Joe Carter of the Catholic Education Resource Center explores “The Fountainhead of Bedford Falls.” As he writes, Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark and Frank Capra’s George Bailey aren’t often discussed in the same breath, but the two fictitious characters, immortalized by Hollywood via Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart, two legendary mid-century leading men, have a surprising amount in common.
“To anyone familiar with both works, it would seem the two characters could not be more different, ” Carter notes. “Unexpected similarities emerge, however, when one considers that Roark and Bailey are variations on a common archetype that has captured the American imagination for decades:”
Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s book, is an idealistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision by conforming to the needs and demands of the community. In contrast, George Bailey, the hero of Capra’s film, is an idealistic young would-be architect who struggles in obscurity because he has chosen to conform to the needs and demands of the community rather than fulfill his artistic and personal vision. Howard Roark is essentially what George Bailey might have become had he left for college rather than stayed in his hometown of Bedford Falls.
Rand portrays Roark as a demigod-like hero who refuses to subordinate his self-centered ego to the demands of the community society. Capra, in stark contrast, portrays Bailey as an amiable but flawed man who becomes a hero precisely because he chooses to subordinate his self-centered ego for the greater good of the community.
Read the whole thing, found via Kathy Shaidle, who has her own thoughts on the comparison.
And for my video interview with Jennifer Burns, the historian and author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, in which we discuss The Fountainhead, along with other aspects of Rand in postwar America, just click here.
Incidentally, say what you will about Rand and Capra, Roark and Bailey, and Cooper and Stewart; the Hollywood of World War II and its immediate aftermath was undoubtedly made of sterner stuff than its current iteration.
Related: Since this is a movie-related post, I might as well hang this here: a movie Easter egg so cool, it goes to 11.