The Fountainhead’s ‘Rape Scene’: a Case Study of Consensual Non-Consent

by Jason Stotts

Overview: The Fountainhead’s “rape scene” is not, in context, a scene of rape at all.  One might even say that Roark could have been given no clearer invitation.  Moreover, we can understand what this kind of thing might look like in the real world through the idea of consensual non-consent.

This essay contains spoilers about The Fountainhead.  Moreover, it cannot be understood without the context of the novel.  It is highly recommended that you read the book before this essay.

The Fountainhead is the story of Howard Roark and his drive for architectural integrity to be able to create buildings the way he thinks they should be and not simply as a testament to those who have come before him.  In this process, he meets Dominique, who is his ideal woman, except that she erroneously believes that the good cannot succeed in the world as it is.  He has an early affair with her and then leaves, only to reconnect with her later and start a relationship.  He cannot have her until she overcomes her malevolent sense of life and he is ultimately forced to let her go to play out a grand drama with several marriages on her part, as well as her and Toohey attempting to destroy Roark’s career.  Ultimately, Roark is successful and Dominique sees the error of her earlier beliefs, allowing them to happily be together.

This, however, is an essay where we’re going to look more closely at the “rape scene” and the tumultuous beginnings of Roark and Dominique’s relationship. In order to really understand what happens in this scene, you need to read the surrounding context and understand the scene in situ; the relevant context here is Part 2, Chapters 1 and 2 (pages 201-221 in the paperback).  However, since some of you won’t do this or won’t pick up on the key plot elements, let me provide some background.

Dominique Francon is a rich heiress who is desperately afraid to value anything or anyone, thinking that it is the nature of the world to destroy the good and if she has no values, then she cannot be hurt.  Yet, deep down she wants to value and love her life, she is just afraid.  Thus, she vacillates and fights herself about it.  When she first meets Roark, she is instantly drawn to him, but, true to form, doesn’t want to let herself be drawn to him.

When she first sees him, she gazes upon him with the implicit recognition that she is seeing man as he ought to be and cannot draw herself away from looking at him (205).  Eventually, she breaks away and finds the superintendent to get a tour of the quarry so that she can be near to him.  As she’s leaving, she’s on the rocks above him again and he looks up, knowing she will be there, and openly and defiantly staring at her, as if to say that she has given him the right (206).  When she gets home, she thinks of being broken by him, as he broke the granite, and this makes her weak with pleasure (206). She tries to convince herself that she would not go back, that she could resist herself (206). However, she’s back a couple of days later and this time stares at him openly.  He looks at her, but then looks away and doesn’t look back, even though he knows she wants him to (207).  The superintendent sees her and comes over, and now Roark looks at her openly, since now she does not want to be seen looking (207).  She leaves and doesn’t return for several days.

When she comes back to the quarry, Roark is working right beside the path and Dominique is startled to see him so close.  Roark stares at her openly and Dominique thinks that: “their understanding was too offensively intimate, because they had never said a word to each other” (207).  She asks him why he always stares at her and he replies that it is for the same reason she stares at him.  She says that he should stop staring at her, that it might be misunderstood.  He tells her that he thinks that she understands exactly what he means by it.  They talk a little more and Dominique leaves.

After, Dominique becomes obsessed with attempting to control herself and prevent herself from going back to the quarry (209), but she had lost “the freedom that she loved,” (209) and this freedom was her great indifference: Roark had made her care about something and want it badly, even though she was attempting to deny her desire.  Dominique tried to bring herself back to her former self by going to call on neighbors and to a party, then going home with a young poet, but she is shocked to realize that his sexual advances no longer broke on her indifference, but were actually met with revulsion: she had started to value herself.  This made her realize that she actually wanted Roark, as a woman wants a man, and now she had to openly acknowledge it.

She still, however, felt safe in her persona and her house, surrounded by her wealth.  She decided to “underscore the safety by challenging it.” (210) In order to do this, she ineffectually attempts to break the marble in front of her fireplace, but only manages to scratch it (210).  She goes to Roark and tells him that she has been thinking of him and that she needs him to do a job for her.  She expected him to be angry that she would treat him as any other laborer, but Roark understands her true motivation and agrees (211).  When he arrives that night, she shows him to her bedroom, he notices the tiny scratch that is her pretense to get him in her bedroom and takes a chisel and smashes the stone to bits, laughing at the symbolism of their actions (the stone representing her indifference and her helplessness at breaking through it, while he can so easily shatter it for her) (211).  She stands over him while he works to remove the shattered marble and wishes she could reach out and touch him, which forces her to step back.  She asks him to talk and he starts to talk about architecture, but she doesn’t want to talk about that. So Roark obediently talks about marble and, while doing so, issues a warning to Dominique: “Pressure is a powerful factor.  It leads to consequences which, once started, cannot be controlled.”  She is fascinated, leans in, and asks him “what consequences?” He replies “The recrystallization of the particles of limestone and infiltration of foreign elements from the surrounding soil.” He is warning her that if she continues, he will break her and her life will never be the same, she will take on parts of him.   Finally, he says to her: “You should be very careful, Miss Francon…” (213).  He finishes working and he asks her if she wants him to personally come to set the stone and she says she does.  She overpays him and expects him to be angry, but he simply accepts the money and notices that she is very angry that nothing more has happened: that her symbolic stone is still only scratched (213).

Dominique spends the intervening days doing little beyond waiting for her stone to come.  She thinks that she is no longer thinking of Roark and that she is only thinking of the stone, but she is simply trying to deceive herself (214). When the stone finally comes, she doesn’t even look at it and rushes to send Roark a note that the marble must be set that very night.  He sends her a reply that it will be set that night.  Dominique waited throughout the day in “the suffocating emptiness of impatience” (214) for Roark to come and deal with her stone. When someone else is shown into her bedroom she can’t understand why he is there.  She is so upset that she flees the room, tries to flee herself, and finds herself in the garden trembling with rage at Roark not coming and terror in how badly she had wanted him to (214-215).

Dominique tries to stay away from the quarry, but days later in the evening, while riding her horse, she becomes desperate to see Roark and knows that “she could not live through another night” without doing so (215).  She rides hard to the quarry, but she has missed him.  She pulls a switch and whips her horse to ride at a breakneck pace through the gathering twilight (risking her life in the process) and finally catches up to him on the trail.  She stops so hard next to him that she is nearly thrown.  She confronts him about why he didn’t come to set the marble and he replies: “I didn’t think it would make any difference to you who came.  Or did it, Miss Francon.” (215). He threw her desire in her face, slapping her with the meaning that she kept trying to deny.  She slashed him across the face with her switch and rode off. Now, Roark could be entirely certain of her and her desires.  There was no ambiguity left.

That night, Roark comes to her, as she wanted (215):

She did not hear the sound of steps in the garden. She heard them only when they rose up the stairs to the terrace. She sat up, frowning. She looked at the french windows.

He came in. He wore his work clothes, the dirty shirt with rolled sleeves, the trousers smeared with stone dust. He stood looking at her. There was no laughing understanding in his face. His face was drawn, austere in cruelty, ascetic in passion, the cheeks sunken, the lips pulled down, set tight. She jumped to her feet, she stood, her arms thrown back, her fingers spread apart. He did not move. She saw a vein of his neck rise, beating, and fall down again.

Then he walked to her. He held her as if his flesh had cut through hers and she felt the bones of his arms on the bones of her ribs, her legs jerked tight against his, his mouth on hers.

She did not know whether the jolt of terror shook her first and she thrust her elbows at his throat, twisting her body to escape, or whether she lay still in his arms, in the first instant, in the shock of feeling his skin against hers, the thing she had thought about, had expected, had never known to be like this, could not have known, because this was not part of living, but a thing one could not bear longer than a second.

She tried to tear herself away from him. The effort broke against his arms that had not felt it.

Her fists beat against his shoulders, against his face. He moved one hand, took her two wrists, pinned them behind her, under his arm, wrenching her shoulder blades. She twisted her head back. She felt his lips on her breast. She tore herself free.

She fell back against the dressing table, she stood crouching, her hands clasping the edge behind her, her eyes wide, colorless, shapeless in terror. He was laughing. There was the movement of laughter on his face, but no sound. Perhaps he had released her intentionally. He stood, his legs apart, his arms hanging at his sides, letting her be more sharply aware of his body across the space between them than she had been in his arms. She looked at the door behind him, he saw the first hint of movement, no more than a thought of leaping toward that door. He extended his arm, not touching her, and fell back. Her shoulders moved faintly, rising. He took a step forward and her shoulders fell. She huddled lower, closer to the table.

He let her wait. Then he approached. He lifted her without effort. She let her teeth sink into his hand and felt blood on the tip of her tongue. He pulled her head back and he forced her mouth open against his.

She fought like an animal. But she made no sound. She did not call for help. She heard the echoes of her blows in a gasp of his breath, and she knew that it was a gasp of pleasure. She reached for the lamp on the dressing table. He knocked the lamp out of her hand. The crystal burst to pieces in the darkness.

He had thrown her down on the bed and she felt the blood beating in her throat, in her eyes, the hatred, the helpless terror in her blood. She felt the hatred and his hands; his hands moving over her body, the hands that broke granite. She fought in a last convulsion. Then the sudden pain shot up, through her body, to her throat, and she screamed. Then she lay still. It was an act that could be performed in tenderness, as a seal of love, or in contempt, as a symbol of humiliation and conquest. It could be the act of a lover or the act of a soldier violating an enemy woman. 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, from her body, and she bit her lips and she knew what he had wanted her to know.

He lay still across the bed, away from her, his head hanging back over the edge. She heard the slow, ending gasps of his breath. She lay on her back, as he had left her, not moving, her mouth open. She felt empty, light and flat.

She saw him get up. She saw his silhouette against the window. He went out, without a word or a glance at her.

As we can see from the scene, this isn’t your typical sex scene where consent was given every two minutes and Roark had sex with her as gently as he could.  Dominique wanted, and psychologically needed, to be vigorously taken by a man and that is precisely what Roark gives her.  The scene is layered in subtlety, but I think it’s absolutely clear that this was in no way rape, or at least not in the truly non-consensual way, even if it was in the consensually non-censual way.

The next day Roark is still in the afterglow of his first, but certainly not last, time with Dominique:

Roark awakened in the morning and thought that last night had been like a point reached, like a stop in the movement of his life. He was moving forward for the sake of such stops; like the moments when he had walked through the half-finished Heller house; like last night. In some unstated way, last night had been what building was to him; in some quality of reaction within him, in what it gave to his consciousness of existence.

They had been united in an understanding beyond the violence, beyond the deliberate obscenity of his action; had she meant less to him, he would not have taken her as he did; had he meant less to her, she would not have fought so desperately. The unrepeatable exultation was in knowing that they both understood this.

He went to the quarry and he worked that day as usual. She did not come to the quarry and he did not expect her to come. But the thought of her remained. He watched it with curiosity. It was strange to be conscious of another person’s existence, to feel it as a close, urgent necessity; a necessity without qualifications, neither pleasant nor painful, merely final like an ultimatum. It was important to know that she existed in the world; it was important to think of her, of how she had awakened this morning, of how she moved, with her body still his, now his forever, of what she thought.

I think it’s important to point out one sentence here that shows that Ayn Rand did not consider this rape, nor did the characters in the story: “had she meant less to him, he would not have taken her as he did; had he meant less to her, she would not have fought so desperately.”  It was because they meant so much to each other that it was necessary that their first encounter happen the way it did.

A week later Roark receives the letter from Enright and leaves to meet him to build his house.  Now, you might think that Dominique would be completely devastated by being raped, but that’s not exactly right:

She could accept, thought Dominique, and come to forget in time everything that had happened to her, save one memory: that she had found pleasure in the thing which had happened, that he had known it, and more: that he had known it before he came to her and that he would not have come but for that knowledge. She had not given him the one answer that would have saved her: an answer of simple revulsion–she had found joy in her revulsion, in her terror and in his strength. That was the degradation she had wanted and she hated him for it.

Afterward, she was in bliss, then she realized that she had not seen Roark for a week.  She was struck at once that he wasn’t there and called the foreman over to ask about him.  She was informed that he had left only a day before.  She almost asked his name, but stopped herself just in time.

She walked away. She would not ask for his name. It was her last chance of freedom.

She walked swiftly, easily, in sudden relief. She wondered why she had never noticed that she did not know his name and why she had never asked him. Perhaps because she had known everything she had to know about him from that first glance. She thought, one could not find some nameless worker in the city of New York. She was safe. If she knew his name, she would be on her way to New York now.

The future was simple. She had nothing to do except never to ask for his name. She had a reprieve. She had a chance to fight. She would break it–or it would break her. If it did, she would ask for his name.

To apply the word “rape” to what happened is to entirely miss the point.  So, what did happen?

Consensual Non-Consent

The Fountainhead is the perfect case study in “Consensual Non-Consent,” especially if you want to start with the most complex and subtle example you can find. However, to begin with, let’s start at a slightly easier place and  look at the nature of consensual non-consent in the real world.

Consensual non-consent is much like the name suggests: it is the prior consenting to a sexual scenario that will play out in a “non-consensual” manner.  Basically, it’s saying in advance: “I want you to treat me however you want, even if I resist, even if I struggle, even if I say no.  I want to immerse myself in the fantasy so completely that I will need to fight to keep it real and giving you perpetual consent will kill it for me.”

Obviously, consensual non-consent is adept-level sex.  While usually the scenes will be negotiated in advance to the detail and safe-words and safe-actions set up, these aren’t strictly necessary for consensual non-consent, as we see in the example from The Fountainhead.  However, obviously these things are highly recommended, especially here in real life.  I think it’s folly to go into a consensual non-consent scenario without a safe-word or safe-action, otherwise you’ll have no idea if the scene is in danger of becoming actually non-consensual, i.e. rape.

So, why would anyone want to do this?  Some people are really into dominance and submission and want to act out these fantasies in real life.  The problem is that asking permission for everything and constantly checking in can break the fantasy for people and thrust them back into the real world.   By engaging in the non-consensual role-playing, you can maintain the fantasy world and make it be like the fantasies.  In effect, the entire point of consensual non-consent is to create a fantasy in real life.  This allows people to experience a whole range of things, like a high level of D/s, in the real world.

In order to engage in this kind of play, it is best to either do it with your own partner or to do it in a context where it is understood that people meet for this kind of thing and negotiate in advance (some dungeons, some swingers clubs, etc.).  To get started, it is best to pre-negotiate all points of the fantasy in advance and to create a safe-word and even a safe-action.  A safe-word is a word that would be anomalous to the context, like “elephant,” and is said to stop the action.  One can also employ different levels of safe-words, like yellow and red, to slow or stop the action.  A safe-action allows one to stop the action in case speech isn’t possible, as in the case where a person might be gagged or have their mouth otherwise occupied.

A more advanced, and therefore riskier, level of consensual non-consent involves establishing only safe-words and actions, but not negotiating all events in advance.  This can be combined with setting up of boundaries that can’t be crossed.  This high-level play should either be done with one’s partner who you know well and know what to do and not to do or with two well experienced people who know what to do and what to expect.

Anything beyond this is too much for real life.  To not plan, to not set any boundaries, or even safe-words, is to set yourself up for an exceptionally risky encounter.  This should only be done in well-established relationships and where you know your partner and their desires.  To do this with a stranger in real life would be rape.  You cannot just think that you know a person well enough to know what they need without ever talking to them.

Now, obviously, in The Fountainhead, Roark did not plan his encounter with Dominique, nor did they set up boundaries or safe-words.  The difference here is context: The Fountainhead is fiction.  If Roark had done the same thing in real life, it would definitely be rape.  There are some things that are great in fiction that do not belong in real life and this kind of thing is one of them.  From the omniscient perspective of the reader, we can see that Roark was justified in context, but if he were an actual person, he would lack that perspective.  He would be guessing about her character and motive and maybe he would get it right and maybe he wouldn’t.  Either way, it would be rape. In the fictional context of the story, Roark’s actions were exactly what Dominique needed to start to tear down her walls and recapture her life.  In the real world, they’d be a crime.

So, I think that now we have seen that in the context of The Fountainhead Roark was justified in what he did and his actions clearly do not constitute rape.  Moreover, we have also seen a broader view of the idea of consensual non-consent and how we can use this framework to understand the how to incorporate a “rape fantasy” into the real world and why someone might want to do so.

——————–

See also: An Essay on The Bounds of Passion and the Good Life: Alternative Sexualities and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism

4 Responses to “The Fountainhead’s ‘Rape Scene’: a Case Study of Consensual Non-Consent”


  1. donathos

    Hello Mr. Stotts,

    I disagree with your premises and your conclusion, so I thought you’d like to hear it. I don’t plan on wrangling directly with your evidence here, both because I don’t know you or what kind of response I should expect from you, and because I think it isn’t necessary to find the crucial flaw, as below.

    When you say that “[t]he difference here is context: The Fountainhead is fiction. If Roark had done the same thing in real life, it would definitely be rape,” then you are conceding the fact that the “rape scene” is in fact a rape scene.

    While it is true that The Fountainhead is fiction, and presents fictional events, we continue to evaluate those same events by the very same criteria we would in real life. There is no other way to do it. It is alone through knowing what rape is in real life, and applying the exact same evaluatory criteria, that we are able to identify such a thing in a work of fiction.

    After all, we don’t carry two sets of concepts, one for real life and once for fiction, where rape is redefinable according to the author’s intentions or the reader’s desires. Fictional events that would amount to rape in real life amount to fictional rape within the context of that work of fiction. Calling this rape “not rape” is a case of special pleading.

    It may be that this rape is presented as being a “good thing” in The Fountainhead, or what Dominique “needs” — she may have provoked the encounter through flirtation, and even thereafter decide that she enjoyed the experience — but it is no less rape for any of that. It is clear from the scene, as described, that Dominique was forced to have sex against her conscious will (whatever she may have “wanted” subconsciously), and also against her will made manifest, and that is everything that rape is in every world, real or fictional.

    Similarly, if we have a person killed in a work of fiction, and that killing is presented as a great thing (and even specifically as “not murder”), but the circumstances are such that this killing would certainly be murder in “real life,” then we are witness to a murder being called “not murder” and presented as a great thing. We must keep this all straight so that we can evaluate the text objectively, both on ethical and aesthetic grounds.

    So even if the rape scene in The Fountainhead was not called rape by the person in the best position to know whether she consented to these activities, though of course it *is* called rape, by that very word and by that very person… it would still be a rape. That The Fountainhead is fiction does not change this assessment, save that it makes it a “fictional depiction of a rape.”

    I hope you receive this well.

    donathos

  2. Steve Navra

    Exceptionally well stated by donathos.
    There is no context, philosophical or other, in which the rape can be a non-rape, by the very definition of the event by Domenique herself, as a ‘rape’.
    I regard the Fountainhead to be one of the greate pieces of modern literature; and accept the rape scene (as contemtable as it actually is) to be in context with the era inwhich the book was written. Value systems evolve in societies through time and what might be totally unacceptable today, might well have been more the norm back then in that male dominant world.
    Contextual placement should never supercede the moral ethic, which ought at all times always remain sancrosanct.

  3. Edward Lockhart

    Dominique had repeatedly spurred the relationship forward, Roark forced the dance of the relationship to come to a head by engaging physically in what was a shockingly direct confrontation of a first kiss. Then He stood there and left her open to call for help, ask him to leave, or physically leave the room.

    “She looked at the door behind him, he saw the first hint of movement, no more than a thought of leaping toward that door. He extended his arm, not touching her, and fell back.”

    I think those two sentences are at the crux of the issue. They had some very rough sex, but Dominique was not raped. Consensual non-consent pretty well sums it up.

  4. JasonStotts

    Donathos,

    First, sorry for taking so long to reply. I’ve been exceptionally busy working on my book.

    Second, I think you’re absolutely right that we can’t have two sets of ethics. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s what I’m doing here (perhaps I am wrong). The difference as I see it is that as the reader, we have the god’s eye perspective and have access to Dominique’s mental states. We have access to information that we would never have in real life and in that information we can see the whole context of the situation in a way that’s impossible in the real world. Through this information, we can see that Roark’s actions were exactly what Dominique wanted and was encouraging him to do in very direct ways. Moreover, Roark tested his hypothesis about what she wanted several times and each time she proved him right.

    It is because of this information that we have access to that we can say it was not rape.

    Moreover, consider other information like the time-period. They weren’t even using each other’s first names in that time period. Look how people refer to each other in the book. It would have been the height of scandal for a woman to invite a man into her bedroom in this manner and would have been an invitation for sex. When someone else shows up besides Roark, Dominique is so upset she can’t even control herself. She didn’t want to just invite any man into her bedroom, she wanted to invite Roark into her bedroom. When he comes, he even gives her the option to leave and stop the encounter as one last check against his being wrong, as Edward Lockhart says above. She wanted it to happen and made herself plain.

    Perhaps the error I have made is to say that if Roark did this in real life it would be rape. Perhaps I should have only said that it would be much too risky for real life where you couldn’t be sure of the other person’s intentions as you didn’t have direct access to them.

    ~Jason