Study Guide

Peter Keating in The Fountainhead

Peter Keating

If you've ever watched Mad Men you'll be familiar with a character named Pete Campbell, who is so utterly hate-worthy that his awfulness gets its very own listicle.

What makes Pete Campbell so absolutely horrible? He's superficial and vain and he's so concerned with what other people think that he almost never thinks for himself. He wants social advancement and marries a wealthy society woman for political reasons. He's good at shmoozing and he's jealous of people with real talent.

Basically, Pete Campbell is Peter Keating. Thanks, Pete and Keating, for ruining our opinion of what is actually a very nice first name. Jerk(s).

Peter Keating goes on a bumpy ride throughout the course of The Fountainhead. He starts out on top of the world, thanks to his second-to-none networking skillz and his ability to be comfortable anywhere:

He had always known how to become part of any place he entered; he came soft and bright as a sponge to be filled, unresisting, with the air and the mood of the place. (1.4.19)

Yes, Ayn Rand, a writer without an ounce of subtlety in her prose, compares Peter Keating to a sponge. She might as well have inserted a glittery flashing sign that reads, "Keating is spineless. Hate him."

But because Keating is so totally devoted to schmoozing and making everyone love him, he often feels completely out of control. It's no surprise that, since he's left his fate in the hands of people higher up the architecture pecking order than he is, "Keating (often) felt as if a conveyer belt was under his feet, from the moment he crossed the threshold (1.3.5)."

Peter Keating is a sponge with a dark side. He's a liar and a cheater. He gets Roark to do work for him. He abandons his true love Katie for selfish reasons. He helps to kill Lucius Heyer by threatening and raging at him. He testifies against Roark, twice. The list goes on: Keating is often a dirtbag.

And yet… we still kind of like Keating. In a novel full of people that are Very Good and Very Bad and Very Icy, Peter Keating is just human. He's deeply flawed and he makes awful decisions, but he often tries to do better and be better. Keating's story is ultimately a tragic one, but his story-line helps to demonstrate how difficult it is to be a strong individual in the world of The Fountainhead and, indeed, in the real world.