Data Visualizations of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead
Basically My Version of Fan Fiction
Finishing an amazing book feels like breaking-up with someone – except it’s definitely you not them. The book has moved on while you’re left with a hole in your life.
I certainly felt that way after recently finishing The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
It’s a little sentimental but I wanted to maintain some sort of connection with the author, the story, and the characters. I like the idea of converting creative works into different visualizations, so I wondered if I could do something similar for The Fountainhead.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead – Don’t read this article if you have plans to read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead sometime in your lifetime.
Analyzing Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead
I decided to deconstruct The Fountainhead by creating data visualizations of the rise and fall of different characters within the book based off of character mentions.
Some characters, such as Henry Cameron, seemed to have a profound impact at the start of the book only to disappear by the middle. Other major characters, such as Dominique and Gail, weren’t introduced until a third of the way in.
I broke the book into its 59 chapters, chose ten characters I considered the “main characters”, and counted the number of mentions per character per chapter. I wrote a program to do this because counting character mentions wasn't as straightforward as Ctrl+F because the same character was often referred to in different ways (e.g. Roark vs. Howard Roark vs. Howard vs Mr. Roark).
I then calculated the percent of each chapter’s total mentions that each character represented (the total mentions was just the sum of the mentions of the ten characters). This adjusted for the fact that some chapters were longer or more character driven than others.
I then graphed each character over the course of the book.
Here are a couple of graphs I thought were neat:
1. The Rise and Very Rapid Decline of Henry Cameron
2. Oh, That Chapter…
3. Roark’s Real One True Love
4. Basically the Scariest Person Ever
5. The Saddest Blip Ever
I saw the blip later on and I knew exactly what happened in that chapter.
Taking a Step Back
Ayn Rand also divided The Fountainhead into four sections, with each section named after a different main character - Peter Keating, Ellsworth M. Toohey, Gail Wynand, Howard Roark.
With a little help from my roommate and Adobe Illustrator, I created a graphic that showed how often each character appeared in each section.
Aside from looking like something taken from the MoMA, a few interesting insights jump. Gail didn't really appear until halfway through the book and the Ellsworth M. Toohey section is aptly named given his prominence in that section.
I actually liked this graphic so much I created a print version to hang up.
This was a fun data visualization project and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the final visualization turned out. It made me wonder if there are other books I could turn into a visualization.