Banner employees, and so on.

So when the Cortlandt Homes incident occurs, Toohey, you know, obviously is going to be fighting Howard Roark. He’s going to be trying to get him convicted, to be out there in the press saying that he’s a monster who’s destroyed the home of the destitute. You know, how could he be so selfish as to place his own convictions above, you know, this altruistic government housing project. So he’s out there on the barricades fighting against Howard Roark.

Now, Gail Wynand is trying to, you know, redeem his own soul in this affair and he has a policy that The Banner is going to be supporting Howard Roark. Everyone on The Banner is supposed to be, you know, trying to defend Howard Roark in the press. So Toohey deliberately goes against this policy. He deliberately writes a column denouncing Howard Roark. It gets published on The Banner and he gets fired by Gail Wynand. And this is the conflict that Toohey has been waiting for, has been setting up. So he, through his influence, you know, the employees of The Banner go on strike. They go on strike against the policy of defending Howard Roark, and they go on strike to have Ellsworth Toohey reinstated. They think, you know, they think it’s unfair that he’s been fired, that The Banner’s policy is all wrong, that Gail Wynand is wrong on this. And he manages to foment a rebellion of The Banner’s employees.

Now, so, ultimately, what the result is, is that Gail Wynand ends up caving in. So you know, he realizes, ultimately, that the power that he thought he had over the masses through his newspapers, that he doesn’t have. As soon as he tries to—you know, he gained his power over the—over the press by pandering and—pandering to the masses and giving people what they want. As soon as he no longer gives them what they want, they no longer follow him. And he finds that he’s completely powerless. So Wynand caves in, you know, as a result of his own internal contradictions. And in a certain respect—in this respect, Toohey succeeds against Wynand. He’s reinstated to the paper. You know, The Banner reverses its editorial policy on Howard Roark. And in that respect, Ellsworth Toohey seems to have achieved a success over Gail Wynand. But in the end, he doesn’t really achieve a success over Gail Wynand because Gail Wynand you know, manages to stop Ellsworth Toohey, stop him from having any control over the paper by simply closing the paper. He closes down The Banner.

Now, there’s something interesting in this. What it—there’s a certain theme that comes out in the relationship between Toohey and Wynand that Ayn Rand would later pick up in her novel, Atlas Shrugged. And the idea—it’s something that she refers to as the sanction of the victim. The only reason that Ellsworth Toohey had the kind of national influence that he had, and was able to achieve, you know, the wide scale destruction that he’s able to achieve—partly the reason for that is through the creative spirit and the energy of Gail Wynand. Gail Wynand was the one who built up The Banner into—and built up his newspaper chain into the massive national force that it is. And he’s the one who gave Ellsworth Toohey the platform on which to speak, and on which to spread his messages. Without the sanction of a man like Gail Wynand, who makes that platform possible, Ellsworth Toohey, you know, wouldn’t have the kind of influence that he had.

The basic idea here—Ayn Rand’s idea here is that evil in itself is inherently impotent. It can only succeed through the sanction and the compromise of the good. So what we see in the plot climax of The Fountainhead is even though Ellsworth Toohey seems to have achieved a success, when Gail Wynand removes his sanction and closes The Banner, Ellsworth Toohey is left with nothing. Now, it doesn’t stop him. He just goes to another newspaper and starts all over again. But but in the end, what we see is that the whole Cortlandt Homes incident is not any kind of victory for Ellsworth Toohey. And with respect to Howard Roark, of course, Howard Roark is acquitted and Ellsworth Toohey’s goals—you know, Ellsworth Toohey’s actions have no effect on him. They’re not able to stop him. Basically, the country isn’t ready for the kind of collectivist principles that Toohey represents. And Howard Roark is acquitted, and is able to you know, continue with his work, continue with his life, and he’s fundamentally untouched by Ellsworth Toohey.

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