My Impressions From Ellsworth Toohey Character in Fountainhead
There is no other character in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead I despise more than the renowned Ellsworth Toohey. His character combines all qualities of a person that make me want to throw The Fountainhead at the wall. At first Toohey seemed to be a nice old grandpa, but then his motives were slowly revealed through his thoughts and actions. The more I read of Toohey, the more I quickly grew to despise him. His manipulative nature and denouncement of individuality became infuriating and contradicted everything Rand integrated through her protagonist Howard Roark. Toohey wanted nothing more than to control men, and he devised a plan to take over The Banner. Ultimately, taking over The Banner would allow Toohey to have power over men’s souls.
From the very beginning Toohey sought to destroy and manipulate others. At the age of fifteen, Toohey was already grasping the value of a man’s soul. In Bible-class, Toohey addressed the question, “In order to be truly wealthy, a man should collect souls?” (Rand, 298). Already, he is discovering the best way to control man. To do this, Toohey would make people feel small, guilty, and inferior. Toohey was able to shake their faith in themselves and gain control of their lives. By preaching selflessness and ignorance of the ego, Toohey destabilized the soul. We see this happen with his very own niece Catherine. Katie, desperately seeking the approval of her Uncle, began committing herself to the lives of others. Katie thought that by following the path her Uncle set she would gain true happiness. However, Katie soon discovered how this corrupt way of thinking would lead her nowhere. Instead of being joyous in helping others, Katie began to hate everyone. She snapped at people and looked down on them with contempt; she even hated herself, feeling guilty that she despised the poor, eventually discussing these problems with her Uncle. Katie had given up everything; she had given up herself. Of course, this is what Toohey wanted all along, to gain control of a soul so he could fill it with his motives only, the motives that provoked Katie to stop wanting anything at all, motives that would make her completely forget her sense of individuality.
Toohey’s dominance over one’s soul reached back to when he was an advisor at a New York academy. Instead of encouraging students to follow their passions, he renounced any need to make one’s self happy. Why would one pick a career in which he would be “hysterically devotional?” Devotion like this would, supposedly, not make for happiness and success (Rand, 301). He quickly jumped at the chance to fill the students’ empty souls with his malevolent advice and so –called guidance. The best way to serve mankind, he said, is not by doing what one wants, but the exact opposite.
Toohey’s success rate ran very high, and his most thriving case of success is the one and only Peter Keating. All his life, Peter sought the approval of others. He wanted to bask in the riches of fame and glory all while getting away with being a second-hander. When Peter met Toohey, he felt a sense of comfort and peace. Toohey would tell Peter what he wanted to hear; it seemed as if they almost had a silent agreement. Toohey knew that Keating did not design the Cosmo-Slotnick building but did not disapprove; he seemed almost forgiving. Peter felt assured of his life and continued on with his ways without knowing that Toohey was slowly dominating his life. In Toohey’s words, Peter was bringing the whip and asking to be whipped. Toohey only once revealed his motives to Peter, and Peter was helpless against him because he no longer trusted himself. For all his years, he had been feeding off the encouragement of Toohey and society.
The Banner, being the symbol of the worst elements of society, allowed Toohey the means to reassure control. Toohey believed in the power of the collective, not the individual. He could have power over this collective by inserting his beliefs and opinions through various articles and columns. By building up people such as Lois Cook in the paper, Toohey destroyed literature. Hail Ike ruined theater. Lancelot Clokey smashed the press. Once that was finished, Toohey was in command of telling people what was acceptable or what was not acceptable. The people would, of course follow, blindly; after all, they had nothing else to believe, having had their purpose for life taken away from them for the “good of mankind.” Toohey, the Beast of the world, snaked his way into the system by hand-picking followers into key positions, and Gail Wynand did not catch his scheme in time. Ultimately, this is what allows Toohey to regain his position. With Toohey as head of The Banner, he would easily infiltrate the minds of the people, telling them what they want and never really why they want it. The people would be helpless sponges, absorbing everything Toohey put forth.
Ellsworth Toohey played quite a role in The Fountainhead by embodying the evil of mankind. His power lay in his ability to manipulate others and gain control of one’s soul. Although with no great talent of his own, Toohey used his words to bring people up all while bringing their sense of self down. One can see his success with his niece Katie, his college students, and Peter Keating. To get a hold of collective society, Toohey needed to control The Banner. Since The Banner reached out all over the world, Toohey could destroy every single person’s soul and be left in charge to rule the world. In the end, Toohey is not successful in his plans to control The Banner since Wyand shuts it down. Toohey was not able to form the latest and greatest dictatorship, and men were still left with their souls.
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