To Paul Smith, a fan [Letter 531]

Item Reference Code: 039_07A_015_001

Date(s) of creation

March 13, 1965


Paul Smith


[Page 1]
March 13, 1965

Mr. Paul Smith
10179 Cletus Drive
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Dear Mr. Smith:

The sincerity and seriousness of your letter of February 9 prompts me to make an exception and to answer your questions. As a rule, I do not answer questions of this kind, but I do not want you to be victimized by those who raise them.

1) You say you were asked whether “the rape of Dominique Francon by Howard Roark was a violation of Dominique’s freedom, an act of force that was contrary to the Objectivist Ethics?” The answer is: of course not. It was not an actual rape, but a symbolic action which Dominique all but invited. This was the action she wanted and Howard Roark knew it. You are correct in your interpretation of the meaning of the dialogue about marble. This is not the only clue to Dominique’s psychology. If you re-read the passages pertaining to Dominique before and after the “rape scene,” you will find many things to explain her motivation. Needless to say, an actual rape of an unwilling victim would be a vicious action and a violation of a woman’s rights; in moral meaning, it would be the exact opposite of the scene in The Fountainhead.

2) You quote Karen Andre’s line in The Night of January 16th: “I am capable of murder—for Faulkner’s sake,” and ask: “Isn’t murder a violation of the Objectivist Ethics? Doesn’t this statement make Karen Andre an Attila?” The answer is: Yes, murder is a violation of the Objectivist ethics. No, this statement does not make Karen Andre an Attila. It is not to be taken literally, it is merely her deliberate challenge to the moral philosophy propounded by Mr. Flint and an expression of the intensity of her love for Bjorn Faulkner.

3) You ask my opinion of The Night of January 16th and of its merit relative to my other works. Here, I must point out that you have not read The Night of January 16th.[*] The published version of this play is an adaptation for the amateur theater (a very poor adaptation) and cannot give you any idea of the full original text of the play. The original version is not available in print. As to my opinion of the original play’s merit, it is very high—as high, relative to its scale, as my opinion of any other work of mine.

[Page 2]

Now that I have answered your specific questions, let me give you an important suggestion: do not read any statement out of context, particularly when you read fiction. In analyzing the philosophical ideas presented in fiction, you must identify the total meaning of the story, of its plot, its main events and its characters. You must never judge any incident out of context, and this applies particularly to the dialogue. In real life and in fiction, people do not speak in terms of precise, legalistic philosophical definitions. This does not mean that people contradict philosophical principles, but it means that one must learn to distinguish when a particular statement does represent a precise definition and when it is a verbal part of a wider whole. In reading literature, one must learn how to analyze its parts, but one must never forget to put them together again, that is, one must know how to analyze and how to integrate.

With my best wishes to you and your friends of the Honor English IV Class of Broadmoor High School,



Ayn Rand



*A version of Night of January 16th prepared by Ayn Rand was not available in print until published by World in 1968. For a 1973 revival, Ayn Rand made what Leonard Peikoff describes as “several dozen relatively small editorial changes,” which were incorporated into all printings since 1985.