Tyler Durden as the Perfect Man

In Robert Bly’s book about exploring what it means to be male, Iron John, he wrote that modern men are “not interested in harming the earth or starting wars. There’s a gentle attitude toward life in their whole being and style of living. But many of these men are not happy. . . They are life-preserving but not exactly life-giving.” To Bly, modern men are forced to become docile creatures and slaves to the corporate lifestyle. Men have no great war to be a part of, and since an early age they have been taught to suppress their inner urges to fight and seek conflict. They have learned that this will make them happy, and that violence is never okay. Alternatively, Chuck Palahniuk’s fictional novel Fight Club and David Fincher’s movie adaptation Fight Club build a universe where men break these rules.

The novel is told from the perspective of the Narrator who has a dissociative disorder. The Narrator’s alter ego, Tyler Durden, is representative of what the perfect male would be in the Fight Club universe. Tyler is cool, confident, and is everything the Narrator thinks he has to be in order to be the perfect man. A man in the Fight Club universe is completely detached from the world around him, defies societal norms, and is dominant. In the beginning of the novel, the Narrator lives a very normal life, but as time progresses he detaches from anything that is meaningful. The only thing that is out of order in his life at first, is that he suffers from insomnia. To cure his insomnia he frequents support groups, and this is where he takes the first steps to detachment. During one of these meetings, while crying pressed against a man’s chest, the Narrator, “was lost inside oblivion, dark and silent and complete. . . This was freedom. Losing all hope was freedom” (Palahniuk 22). Since the day men are born they are told not to cry and that they should hide their emotions. Nothing prevents men from crying except their own ego. In these support groups, the Narrator is safe enough to break down his barriers, and this leaves him free to express his inner nature.

Next, the Narrator needed to detach himself from his physical possessions, and to do this he had his alter ego Tyler blow up his apartment. After his apartment was destroyed, Tyler said to the Narrator that, “the things you used to own, now they own you” (44). The Narrator is now homeless and possessionless, but nothing owns him. He was liberated from his bills, home, and everything else. The last step to letting go is accepting his own death, so he can be freed from his body. Tyler pours lye on to the Narrator’s bare hand and tells him that “first you have to give up. First you have to know, not fear, know that someday you’re going to die. . . It’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything” (Fincher). This is the step that the Narrator needed to accept that his life is his own. He breaks down his emotional barriers, destroys all of his worldly possessions, and accepts his own death. With nothing to tie him down, the Narrator is free to do anything.

Once he has detached from the world around him, the Narrator can defy societal norms without fear of repercussion, and grow closer to becoming the perfect man. Life is full of external pressures to fit in with the rest of society, but part of what makes Tyler so appealing is his blatant disregard for fitting in. In the movie version the narrator first meets Tyler on an airplane. In an effort to make small talk, the narrator asks Tyler about his job, and Tyler replies, “why? So you can pretend you’re interested?” (Fincher). This question asks the Narrator to reevaluate how he lets society impact him. He is immediately intrigued by Tyler, and it is this interest to learn more about him that leads them to their first fight. The Narrator is reluctant to fight at first, but Tyler again asks him to challenge the norms, and says, “how much can you know yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? I don’t wanna die without any scars” (Fincher).

This first fight is significant because it is the moment where the Narrator realizes that he needs to be broken down in order to get stronger. He had no idea what he was capable of because he never chose to defy societal norms and engage in conflict. The more he fights, the more he understands his true potential. The Narrator, “got in everyone’s hostile little face. Yes, these are bruises from fighting. Yes, [he is] comfortable with that. [He is] enlightened” (Fincher). By challenging societal expectations the narrator could let out his primal instincts, the instincts that make him a man. Tyler helped him reach enlightenment, and be true to himself.

With no ties to the world, and no respect for society’s rules, the Narrator was truly free to become a man. The final aspect that defines a male in the Fight Club universe is his dominance. Fighting allows the Narrator to do more than see his own potential, it brings out the natural desire to display dominance. The men in fight club all seek the same release. The narrator says that, “when the fight was over, nothing was solved, but nothing mattered. We all felt saved” (Fincher). These men know that the fights are what they need to reach their full potential, and tap into their primal instincts. At fight club, they are free to be men. It is all an appeal to the narrator’s concept of masculinity. In the Fight Club universe, women are another way to display dominance. Tyler says to the Narrator that, “what you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women. . . I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer I need” (Palahniuk 50).

Tyler has a purely sexual relationship with Marla, and he sees her as an object. As a man, he only needs women for one purpose, and treats Marla terribly. He uses her as a display of his dominance. The final display of Tyler’s dominance is Project Mayhem. The goal of project mayhem is to prove to society that Tyler and his space monkeys, men who follow Tyler, are in control. Project Mayhem is going to save the world “like fight club does with clerks and box boys, Project Mayhem will break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world” (125).

In the Fight Club universe, men are defined by their ability to let go of what holds them back, defy societal norms, and to be dominant. The Narrator created Tyler as a model for the perfect man, and Tyler became who the narrator wanted to be. In turn, Tyler helped the Narrator let go of his emotional barriers, physical possessions, and his fear of death. Tyler liberated the narrator, and gave him the freedom to ignore societal pressures. Fighting allowed the narrator to grow into his full potential, and to display his dominance. This dominance is what turned the Narrator and Tyler, into leaders strong enough to command a small army of men. Together these men are free enough to alter the course of history and shake the foundations of modern society. By doing all of these things, the Narrator and Tyler could appeal to the inner nature of men. In the real world, men are forced to suppress their inner nature. This leads to a society full of men who allow themselves to be slaves to a lifestyle that they really do not want to be a part of. Modern men are not happy, they simply are doing what they need to do to preserve their own lives.

Works Cited

Fincher. Fight Club. 20th Century Fox, 1999.

Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. Print.

Nothingness in Fight Club

Throughout Fight Club, the concept of the separation of soul from body appears in various forms. Whether forced upon others by Tyler or originating organically, the gap created between the essence of a man and the reality of his life reveals a region of the human psyche that remains unexplored. What occupies this space is more pure than the absence of action, it is nothing. It is this entity of “nothing” that Tyler wants us to fear. This nothingness not only enables, but also promotes complacency with the unconscious rat race that is everyday life. Nothingness dulls our ambitions and tricks us into being content with our own uninspiring lives. The narrator of Fight Club faces an involuntary internal conflict: the empty space between his mundane existence and his ambition—albeit reckless—forces him to rebel against himself, creating the illusion of Tyler Durden to carry out every action that he himself is too weak to even consider. Each of us has a blank space within us that prevents our soul from interacting with our mind and body. Similarly, each of us has a Tyler within us; though our respective Tylers may be considerably less destructive, we all have the power to unleash our most powerful alter egos and achieve what we truly desire. Thus, the message of Fight Club which Chuck Palahniuk seeks to communicate to the reader is to, by any means necessary, find the conductor that will complete the circuit between our dreams and our actions.

The most impactful way to go about this quest is to come face to face with the idea of nothing. “Maybe self-destruction is the answer,” the narrator postulates, conveying his anxiety over the idea of losing everything (49). Fight Club embodies the spirit that playing it safe is cowardly. Moreover, it is impossible to defeat an unseen adversary; unless you know what exactly is tempting you to play it safe, you cannot eradicate that mindset. Tyler soon elucidates, however, that an understanding of what “nothing” is enables us to fill the void with something that is deeply meaningful: “getting fired…is the best thing that could happen to any of us. That way we’d quit treading water and do something with our lives” (83). Before Tyler enters the narrator’s consciousness, despite “little acts of rebellion” like urinating in custard, he is treading water, unable or unwilling to hit bottom (76). Tyler seeks to dispel this exact tentativeness, explaining, “if you lose your nerve before you hit the bottom, you’ll never really succeed…It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything,” succinctly articulating the goal of Fight Club, and asking a key phenomenological question: what is it like to experience nothing? Tyler forces several characters to come to terms with the entity of nothing. To Raymond Hessel, the thought of becoming an object to his parents led him to the bottom. Without anything to lose, Raymond has no reason to not pursue any course of action that does not serve his self-interest. “Fill in the blank,” Tyler asks Raymond, prompting the man who has just hit the nadir of his spiritual existence to connect his aspirations with his physical paralysis; at this point in his life, Raymond is equipped once again with the passion that first inspired him to become a vet (153). A conceptual grasp of nothingness is essential to replace the nothingness within us. It is not an empty space, it must be forced out with meaning; as nothingness is not the absence of purpose, but a destructive quality in and of itself, the only way to create something is out of pure nothing.

The central conflict that faces the narrator is a question of identity that, by extension, encompasses phenomenology and epistemology: in the body that the narrator shares with Tyler, who is real? From an epistemological perspective, the narrator justifies the existence of Tyler as a byproduct of his insomnia (which in itself is a symptom of greater conflict). Phenomenologically, Tyler is perceived as the narrator in his purest form, uninhibited by social constructs or common conventions. Tyler wants control of himself and his surroundings, telling the nearly-castrated police chief of Seattle that “the people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on…we control every part of your life” (166). Consequently, as a fusion of himself and his alter-ego, the narrator rests somewhere between the control-obsessed Tyler and his own status as the type of person Tyler warns the police commissioner of abusing—someone who stifles their sense of purpose for the greater good.

Similarly, while being driven into a collision by the mechanic, the narrator states, “I am nothing in the world compared to Tyler. I am helpless. I am stupid, and all I do is want and need things,” underscoring the notion that he is, in a quantitative sense, nothing, and Tyler possesses value (146). As the crash nears, the narrator adds, “prepare to evacuate soul,” presenting an ambiguous image: is the soul evacuating the body or vice versa? Will the narrator’s death—real or spiritual—free him from his soul, or will it free Tyler from him (146)? That the narrator ultimately comes to understand that his fights with Tyler were psychological melees with everything he hates in his life suggests that the aforementioned evacuation symbolizes the liberation of Tyler from the narrator’s incapable body. Moreover, Tyler is who the narrator would be without the prevailing self-defeatist attitude of society. Although the narrator insists that Tyler is the other side of his split personality, it becomes clear through his understanding of Tyler—and the subsequent murdering of his boss—that Tyler is his true self, and cannot be repressed. Ultimately, as the narrator says that he “has to take care of Tyler Durden,” he indicates his revamped set of ideals (197). As he now values himself above all else, the commitment to Tyler, his purest self, demonstrates the clear success of Fight Club: a man’s sense of his meaning and purpose can never be entirely corralled. Furthermore, by committing to his true self, Tyler illustrates that the gap of nothingness can be closed and replaced with phenomenological harmony.

Feminization of a Capitalistic Society in Palahniuk’s Fight Club

The novel Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, tells the story of a nameless protagonist enveloped in a consumer-driven society. A stereotypical American driven by consumption and possessions, he finds himself living day-to-day as a cog in the machine of a corporate society. Plagued by insomnia and his detachment to the world, the narrator must split his personality, thereby creating a powerful alter ego with which to attack society. With 20th century America as a backdrop, Palahniuk writes a powerful critique of the effects of a feminized, capitalistic society on the mind of this nameless narrator.

The narrator in Palahniuk’s Fight Club is one of millions of cogs in corporate America. A recall campaign coordinator of a nameless company, he describes himself as an average, middle class American. Traveling for work, he constantly wakes up to what he refers to as a “single serving” life. “I go to the hotel tiny soap, tiny shampoos, single-serving butter, tiny mouthwash and a single-use toothbrush” (Palahniuk 28). He later describes his obsession with consumer culture, saying: “You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you” (44).

Further, the narrator makes it clear he isn’t the only one with an ingrained nesting instinct. When detailing his consumer-driven life, he states “the people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now they sit in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalogue” (43). As a product-driven society has become the new American norm, Palahniuk shows us the replacement of stereotypical male activities replaced with domestic, “nesting instincts”.

In her critical analysis of the film version of the novel, “Hurt So Good: Fight Club, Masculine Violence, and the Crisis of Capitalism”, Lynn M. Ta suggests this description of American culture exhibits “an anxiety about masturbatory commercialism by locating the cause of [the narrator’s] seeming loss of masculinity in the proliferation of consumer culture, thereby making participation in capitalism, once considered an entrepreneurial and male endeavor, a feminine activity” (Ta 273). We see in this critique the bonds between an encroaching feminized culture and a capitalistic society. This capitalistic culture, then, can be seen as the root of the loss of traditional male values, replacing them with domestic, feminine, commercial values.

In “Fight Club: Historicizing the Rhetoric of Masculinity, Violence, and Sentimentality”, Suzanne Clark puts forth the theory that the idea of the “domestic, consuming individual (object of middle-class desire) is feminine” (Clark 413). It is this domestic, feminine world that we see our narrator fighting against. The novel, then, reasserts the masculine identity which is threatened by the feminization of an increasingly consumerist American culture. This said, Palahniuk’s nameless protagonist, in an effort to regain his lost masculinity, must create Tyler Durden, his alter ego.

Tyler is everything the narrator is not. A radical anarchist, Tyler revolts against anything driven by capitalism. When creating “Fight Club” (and later Project Mayhem) Tyler gives an impassioned speech, explaining: “Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need. We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives” (Palahniuk 149). With no great war or depression, “Tyler registers the lack of purpose his generation experiences, and his tirade not only condemns the capitalist cycle to which they are enslaved. . . it is the ideal of liberalism that has disillusioned men into thinking that masculinity and success are attainable through personal effort” (Ta 274). Entwined with the disgust of capitalism is Tyler’s revolt against all things feminine. This revolt is evident in the fear of castration that runs throughout the novel. From the beginning of the novel, we see the narrator attempting to cure his insomnia through a self-help group for men with testicular cancer. Through “Remaining Men Together”, the narrator “is able to find comfort among other men who have also experienced a sense of masculine loss” (Ta 270). However, as Ta explains, the narrator’s loss is merely psychological. “Therefore, [the narrator’s], fear of castration is alleviated in the presence of men who have undergone actual castration” (Ta 270).

In creating Tyler, the narrator seeks to recover this lost masculinity caused by a capitalistic society. He splits into “a sadistic (and masculine) Tyler who criticizes and punishes a masochistic (and feminine) self” (Ta 266). Throughout the novel, we see the narrator and his alter ego revolt against the feminized corporate world. As the narrator expresses a fear of castration through his attendance at “Remaining Men Together”, his alter ego, Tyler expresses a similar fear of castration. Tyler, working as a movie projectionist splices penis images into family films. Often discussing his estranged father, Tyler says “he starts a new family in a new town about ever six years” (Palahniuk 50). When his dad suggests he marry, Tyler responds “I’m a thirty-year-old boy, and I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer I need” (Palahniuk 51). Thus, by splicing shots of penises into family films, Ta suggests he is “figuratively cutting off his own penis and inserting it into the family unit as a means of reasserting patriarchal authority in an otherwise matriarchal society” (270). Later in the novel, Tyler sees a dildo on Marla’s dresser. “Don’t be afraid. It’s not a threat to you,” Marla says. Tyler’s fear of castration includes this fake penis that threatens to outperform him, again stealing his masculinity (Palahniuk 61). Lastly, at the end of the novel, the narrator, attempting to stop the chaos that Tyler has created tries to turn himself in. At this point, one of the members of Project Mayhem says “You know the drill, Mr. Durden. You said it yourself. You said, if anyone ever tries to shut down the club, even you, then we have to get him by the nuts” (Palahniuk 187). This time, the narrator leaves himself with no option but to physically lose his masculinity if he tries to retreat from his newly-created male world.

Returning to the creation of “Fight Club”, Suzanne Clark suggests “the real danger is an imbalance in the gender wars created by feminism, and Fight Club the self-help group that will let men be men again” (Clark 413). Through the feminization of an increasingly capitalistic society, Tyler (and by extension the narrator), must create Fight Club in an effort to regain their lost masculinity. “What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women,” the narrator observes (Palahniuk 50). This comment reflects the narrator’s own childhood in a family with an absent father. With no male role model, he (and the other men in Fight Club) turn to more feminized, domestic activities in the matriarchal culture.

In “Oedipal Obsession”, Paul Kennett explores the oedipal complex found in the narrator. He states “The narrator considers his crisis of identification to be a crisis of masculinity, and becomes swept up in alter-ego Tyler Durden’s obsessive quest to achieve identification through the classic Oedipal complex” (Kennett 48). If this is the case, his participation in Fight Club and self-violence can be seen as rooted in the Oedipal complex, in which he looks to the created Tyler Durden to provide him with a meaningful identity.

Ta, however, looks toward Freud and the condition of dissociated identity in her analysis of the narrator. She notes that the disempowered male narrator seeks release in a brute, regressive Tyler, suggesting that “violence is not only symptomatic, but also constitutive, of this condition of dissociated identity” (Ta 265). Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is, according to Freud, a psychological condition found to be the result of severe childhood trauma or abuse. During the process of mental dissociation, the individual fails to make mental connections between his/herself and their alternate personality. In the case of Fight Club, the narrator must split his personality in order to survive.

Ta suggests the narrator is a mirror of Freud’s “melancholic sadomasochist who, registering the loss of a love-object, undergoes self-division and splits into a tyrannical superego that punishes a submissive ego that in turn grows to enjoy the punishment” (Ta 266). As a cog in the corporate machine, the narrator feels victimized by a culture that has stolen his masculinity and thus feels he must protect this masculinity through his unconscious creation of Tyler.

It is here, Ta suggests, that Freud’s theory of melancholia provides a framework for understanding the narrator’s participation in a feminized society while resisting the castrating culture it promotes. Freud states that mourning is the state in which an individual reacts to the loss of a loved person or idea. The person must go through a period of grieving, usually overcoming his/her grief and returning to his pre-loss condition. However, the melancholic subject faces a a different loss. Freud writes:

The object has not perhaps actually died, but has become lost as an object of love. in yet other cases one feels justified in concluding that a loss of the kind has been experienced, but one cannot see clearly what has been lost, and may the more readily suppose that the patient too cannot consciously perceive what it is he has lost . . . this would suggest that melancholia is in some way related to an unconscious loss of a love-object, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing unconscious about the loss (155).

In simpler terms, the narrator suffers the loss of a love-object (masculinity) but is not completely aware of his loss. His alter ego, however, is created for the purpose of reclaiming the love-object. As a result of his loss of masculinity, the narrator experiences symptoms matching those of the melancholic. He suffers from depression, sleeplessness, detached from the outside world and begins to punish himself. Most importantly, however, is the experience of a split in personality.

With this understanding, Ta explains that the narrator “embodies Freud’s description of the melancholic condition” (Ta 273). She continues to explain that it is in his quest to cure his insomnia that leads to the creation of Tyler. “Tyler, then, represents the divided melancholic self . . . invented to punish the ego (the narrator)” (Ta 273).

This theory, combined with the struggle of a capitalistic society, is seen through the stark contrast between the narrator and his other self. In contrast to the narrator’s material filled condo, Tyler’s abandoned house on Paper Street is described as “three stories and a basement” (Palahniuk 57). “Everywhere there are rusted nails to step on or nag your elbow on. . . there’s no lock on the front door from when police or whoever kicked in the door. . . there’s nine layers of wallpaper swelling on the dining-room walls” (Palahniuk 57). Tyler’s house represents his own primitive masculinity.

Fight Club, and later Project Mayhem, represent the narrator’s quest to break free from a capitalist society while reclaiming his masculinity. “When Tyler invented Project Mayhem, Tyler said the goal of Project Mayhem had nothing to do with other people. Tyler didn’t care if other people got hurt or not. The goal was to teach each man in the project that he had the power to control history. We, each of us, can take control of the world” ( 122). Fed up with being drones in a capitalistic society which keeps their power to a minimum, Tyler and the narrator fight against the machine the only way they know how; by destroying society’s rules.

In the culminating scenes of the chaos of Project Mayhem, Tyler calls for the castration of the Seattle Police Commissioner. When face-to-face with the commissioner, Tyler speaks out against the evils of a capitalistic society. “The people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on. We’re the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. . . We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. . . We control every part of your life” (Palahniuk 166). Seen in this example, Tyler’s organizations have quickly turned into anarchy and chaos. Ta notes the irony in Tyler’s organizations, saying “Fight Club, and later Project Mayhem, reproduce the same effects of capitalism by creating the illusion of freedom through demands for self-regulation and self punishment. . . these individuals seek relief from an oppressive capitalistic order through means that are equally conforming and repressive” (Ta 267).

The organizations, with their strict demands and seemingly endless lists of rules, mimic the oppressive capitalistic society that the narrator has come to revolt against. In addition to five hundred dollars for personal burial money, “the applicant has to arrive with the following: Two black shirts. Two pairs of trousers. One pair of heavy black shoes. Two pair of black socks and two pair of plain underwear. One heavy black coat. One white towel. . . one white plastic mixing bowl” (Palahniuk 128). Further, as the narrator notices, the men are each trained in teams, each with a job, and no one asking questions. This new “society” is equally, if not more, repressive than the capitalist society they are trying to escape.

Works Cited

Clark, Suzanne. “Fight Club: Historicizing the Rhetoric of Masculinity, Violence, and

Sentimentality.” Journal of Men’s Studies 11.1 (2002): 65-76.

Freud, Signmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” Collected Papers, Volume 4. London:

Hogarth Press Ltd., 1925. 152-170

Kennett, Paul. “Fight Club and the Dangers of Oedipal Obsession.” Stirrings Still 2 (2005): 48-64.

Ta, Lynn. “Hurt So Good: Fight Club, Male Violence, and the Crisis of Capitalism.” Journal of American Culture 29 (2006): 265-77.

Subverting Capitalism in Fight Club

Tyler Durden in Fight Club attempts to subvert the capitalist, consumerist system through civil disobedience and Fight Club itself. Secondly, Chuck Palahniuk uses Tyler Durden and his insurgency to criticise contemporary capitalism, by showing the negative effect that consumerism has had on society as a whole. However, ultimatley Tyler Durden does not effectively subvert the oppresssive system because of constant contradictions in his behaviour.

Tyler Durden endeavours to undermine the capitalist, consumerist system in part by exposing the feebleness of consumerist goods. For example, he burns down the narrator’s apartment – effectively starting the relationship between himself and the narrator. He continues on this path of destruction by blowing up buildings and encouraging fighting in the Fight Club. Tyler explains his actions by saying: “It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything’” (70). He believes that to find yourself in a world trying to conform you, you have to lose the materials that bind you to that life. Thus he starts Project Mayhem, where the men who join must forgo everything but absolute necessities. In addition, Tyler rejects the traditional working life: “I’d rather kill you than see you working a shit job… “ (155). To him, being a part of such a system is to suffer a worse fate than death, and thus he rails against it with all his might.

Palaniuck uses Tyler and his apparent uprising to criticize contemporary capitalism by showing that consumerism has turned society into greedy beings who are unconcerned with those things that they see as having no function. The novel depicts this idea through Marla, who goes to visit Animal Shelters: “…where all the animals, the little doggies and kitties that people loved and then dumped” (67). This extract suggests that society has turned into a self-absorbed robot – men and woman of our society have no empathy for those whom they feel offer nothing of value. Tyler puts forth the idea that society has become obsessed with things, rather than people: “This isn’t about love as in caring. This is about property as in ownership” (14). Palaniuck attempts to subvert not only consumerism, but also what society sees as important. The novel attempts to link the two by showing that consumerism leads to inappropriate importance being placed on trivial aspects of life: “Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own now they own you” (44). In Tyler’s view, society seems to place more importance on what you have, than who you are.

Tyler Durden is not truly effective in subverting the capitalist system, as there are many contradictions within the text itself and the messages being portrayed. For example, he abhors the idea of many materialistic possessions but also sells homemade soap to chain stores for $20 and creates his own company, and tirades against consumerism even as he imbibes in mass-produced beer and cigarettes. He regularly orates that no single individual is especially exceptional: “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile” (134), yet in Fight Club, he relentlessly repeats that he is the leader and creator. He sees himself as being more important than others, which means that he needs to be treated as a superior, despite his many vocalizations to the contrast. It is also interesting that Tyler is an advocate of losing control and letting go of the ties that bind the men to a life that Tyler sees as being without meaning, yet he also appeals throughout the novel to rules and structure.

By being aware of the contradictions present with the novel, the reading of the novel becomes more strained, as the reader becomes more aware of the hypocrisy present with the main character of Tyler Durden. The idea enters the reader’s head that perhaps Tyler is not against consumerism based on a moral standing, but because of jealousy: ”I wanted to destroy everything beautiful I’d never have” (123). This quote shows that Tyler wanted to be rid of the things that made him feel like he didn’t have enough, instead of focusing on working harder and getting that which he so desired. It seems that Tyler has a different form of consumerism in mind; as some critics suggest, in Fight Club “People replace objects as possessions, especially in Tyler Durdan’s eyes” (Caruso, Roth, Wilkinson, & Chow). Because of Tyler’s narcissistic view of the world, and of people, the reader finds it difficult to sympathize with him, and subsequently disregards his claims of moral superiority. This makes it difficult for the reader to take seriously the notion that Palahniuk tries to put forth that consumerism must be beaten.

In conclusion, it can be seen that although the character of Tyler Durden attempts to subvert the capitalist, consumerist ideology permeating his society, he falls short of the mark because of hypocritical idiosyncrasies within himself, which actually subvert the very subversion he is attempting. This makes it difficult for the reader to take seriously the ideology that Tyler tries to enforce, and ultimately makes the reader judge the integrity of the entire novel.

The Problem of Identity in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club

Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is an unprecedented novel which is particularly concerned with the problem of forging secure identities in the face of modern challenges: consumerism, capitalism, emasculating white-collar work, an absence of fathers, and an absence of historical distinctiveness. The text’s protagonist is a figure so lost in the ennui of modern life that he is driven to creating an unruly alter-ego who has the courage to act out his unconscious desires, and who promises deliverance from his state of anonymity. The disastrous results that come about speak volumes about the post-modern world in which the story is set; a world which borrows heavily from our own. This essay will explore the various causes of the ‘identity problem’ as offered by Palahniuk, as well as the various solutions his characters desperately implement. It will be argued that identity in modern times, as conceived by Fight Club, is a problem that is as pressing as it is unsolvable.One of Fight Club’s main concerns in relation to the problem of identity is the notion of consumerism, and by extension – capitalism, commodification and the endless quest for self-improvement. Early in the story, the narrator recognises the futility of acquisition as a basis for identity. His home is a high-rise condominium, ‘a sort of filing cabinet for young professionals.’ This metaphor aptly describes both the stark physical reality of the condominium, along with the psychological effects of dislocation that it occasions. Relating the incident of his home’s bombing, he later comments on his feelings towards its internal contents: ‘You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life….then for a couple of years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa. The right set of dishes. The perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.’ (p.44) The narrator’s acute awareness of his generation’s debilitating obsession with consumption grows alongside his relationship with the rogue anti-consumerist, Tyler (who is, of course, only another side of the narrator’s own personality). In a passage which is as depressing as it is amusing, the narrator catalogues all of the IKEA items he owned that were destroyed by the bomb Tyler deployed. The specificity of his descriptions of the items, coupled with the number that he owns, underscores the extent of his obsession. This is an affliction which, he observes, afflicts many others: ‘I wasn’t the only slave to my nesting instinct’ (p. 43). Significantly, he prefaces this very specific list of items with: ‘We all have the same’…(p.43). Not only is his generation preoccupied with acquiring items that, as he explained, ‘end up owning [them]’, but the items themselves (besides the options for various colours and combinations) are not even unique; everyone essentially owns identical things. The sheer amount of colours and designs they are available in, coupled with the narrator’s uncanny ability to recite these colours and designs, emphasise the extent of this multinational corporation’s success; a success made possible by a global obsession with appearances, consumption, convenience, timesaving and moneymaking – all at the expense of depth, originality and substance. With the help of Tyler, the narrator realises that the perpetual processes of self-improvement and acquisition are doomed, and incapable of producing a stable or genuine sense of identity. ‘Oh Tyler!’ he exclaims, ‘Deliver me from Swedish furniture. Deliver me from clever art. May I never be content. May I never be perfect’ (p.46). In saying this prayer, the narrator demonstrates his rejection of society’s preoccupation with superficiality; a preoccupation Palahniuk shows to be as chronic as it is hopeless. As Tyler and the narrator discover, the problem of consumerism is not confined to their own generation and class; it exists in the upper echelons of society as well. This is perhaps demonstrated most poignantly at the catering job where Tyler torments the wealthy hostess of a glamorous party – one in which ‘titans and their gigantic wives drink barrels of champagne and bellow at each other wearing diamonds bigger than [the narrator] feels’ (p.81) – by claiming to have urinated in one of her perfume bottles. What was supposed to be a mischievous statement against flashy wealth quickly becomes a pitiful and ugly scene in which the initially poised hostess (‘Madam’) is left drunken and bloodied on the bathroom floor, her perfume bottles shattered and her mood utterly broken. Accusing her husband of having an affair with a guest, declaring that she’s ‘tired of all the people they call their friends’ (p.83) and distraught about the inflammatory act, the once-immaculate woman, who seemed to have it all, is revealed to have very little. With this scene, and others like it, Palahniuk paints a picture of a bleak world in which people continually try (and fail) to base their identities on the items they own and the image they project, rather than on the person they are or the things they believe. It is a world in which ‘there is no you and there is no me’ (p.164) – only empty shells; contrived exteriors; structures without insides. In Palahniuk’s text, not only are capitalism and commodification damaging to the individual’s conception of self, but also to the workplace – and, by extension – to the individuals who attempt to carve out identities within the workplace. The narrator of the story works as an ‘insurance adjustor’ – a role in which he robotically applies a mathematical algorithm in order to determine whether a product recall or a payout of damages would be more expedient for his company. This process demonstrates the ways in which work has succumbed to the logic of profit maximization and cost minimisation at the expense of moral or ethical considerations regarding the humans involved – in this case, those affected by the malfunction of goods produced by the company’s clients. With this process, people are dehumanised; they are reduced to their bodily forms as figures of profit or liability. But this dehumanisation is not only inflicted on the general public by the company, it is also inflicted on the workers employed to carry out their objectives, such as the narrator. This is perhaps best highlighted in the early sections of the story in which the narrator describes the monotony of the air travel he must endure in aid of his work. He states: ‘You wake up at Air Harbour International…You wake up at O’Hare. You wake up at La Guardia. You wake up at Logan’ (p.25). This repetition is carried on throughout the chapter, with many other airports that he ‘wakes up at’ inserted intermittently between dialogue and descriptions. There is no sense of personal agency conveyed in this repeated line, rather, he is a pawn who is endlessly transported between cities at the whim of anonymous superiors, only learning where he is upon waking. But perhaps the most striking disadvantage of the work he undertakes, made evident through an absence of description more than anything else, is the loneliness it engenders. At no point in the sections set in his workplace do we learn the names of his colleagues (or indeed, anything about his colleagues). There is no sense of community alluded to, not even one based on a mutual hate for the work they must undertake. The only exchanges that are detailed are those between the narrator and his boss – whose name, significantly, we never learn. The workplace he describes is not even one in which stress provides a focus – instead, he seems to float in and out, completely apathetic about the company that appears to be equally apathetic towards him. This sense of apathy is not confined to the insurance job in which the narrator works. When Tyler gets fired from his job as a projectionist, for example, he displays an attitude which indicates he has been treated in much the same way. Addressing his boss, he states: ‘I am trash and shit and crazy to you and this whole fucking world…You don’t care where I live or how I feel, or what I eat or how I feed my kids or how I pay the doctor if I get sick, and yes I am stupid and bored and weak, but I am still your responsibility.’ (p.115) These matter-of-fact lines describe the way in which workers are not treated as real people with individual personalities and experiences, but rather as machines that companies utilise to their own ends. This is perhaps best exemplified in the boss’s innocuous response to Tyler: “We appreciate your contribution to our success” (p. 113). Just like the narrator (unsurprisingly – since they are one and the same), Tyler realises that he is wholly disposable in the eyes of his superiors, who make profit their focus at the expense of their employers’ lives. Just as the narrator and Tyler find consumption an inadequate source of self- fulfilment and identity, so too do they find the tedious jobs in which they are forced to work – and which have been corrupted capitalist imperatives – completely insufficient. In these jobs, they are not people. Rather, they are human resources. The crisis of identity occurring in post-modern societies and explored in Fight Club is one in which men face particular challenges. The futile consumerism previously mentioned, coupled with the exploitative nature of work, not only dehumanise but also emasculate – since men have an innate desire for control, and since both result in a loss of control. The story describes a world in which young men are ill-prepared for the lives ahead of them and at a complete loss as to the purpose of their existence. Palahniuk is at pains to locate this problem beyond the realms of consumerism and work. To this end, the issue of fathers is one which is given repeated attention. The narrator explains that the rebellious Tyler ‘never knew his father’ (p.49). The narrator knew his father ‘for about six years’ (p.50), but remembers nothing. His adult dealings with his absent father have revolved around the irregular long-distance phone calls he makes when arrives at crossroads in his life, asking ‘Now what?’ His father is never able to deliver, meaning the narrator is consigned to a life of restless floating. But what is the deeper significance of the absence of fathers? At one point, the narrator states ‘What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women’ (p.50) and later, the mechanic (who is essentially parroting Tyler) explains “If you’re male and you’re Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God. And if you never know your father, if your father bails out or dies or is never at home, what do you believe about God?” (p.141). This is perhaps the most important line of the whole text, as it encapsulates both the cause and the nature of the problem which the fight clubs seek to redress, as well as pointing to the possible repercussions of the problem. Without male role models, young men are unable to construct complete visions of who they are, because they do not know where they have come from. Further, they are unable to fully conceptualise daunting questions about the world around them, the meaning of existence (‘what [they] believe about God) and, hence, what they believe about themselves. Without fathers, these men do not know who they are. An extension of the problem of fathers within the text is the problem of history. The men of fight club, particularly the narrator, have an ambivalent attitude towards history. On one hand, they are resentful about their role as the inheritors of a deeply troubled past. This is exemplified in the narrator’s rant which begins ‘for thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone’ (p.124). He is overwhelmed by the extent of the world’s problems, angered that he is expected to fix them, and frustrated by his inability to do so. Therefore, he sees destruction as the only solution – not merely destruction of problematic places and things (eg. endangered pandas, damaged rainforests), but of culture and history itself, declaring that he wants to ‘burn the Louvre…and wipe [his] ass with the Mona Lisa’ (p. 124). Echoing Tyler, he literally wants to destroy history, to ‘blast the world free of it’ (p.124) in an attempt to relieve his frustration regarding his inability to solve its problems. But there is another aspect of the narrator’s and his peers’ attitude towards history. Not only do they wish to ‘destroy’ it so that it can no longer torment them, but they also wish to control it – two desires which appear to be in opposition. Feeling they are ‘God’s middle children’ (p.141), with no special place in history, but rather in a perpetual postmodern present that is bereft of distinctiveness, they want to carve out a ‘special place’ through Project Mayhem – the anarchic group which grew out of fight club, and which was a series of escalating disruptions aimed at businesses, consumer consumption, and the financial system itself. By reaping havoc on society – perhaps even dying in the process – the men of Project Mayhem hope to redress their feelings of insignificance occasioned by their abandonment, their emasculation and their unfortunate place in history. As Tyler explains: ‘getting God’s attention for being bad was better than getting no attention at all. Maybe because God’s hate is better than his indifference’ ( p.141). This line reveals the extent of the narrator’s (and his peers’) sense of worthlessness and anonymity in a world in which they are ‘the crap and the salves of history’ (p.123), all too aware of the extent of the world’s problems, yet at a loss as to solutions. Just as significant as the many causes of unstable identities which this text explores (consumerism, commodification, dehumanisation through work, abandonment, a lack of historical distinctiveness) are the comments it makes on the solutions adopted to redress these problematic identities. While at first effective, the cancer support groups which the narrator attends in an attempt to cathartically cure his insomnia eventually prove ineffective, because he feels exposed by the fact that Marla knows he is a fake. Both his and Marla’s sick obsession with attending these groups underscores the extent of their desperation, their loneliness and their complete lack of direction in their depressing lives. They do not know who they are, and in order to address that problem, they masquerade as people they are not. In doing so, they are granted an insight into death and, paradoxically, this is the only thing that helps them feel alive. The fight clubs are similar in that they strip the narrator of his (unstable) identity, reducing him to an anonymous body, and allowing him to feel more alive by bringing him closer to death – in this case, through masochistic violence. They also provide a sense of community, which is an essential precondition for the formation of a stable identity. Yet, unsurprisingly, they too are eventually unable to fully deliver him from his listless, lost state. Project Mayhem, an extension of the fight clubs, is equally ineffectual in bringing about a stable sense of self for the narrator. While its goal is to ‘blast’ its members free of history, it ends up doing anything but. Project Mayhem eventually becomes a recapitulation of the familiar ideologies of history – most notably fascism and communism. The ‘space monkey’ members become sadistic slaves and clones, they shave their heads, burn off their fingerprints, worship the dictatorial Tyler and essentially become instruments to the movement’s disturbing collective will. Project Mayhem thus fails to secure new, individualistic identities for its members in which they are free from the bonds of history; instead, it offers them only the same positions of enslavement which they experience in their regular lives, and which they tried (and failed) to overcome through fight club. The narrative culmination of Project Mayhem, and of the story itself, in which the narrator stands atop of the Parker-Morris Building with a gun in his mouth, is essentially a return to the masochism of the fight clubs. This circularity reflects the futility of the task of ‘reaching’ or achieving a stable sense of identity in the perpetual present of the dizzying post-modern world. Fight Club’s notion of identity becomes, in essence, a continual ‘waiting’ for an identity. “There isn’t a you and a me anymore” (p.164), Tyler explains, and with these words, he encapsulates every aspect of the problem of identity which this story takes as its focus. The dehumanising effects of self-improvement, commodification and of capitalist-based professions make people slaves to trends and to corporations that care little about their welfare. They are no longer people ( a ‘you’ or a ‘me’), rather, they are anonymous figures of consumption and production who are forced to perpetuate the capitalist system. An absence of fathers renders these people confused as to their origins, their purpose and their place in the world, and an absence of historical distinctiveness leaves them lost as to their significance. The insomniac narrator attempting to make sense of himself in this world is driven to everything from creating another personality, to faking cancer, pissing in perfume, stealing human fat, vandalising film reels, blowing up buildings, brawling in fight clubs… to establishing a terroristic revolutionary organisation hell-bent on murder and martyrdom. The radicalness of his efforts demonstrates both the extent of the problems he and his peers face in relation to identity, and the failure of his efforts (coupled with the story’s depressing denouement) demonstrate the futility of finding solutions – as long as our post-modern world remains unchanged. BIBLIOGRAPHYPalahniuk, Chuck, Fight Cub, (New York: 1996).

Fight Club: a Search for Identity

Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is an anarchic, pessimistic novel that portrays the need for identity in life and Palahniuk explains, through the narrator’s personality disorder, that the desire for meaning is the sole internal motivation of civilization. In the narrator’s speech throughout the novel, Palahniuk describes how a death without identity is the worst possible death. First in Fight Club, and later in Project Mayhem, the character of Tyler Durden shows how the ultimate motivation will come from a person’s necessity to own a place in history. The author explains that the path to finding one’s meaning is not easy, and can in fact develop into a desperate, indecisive struggle, as it does in the narrator’s case. Fight Club shares a modern perspective on the meaning of life, and portrays how desire can influence the lives of men and women throughout the world. Palahniuk provides his first perspective on the desire for meaning in life through the narrator’s action. The narrator is living a life with no meaning, and he realizes that a death without identity would be a waste of his time on earth. His insomnia makes this even worse. In the beginning of the book he feels like a space monkey, and states, “You do the little job you’re trained to do. Pull a lever. Push a button. You don’t understand any of it, and then you just die” (pg. 12). This comment introduces the reader to the intense need for meaning in society. Most people find meaning in materialistic goods, but the narrator, after losing all he owns in the explosion in his condominium, perceives that the real meaning of his life will be in what he accomplishes. The narrator’s search for meaning ultimately results in the formation of Tyler Durden, his alter ego. Tyler is everything the narrator would ever want to be. He is the prime example of what the narrator wants in life. As the novel progresses, the narrator becomes more and more like Tyler. He develops into the person he wants to become, and this derives from the motivation in his search for meaning. This evolution depends on fight club, which he created to provide an outlet from society. In fight club the narrator is free. He states, “After fight club you’re so relaxed you just cannot care” (pg. 139). This relaxation allows the narrator to focus on his life, and to influence the lives of other men. Without this ability, the narrator would be just another space monkey. The author explains how lack of identity provides motivation, and this is exemplified in Tyler and the narrator. In fight club and Project Mayhem Tyler Durden shows how the ultimate motivation will come from a person’s necessity to own a place in history. Tyler creates fight club based on this principle. Fight club provides an outlet for everyone tired of their job. Fight club is an outlet for any person having problems in their life. When their problems are placed aside, the men at fight club will have more time to focus on making their mark on the world. When they are ready to do this, Tyler creates Project Mayhem. Tyler stirs motivation from the men by making them wait outside the house on Paper Street for three days. The narrator states, “Tyler didn’t care if other people got hurt or not. The goal was to teach each man in the project that he had the power to control history” (pg.122). Tyler motivates the men by focusing on their desire to control their own history. He uses this motivation to turn them into his own form of space monkeys, and these men turn into Tyler’s force to make his mark on the world. Tyler tells the men, “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile” (pg. 134). By utilizing the power of the men’s motivation for individuality in Project Mayhem, Tyler allows each individual to make their identity known. The men of Project Mayhem are not even recognized by a name. The narrator states, “Only in death will we have our own names since only in death are we no longer part of the effort. In death we become heroes (pg. 178).” This motivates the men to perform to their fullest in the efforts of Project Mayhem. In death they will be honored as heroes, and their lifelong goal for an identity will be complete. Tyler states, when threatening the commissioner who wants to shut down fight club:“The people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on. We’re the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you’re asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life” (pg. 166).The most important men in society find their motivation in Tyler’s projects, and these men continue working for Tyler, knowing that they can complete their quest for identity. Through Tyler’s work with these men in Project Mayhem, men who work the jobs necessary for the survival of the world, Palahniuk does an outstanding job of portraying how the desire for meaning provides the self-motivation in world civilization. The path to finding meaning in life is not an easy one, and the author displays this in the struggles, faults, and the eventual personal transformation of the narrator. His insomnia makes his path an even harder one to follow. The narrator states, “This is how it is with insomnia. Everything is so far away, a copy of a copy of a copy. The insomnia distance of everything, you can’t touch anything and nothing can touch you” (pg. 21). His insomnia makes him incapable to tell dreams from reality, and this makes the character of Tyler highly influential in his life. As the novel progresses, the narrator relies more on what Tyler would do. He has struggled to get to this point, and morally wonders if he is doing the right thing. This is made clear in the end of the novel. The narrator states, “The world is going crazy. My boss is dead. My home is gone. My job is gone. And I’m responsible for it all” (pg. 193). The narrator continues his development into Tyler, and in an argument with Marla, they say:“‘Why should I believe any of this?’It happens that fast.I say, because I think I like you.Marla says, ‘Not love?’This is a cheesy enough moment, I say. Don’t push it.” (pg. 197)At this moment, the narrator has regained emotion. He is no longer controlled by Tyler. The narrator notices that he can be an individual and still make a difference. This is how he ends up on top of the Parker Morris building. His development into individuality was completely emotional, and he realizes how many lives he has destroyed. Towards the end of the book he states, “This is like a total epiphany moment for me. I’m not killing myself, I yell. I’m killing Tyler. I am Joe’s Hard Drive. I remember everything” (pg. 204). He kills himself to get rid of the demons in his life that Tyler had created. The author proves that a search for individuality will not always end in happiness, but it will end up in something better. In the last chapter the narrator states:“This was better than real life. And your one perfect moment won’t last forever. Everything in heaven is white on white. Faker. Everything in heaven is quiet, rubber soled shoes. I can sleep in heaven.” (pg. 206).The narrator ends the novel as a better person, mainly because of his experience with Tyler. Through the narrator’s motivational search for individuality, Palahniuk brings significance to the importance of learning from life, no matter how significant or insignificant a person is in the world. When the narrator rids himself of Tyler, the author proves that desire can have an extreme influence on a man’s life. The influence of Tyler is gone, but through Tyler’s desire to own a place in history, the narrator has learned about himself. In the end of the novel, his views have changed. He says:I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God’s got this all wrong. We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens. And God says, ‘No, that’s not right.’Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can’t teach God anything.God asks me what I remember.I remember everything.The bullet out of Tyler’s gun, it tore out my other cheek to give me a jagged smile from ear to ear. Yeah, just like an angry Halloween pumpkin. Japanese demon. Dragon of Avarice.Marla’s still on Earth, and she writes to me. Someday, she says, they’ll bring me back.And if there were a telephone in Heaven, I would call Marla from Heaven and the moment she says, ‘hello,’ I wouldn’t hang up. I’d say, ‘Hi. What’s happening? Tell me every little thing’” (pg. 207).Tyler Durden has essentially disappeared, and the narrator is a new man. In the end, the narrator proves that he never was the same person as Tyler Durden. Despite the influences of fight club, Project Mayhem, Marla, and society in general, the narrator is not Tyler Durden. He is something better.

Strategies for Challenging the Patriarchy: Critical Theory in ‘Fight Club’ and ‘The Passion of the New Eve’

Gender studies is the interdisciplinary study based around ideas of the masculine and feminine. It also looks at sexual differences and the more fluid definitions of gender which have arisen over time. This theory can also be broken down into three sub categories: Women’s studies, Men’s studies and Queer studies which can be further broken down into the three categories of: gender identity, gender expression and biological sex. These three categories help us look at the social, biological, and cultural constructions of gender and help us analyse the ways in which femininity and masculinity can be viewed as fluid entities which change depending on the different factors of life that shape them. From gender studies, feminist theorists have also identified the social system of patriarchy where males are shown to take dominant roles through various aspects of life such as the workplace, thus forcing women into the position of ‘other’. Through my essay, I am going to locate the patriarchal aspects of both Chuck Palahniuk’s psychological thriller ‘Fight Club’ (1997) and Angela Carters dystopian novel ‘The Passion of New eve’ (1977) and assess the ways in which characters in the novel effectively challenge this system or conform to it. Throughout this theory there are many influencers who explore different ideas and theories surrounding the field of gender.

One of the main influences of gender theory is that of the psychoanalytic and some of the main theorists surrounding this area are Freud, Kristeva, and Lacan. In a Freudian system, gender is said to develop during the phallic stage through the Oedipus and Electra complex. The Oedipus complex explores a male’s unconscious desire for his mother and the resolution of the complex being the child’s identification with the same sex parent. Boys experience this complex in the form of castration anxiety, whereas girls (whose experience is named the Electra complex) explore the same ideas but experience the complex in a form of penis envy towards the males. Comparably to this, there is a feminist psychoanalytic group who state that this Freudian system is almost accurate, apart from the fact that everywhere Freud uses the word ‘penis’, it should be replaced with the word ‘power’ to address the idea that if women do envy men, it is because of their social power and privilege, not their anatomy. The final influence surrounding gender is that of the post-modernist. Postmodernism is the 20th century movement which branched across the arts, architecture and philosophy. This affected the studies of gender by causing a movement in identity theories, thus forcing people away from the set ideas of identity and opening up ideas surrounding fluid or multiple identities. This began the thoughts surrounding queer theory and in time allowed the study of sexuality to arise.

In relation to the topic of patriarchy, a main concept is that of heterotopias and gender specific places which reaffirm the inequality between men and women and the pressure to conform to society’s depiction of gender. A heterotopia is ‘a zone where identities, maps of cultural meaning, relations of power and technical uses of the body are enforced in both traditional and non-traditional ways.’ (Monaghan and Atkinson, 2016, p.136). For men, an example would be a zone such as a locker room as they are shown to be ‘places of doubt, existential confusion, and in some instances resistance; where boys masculine identities are enforced and monitored among themselves in largely hidden, anxiety-producing and ritual ways’ (Monaghan and Atkinson, 2016, p. 136). Over time, the stereotype of males has become that they need to be strong, confident, and heterosexual in order to portray the ideal masculine identity which is shown in the media, these stereotypes are identified by the term ‘Toxic masculinity’ as they show the damaging traits which are set by a patriarchal society; but are harmful to men overall. By having large group of males in these environments it forces them to see other stereotypically male characters, thus putting pressure on them to conform to this identity and creating problems later in life such as the repression of emotions which can lead to isolation and depression. This connects to the construct of ‘Fragile masculinity’ which refers to the ways in which men forcefully assert their masculinity, in some cases through aggression, violence or sexual domination. This is commonly seen in homosexual or transgender males who feel they are effeminate, so to counteract these feminine qualities which a patriarchal society views as wrong, they act overly masculine.

In reference to one of my chosen texts, the construct of heterotopias is evident in Palahniuk’s ‘Fight Club’. The fight clubs themselves and the ‘project mayhem’ group can be seen as heterotopias as they show an area filled with men acting in a way which confirms the stereotypical aggressive persona given to males in a patriarchal society. We also see a cancer support group called ‘Remaining Men Together’ filled with men who act opposingly to this and are portrayed as being emasculated by society due to their illness. It becomes obvious that these heterotopias are depicted as a space for men to take control of their masculine identities and gain a sense of escape from a strict, capitalist world. As project mayhem, they begin performing acts around the city in order to counteract consumerism and ‘break up civilisation so we can make something better out of the world’. (Palahniuk. 1997. P208). This initially consists of smaller acts such as putting funny stickers on cars and picking fights with random strangers, but at both the beginning and the end of the novel we see the final act of project mayhem which is to destroy multiple corporate buildings with explosives. Throughout gender studies, it has been said that skyscrapers are ‘phallic symbols, which have been made by men, to asset their supremacy over women’. (Chirag Mehta, 2000). Therefore, through this group of men choosing to destroy a representation of the phallic, it shows how they are taking a stand against the patriarchal system in place by symbolically castrating those in power. Through the cancer support group, we see a group of males who act opposingly to these stereotypes as they are encouraged to cry, this is seen as emasculating due to the view that men shouldn’t show emotion as it shows weakness.

However, through the name of ‘remaining men’, we are encouraged to believe that even though these men are different to the archetypal man; they are still fighting to keep their masculine identities. In the group, we are introduced to Robert Paulson also known as Bob, the narrator (Jack) states: ‘Bob cries because six months ago, his testicles were removed. Then hormone support therapy. Bob has tits because his testosterone ration is too high’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P17). This character is portrayed as a role model and friend of Jacks as he is the one who encourages him to release his emotions through crying. This scene highlights Jacks break from the patriarchal hold over his identity and thus marks the beginning of his and Tyler’s defiance against society. The quote ‘It’s only after you’ve lost everything…that you’re free to do anything’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P70) connects strongly to Bobs character as it is only after he has lost all (his testicles, his masculinity, his wife/home/etc) that he is free from the mould of a ‘typical man’ and can show his emotion and be himself.

The ideology of consumerism is linked throughout the entirety of the novel through Jacks referral to and destruction of his ‘IKEA furniture’ and through the distribution of Tyler’s homemade soap. It becomes evident that the theme of consumerism is used to represent the patriarchal society and show how consumer culture has caused men to feel emasculated. Jack states that he ‘wasn’t the only slave to my nesting instinct. The people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now they sit in their bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalogue.’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P43). This quote effectively describes the way in which humans have become obsessed with the goods they possess, and especially in Jacks’ case, have begun to define themselves and their self-worth by their material goods because it has been ingrained into them by society. We find out later in the novel that it was actually Jacks other personality, who blew up the apartment. This can represent the way Jack has subconsciously removed himself from the patriarchal, capitalist society which surrounds him by removing the material goods from his life and forcing himself to start again. Later in the novel, Tyler introduces Jack to ‘Paper Street Soap Co’. This is Tyler’s soap business which consists of him rendering rich peoples’ fat to make soap which he sells for a profit.

As he begins creating project mayhem, he involves the ‘space monkeys’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P130) in his business, Jack tells how ‘the house is filled with strangers that Tyler has accepted…The whole first floor turns into a kitchen and a soap factory’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P130). This creates a juxtaposition in terms of the fight against consumerism as Tyler has forced workers into selling his product for profit, thus positioning himself in the middle of the consumer culture by becoming a producer of goods. The quote ‘we have to show these men and women freedom by enslaving them’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P149) accurately shows this by referring to the way in which Tyler has enslaved the men by promising freedom from their former, strict lives in return for labour. However, the use of the soap company is effective overall in defying the source of oppression as it shows Tyler acting comparatively to the heroic outlaw Robin Hood, stealing from ‘the richest thighs in America’ (Palahniuk, 1997. P150) to give to the poor in order for them to profit by selling back to the rich. Through the novel we are introduced to characters who defy the typical standards of beauty and heteronormativity which are associated with a patriarchal society. Through these characters we are encouraged to see the negative impact of beauty and the ways in which being a perfect depiction of a human is unattainable and damaging overall. This includes ideas of being successful, powerful, straight, and attractive which mainstream media promotes in order to persuade us into buying goods which make us feel closer to this ideal.

The plot of Fight Club is mainly set in and around the United States of America; it is emphasized how there is a lot of pressure from American society to be beautiful. It seems like who we are depends on how beautiful we are. Here we are so exposed to the mass media and images of other women. The image of what is thought of as beautiful is being pushed upon us by promotion and advertising. (Jacobson, L. 2017). One of the first non-conforming characters we are introduced to is Chloe who Jack meets at the cancer support group. She is depicted as being an overly sexual female whose only desire was ‘to get laid for the last time’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P19). Jack also describes her as looking like ‘a skeleton dipped in yellow wax with a silk scarf tied around her bald head’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P106) By being shamelessly sexual and no longer attractive it shows the way that as Chloe moves closer to death, she is becoming free of the patriarchal hold over her identity by allowing herself to become the things society deems unfeminine. The heroine of the novel, Marla Singer, also depicts an image of an unsuccessful, depressed, sexual woman as we discover that she steals food from delivery vans, clothes from laundromats in order to sell them, and she has an overtly sexual relationship with Tyler.

In terms of Jack and Tyler, we perceive that Jack is jealous of Tyler. He states ‘I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and charming and forceful and independent…Tyler is capable and free, and I am not. I’m not Tyler Durden.’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P174). Through Jack’s descriptions we are forced to believe that Tyler is the perfect man, however it is not until the end that we discover Tyler was never real. This forms the idea that Tyler represents everything Jack wants to be, but overall represents the unreal beauty standards forced onto us by a patriarchal society which are realistically unattainable. Also, there is an ambiguity surrounding the sexuality of Jack as there are notes of homosexuality scattered through the novel, thus defying typical patriarchal views of heteronormativity which are associated with masculinity. We initially discover this through the nudist beach section, which describes Jack watching Tyler (for an undisclosed amount of time) building a log sculpture. Later, it becomes obvious that Jack is jealous of Tyler and Marla’s relationship as he states, ‘I am Joe’s Broken Heart because Tyler’s dumped me.’ (Palahniuk. 1997. P134) however, it is never discovered why this jealousy arose and the novel ends with both Marla and Jack confirming their feelings for each other. Thus, forcing us to accept that Jack could be straight or bisexual. By looking at the novel as a depiction of homoeroticism, it connects to the previously mentioned construct of ‘fragile masculinity’ and could thus form the idea that the novel depicts homosexual males acting overtly masculine so to counteract feelings which society deem shameful.

Similarly, through Angela Carters ‘The Passion Of New Eve’ (1977) we are introduced to a dystopian world where a god-like figure named ‘Mother’ is trying to completely eradicate the male species by forcing men to have gender-reassignment surgery. This is depicted as a way of saving the world by completely removing the dominant species which are the cause of patriarchy and female repression. Evelyn is found in the desert and taken to Beulah, this is where she is told that Mother is ‘going to castrate you, Evelyn, and then excavate what we call the “fructifying female space” inside you and make you a perfect specimen of womanhood. Then…she’s going to impregnate you with your own sperm’ (Carter. 1977. P65). This shows the way in which it has been decided that males are unnecessary as women can be self-sufficient and create their own new species. However, this act is not necessarily effective in the novel as even though Evelyn has been changed into the biologically female Eve, she still has the mind of a male. Therefore, the act teaches the males a lesson by taking away their biological identity but overall wouldn’t fix the oppression caused by a patriarchal society as the dominant male mindset still exists. Through gender studies the theorist Judith Butler created the term ‘Performativity’. She defines this by stating that: ‘identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.’ (Gender Trouble, p. 25). In other words, gender is a performance; it’s what you do at particular times, rather than a universal who you are’ (Gauntlett, D. 1998). This construct connects to Eve’s character as now she has been placed in the body of a woman, so she is forced to perform her gender even though she knows its not really who she is internally. The mother figure here could be depicted as hypocritical as she is eradicating the male gender in order to readjust society and remove the patriarchy, but by taking away the freedom of the male species and forcing them to conform to a different gender, it could be said that she is duplicating the negative characteristics evident in a patriarchal society, thus creating a matriarchy.

As in Fight Club, there are characters throughout the novel who don’t conform to the patriarchal characteristics associated with male and female, they associate more with the construct of fluid identities as they cannot be defined by a particular gender label. One of the key characters here is actress Tristessa, who we discover at the end is really a transgender female. In the first chapter of the novel we discover Evelyn’s awe for Tristessa and how ‘the sculptural flare of her nostrils haunted my pubescent dreams’ (Carter. 1977. P2) and how she had been billed ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ (Carter. 1977. P1). This creates the idea that her physical appearance is the most important thing about her, thus illustrating the way in which the female gender is defined by appearance over other character traits. However, after revealing Tristessa’s male genitalia the descriptions given completely change and her pronoun is changed to ‘him’ in the novel. I would argue that by doing this it effectively helps us look at the construct of fluid identities and helps challenge the patriarchal norms surrounding masculinity and femininity as we are confronted with the idea that someone can be both a ‘beautiful woman’ but a biological male. We are also told that Tristessa’s ‘speciality had been suffering’ (Carter. 1977. P4), thus making us believe that she effectively portrays the idea of female oppression in the media; however, after finding out she was born male this quote creates more impact as we realise she will have experienced real suffering through her life by being a symbol of shame in a patriarchal world.

A character who is described as having a fluid identity is the cult leader; Zero. We learn this through the animalistic language used which creates the idea that Zero has no human identity such as male or female, as he no longer defines himself as human at all. When we are first brought in to ‘the church of Zero’ (Carter. 1977. P84) we learn how he has become so hateful towards humans that he now only speaks through a ‘bestial locution of grunts and barks’ (Carter. 1977. P83). We also discover that he has seven wives who have ‘dedicated themselves, body, heart and soul, to the church of zero’ (Carter. 1977. P96) as they believe that he produces ‘sacred fluid’ (Carter. 1977. P89) which will keep them alive. This creates the idea that Zero has used his authority over the women to force them to believe that he is no longer male; he is a deity with magical powers. Similarly, the last character who depicts an image of a deity/god is that of Mother. We discover this through the postmodernist ideology of grotesque realism which is used to describe Mother’s body modifications. When Evelyn meets Mother, she refers to her as ‘a sacred monster…she was breasted like a sow – she possessed two tiers of nipples…And how gigantic her limbs were!…her skin, wrinkled like the skin of a black olive.’ (Carter. 1977. P56-57). By giving Mother the matriarchal role and showing her to be large, it subverts the typical roles of a female in a patriarchal world as they would normally be portrayed as small and subservient.

Both novels included look at the theme of patriarchy in very different ways. ‘Fight club’ mainly looks at the male gender and the ways in which men who are of a lower social class, are fighting to stand up to patriarchy in a capitalist society. I would argue that in using the idea of men fighting patriarchy (men in power) it is more effective overall as it creates the idea the patriarchy is an oppressive construct which all genders are struggling to fight, thus creating a stronger sense of equality between males and females overall. However, through ‘The Passion Of New Eve’ it isn’t necessarily as effective overall as we can distinguish themes of fluid identities and castration which show a defiance towards patriarchy, but through the evident matriarchy of Beulah it shows that even though they are fighting to remove the dominant male roles, the ideologies of control and a dominant power figure are still evident. Lastly, through each novel it is evident that an effective ‘strategy’ is that of non-conforming characters who defy typical patriarchal norms surrounding femininity and masculinity, thus reiterating the point that typical ideas and norms surrounding gender are slowly diminishing due to the ever-expanding knowledge of gender itself.

Postmodernism in Fight Club

Fight Club is an example of postmodernism that radically breaks conventions and questions the meta-narrative that society by large plays into. In the modern world, there’s this ideology that we’re all expected to conform to: get an expensive college education, a job that makes us as much money as possible, an onslaught of material possessions you don’t need, have a white-picket-fence existence in the suburbs, reproduce, then inevitably await our demise. As the film progresses, so does the narrator’s rejection of this common ideology that most of society has chosen to identify with; instead of conforming further, with the help of his Freudian ‘ID’ alter ego in the form of Tyler Durden, he rejects conventional reality constantly and purposefully. Starting from a beginning that indulged in this meta-narrative, to intentionally rejecting it through the form of idealized anarchy and chaos, one extreme to the next. Inevitably highlighting what’s truly important in a world where our lives are fragile and short.

Through the narrator, we explore this meta-narrative in depth because he’s entirely engulfed in it. He works a ‘job he hates’ to buy ‘shit he doesn’t need’ which is entirely apparent in his apathy for living and this notion that the only thing that makes him feel alive is swiping through Ikea’s catalog in order to decide which dining set would best compliment his studio apartment. This pursuit of the capitalistic idealism has inherently left him hollow lacking an apparent direction or purpose. He feels as though he’s doing exactly what society told him to do in order to be happy, but yet he still lacks a sense of fulfillment and is entirely apathetic towards the idea of his own death. This is predominately seen in his attitude while flying back and forth through different time zones on business trips, he frequently mentions how he wouldn’t mind if a flock of migrating birds flew in the turbine and ended this tedious unfulfilling meta-narrative he has firmly embedded himself in.

One flight in particular leads to the development of an entirely new ideology and state of mind in the narrator. By “meeting” or coming to terms with his Freudian ‘ID’ like state of mind (in the form of Tyler Durden), he begins to digress from this thoroughly engrained meta-narrative he’s wasted most of his life believing he identified with. Through Tyler, he sees an unkempt almost Buddhist side of himself, one that believes materialism is the root of all evil and chooses to live in complete squatter so as long as he has a roof over his head. He doesn’t believe in conventional movies with happy endings and a sheer lack of realism. This is seen through his time working at a movie theater cutting snippets of nude images into films. The way Tyler Durden portrays himself on a regular basis consistently picks at this commonly accepted ideology of what society should be. He’s willing to grow an army in order to invoke complete and utter anarchy with the end goal being to deconstruct this notion that capitalism is how society should conduct its self.

It isn’t until Tyler Durden ‘influences’ the narrator to blow up his own apartment does his ideology begin to radically shift. By ridding himself of these materialistic possessions he attained in an attempt to feel a sense of fulfillment, he felt liberated for the first time. It quickly became apparent that his constant battle to climb the corporate ladder, acquire wealth, and to find a sense of fulfillment through materialism was a relentless and meaningless state of existence that he completely unknowingly embedded himself into. As smoke billows from the narrator’s once humble abode, he realizes his life is metaphorically as empty as the fridge that once stood in his now burning apartment.

Particularly, what stands out to me as a key moment where Tyler Durden firmly expresses why this commonly believed and practiced meta-narrative needs to be deconstructed is shown in this quote:

“We’re the middle children of history, man – no purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars – but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

The quote suggests that our generation lacks an innate purpose that is worth fighting for. Instead of a great war of nations, we’ve almost declared a war on our sanity by buying into this materialist ideology where money and success are portrayed to be of utmost importance while spirituality and true purpose in knowing oneself has been entirely lost in the pursuit of greed. This idea leads into the reasoning behind making a Fight Club in the first place. Culturally the common ideology is that if we just continue to follow the rat race, go to work, etc we’ll live a long happy life into retirement. This meta-narrative is a false perception of what reality really is because in ‘reality,’ we could die at any time, and death will undoubtedly come to each and every one of us. It’s intention is to make us realize our own mortality and understand the sheer fragility of life. By denying this urge to practice self-preservation and avoid all situations that may result in untimely death, Tyler Durden believes that the best way to combat this issue is to fight senselessly to gain a sense of being fully alive. This is demonstrated obviously though the organized fights in bar basements, but also in a number of scenes scattered throughout the novel and movie.

Particularly, the scene where Tyler holds a gun to the innocent store clerks head in order to invoke a sense of reality into him stands out as a rejection of the mundane monotonous flow of life. By going through this near death experience, Raymond K Hessel will truly live every single day to its fullest, enjoy his food more, and may even finish medical school. This suggests that many of us fall into monotonous routine and cease to realize that our life is passing by second by second, minute by minute, and more often than not — we take the painless route and forget that we don’t live forever. This rejects the idea that we’ll all live until we’re 90 and become extremely wealthy because, in reality, we could get senselessly shot execution style in a back alley for doing nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. By instilling a sense of urgency to live in Raymond, Fight Club further rejects this meta-narrative of how one should conduct his life.

This on the edge, live for the moment philosophy consumes the narrator and he applies it to areas outside of just Fight Club. Instead of continuously being belittled and undermined by his boss like society tells him he should do, the narrator decides to stand up for himself and instill a sense of reality in his boss by making him realize the potential consequences of his actions. He does this by stating that instead of worrying about trivial Fight Club flyers in the copying machine, maybe he should worry more about a man wielding an assault rifle that’s fed up with the daily grind that decides to slaughter the entire office without warning. Although this seems unrealistic to his boss and leaves him speechless; it rejects the common flow in which things typically go in life. We don’t anticipate our sudden death because of something out of control, but in reality, it can happen any day, any time.

Near the end of the novel that seemingly had no true direction or purpose begins to unravel and show it’s true meaning. The narrator realizes that in order to completely reject this common ideology society has forced people to play into, he needs to construct a vigilante militia of like-minded individuals that together could dismantle society to the point of complete collapse. He sees anarchy as the only solution to breaking society by large out of this rat race we’ve all lost ourselves in. By attacking sources of materialism: credit card companies, coffee shops, clothing and jewelry stores — the narrator intends to eliminate this need for it so people will focus on what’s truly important in life. By rejecting this meta-narrative that society should be most concerned with (wealth, career progression, and material goods), you begin to understand the post-modernist meta-narrative here is to reject conventions, question society, and ultimately to deny what’s commonly perceived as the correct way to live while being fully aware of our mortality.

The Search for Identity Taken By the Narrator in Fight Club

Throughout the novel, Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, the search for identity and meaning in life is explored through different aspects of the novel, specifically the characterization and development of the narrator. When the readers first meet the narrator, he has no sense of purpose in life and has essentially lost all sense of personal identity. He pretends to have illnesses in order to feel a connection to others. Throughout the novel, the narrator begins to develop who he is due to the struggles he endures, specifically with Tyler Durden. Tyler is subconsciously created by the narrator in order to help the narrator with his search for his identity. Tyler brings a new perspective to the narrator’s life which helps him to discover what he really wants out of life. The negative consequences endured by the narrator due to Tyler’s actions ruin his life but in a way allows the narrator to find a sense of appreciation for his traditionalist identity at the beginning of the novel as well as help him to discover how he wants to live his life.

In the beginning of the novel, Palahniuk shows the narrator’s lack of personal identity through the narrator’s actions and characterization. The narrator looks to different support groups for illnesses he does not have in order to experience emotion and a sense of identity in his life. When he goes to support groups, like Free and Clear, for blood parasites, it pushes him to cry because in that moment in time “[his] life comes down to nothing”(Palahniuk 17). He is able to make connections with different people in these groups which helps him to express emotions. For example, in one support group, the narrator meets Big Bob who “wraps his arms around [the narrator]” every week and lets him cry (Palahniuk 17). By showing this release of emotion by the narrator, Palahniuk shows that the narrator is not just a robot created by society and that he wants to change his life in order to feel human and find some meaning in his life.

It’s in one of these support groups where he meets Marla Singer who he ends up falling in love with. These different support groups allow the narrator to bond and connect to others over a common negative factor in their lives. The narrator connects with others under fake pretenses just to feel like he belongs to something. Also in the beginning of the novel, the readers continue to see how the narrator had no sense of identity when he refers to himself as different human organs. He states “I am Jane’s Uterus” and “I am Joe Prostate” which tells the reader that he views himself as very ordinary (Palahniuk 58). He’s identifying himself as parts of a larger whole which demonstrates his belief that he isn’t in total control of his identity. The narrator has no desire to continue living the meaningless life he is, which is seen when he asks “if I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person” (Palahniuk 33)? By going to different support groups and expressing his lack of identity the narrator begins his search for his individuality and purpose of life.

The narrator subconsciously creates another persona named Tyler, who helps the narrator discover who he is and what he wants out of life.The introduction of Tyler to the narrator helps to progress his search for individuality. This progression come from the destruction of the narrator’s life. One of the first actions taken by Tyler concerning the narrator involves Tyler blowing up the narrator’s apartment. When reflecting on the items he lost the narrator states “it took my whole life to buy [that] stuff” (Palahniuk 44). The destruction of the narrators materialistic items begins to show the narrator that he is not defined by what he owns and what he is able to buy. Tyler introduces to the narrator the idea of self-destruction in order to discover who you really are to be able to rebuild yourself. “Maybe self- improvement isn’t the answer” the narrator realized “maybe self- destruction is the answer” (Palahniuk 49). Tyler shows the narrator that destruction is the best way to go about rebuilding. This idea supports Tyler’s constant efforts to ruin the narrator’s life in order to bring clarity to his life.

When fight club and project mayhem are formed the destruction of the narrator’s life is intensified. The continuation of destruction in the narrator’s life begins to be too much and the narrator becomes overwhelmed by the negative effect Tyler has on his life which pushes him to try and take back his life and Tyler’s control over him. A common belief in the novel is the idea of destruction and rebuilding, which can be seen in the novel by Tyler destroying different factors in the narrator’s life, who then tries to rebuild his life from the destruction. This connects to the theme of identity because Tyler destroys factors that define and identify the narrator in society. For example, with the destruction of the narrator’s apartment he loses the place that helps to define his position in society, a working man who measures his success in furniture. The creation of project mayhem leads to the killing of the narrator’s boss. This progresses to the biggest destructive factor in the narrator’s life because he has now lost his last defining factor of who he his, his job. Due to this action the narrator has ultimately been destroyed, which was the main goal for Tyler.

Through all this destruction the narrator begins to find his identity even though in most parts of his life it is too late. At the end of the novel the narrator states “I’m Tyler Durden” which tells the reader that the narrator has discovered a large part of his identity (Palahniuk 179). This is significant to the narrator finding himself because now he is better able to understand how to go about taking back control from Tyler and rebuilding who he is. This can be seen by the action of the narrator shooting himself in order to take back his identity and rid himself of Tyler. The narrator realizes that he does not agree with the choices Tyler has made about his life and wants to rid the world of Tyler’s destructive nature. Throughout the novel, the readers see the struggle the narrator endures while finding who he is. The narrator has little sense of who he is in the beginning of the novel and is desperately looking for change. This change is seen in the form of Tyler who succeeds in ruining the narrator’s life with his idea of self-destruction in order to rebuild.

The search for identity by the narrator helped to develop the theme of self-destruction throughout the novel and show the readers how it can spiral out of control until you are left with nothing.The narrator discovers through the consequences of Tyler’s actions which parts of his life he has taken for granted and actually make him who he is. For example when his boss is killed the narrator confesses that he actually liked his boss. The search for identity is easily relatable for the readers of the novel and warns those who are seeking a better understanding of who they are to be careful about the destruction they may cause while trying to find out. The idea that only after everything is destroyed can our lives be resurrected seen in the novel, should act as a warning to those who are inspired by Tyler’s rushed acts of rebellion and destruction. It’s very easy to destroy a part of your life in order to discover who you really are, but is it worth the consequence you will face?

Soap Symbolism in Fight Club and The Bell Jar

In both The Bell Jar and Fight Club use the most literal symbols of cleansing and renewal – a bath and soap respectively. Once these books use these literal symbols, the irony sets in. The cleansing remains but the symbolic meaning of the cleansing becomes much more grim and troubling. Appropriately enough, both books are first person narratives about protagonists who are slowly realizing that they don’t have full control of their mental states.

The Bell Jar is an unsentimental book about mental illness where Sylvia Plath depicts her internship in New York City and her subsequent nervous breakdown through the character of Esther Greenwood. Esther Greenwood’s stability erodes throughout the novel to the point where she seems to be a drastically different character at the end than she was at the beginning.

Early in the book, the bath is symbolic purely of renewal from the stress of the day. “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them” (16). The bath is posited as the answer to many problems including insomnia, love, and sorrow over death. She even has a ritual of heating up the water to the point that it’s hard to put one’s foot in and then to slowly lower herself into the bath.

The bath lasts for several paragraphs where she imagines all of the people and items that are worrying her dissolving. “I felt myself growing pure again,” (17) she states right before she explicitly tells the reader that she does not believe in ritual baths like the waters of Jordan or baptism. She repeats the word pure several times until she concludes the bath scene by stating she felt “pure and sweet as a new baby” (17).

By contrast, the second bath scene is one of suicidal ideation. She is still thinking about cleansing and renewal; however, at this point in the narrative she is thinking about literal death. She is talking about Romans who would be ordered to commit suicide and slit their wrists in bathtubs. “I thought it would be easy, lying in the tub and seeing the redness flower from my wrists, flush after flush through the clear water, till I sank to sleep under a surf gaudy as poppies” (121).

The scene continues to contrast the whiteness of the wrist and the redness of fruit or poppies. Plath is not necessarily talking about ultimate destruction so much as a renewal that does not have her conscious mind. She can be poppies or fruit or something natural and beautiful that is not beset by brain chemistry that seeks to destroy her.

In Fight Club, the most literal manifestation of cleansing and renewal is the soap and the soap making. Appropriately enough it comes when he unknowingly begins to make an actual connection with another human being. In the early parts of the novel, the narrator is going to support groups for people with diseases that he doesn’t have and flying throughout the country in order to judge claims. He talks about single bars of soap to go along with everything else that is single and disposable. He is a tourist attempting to connect to a people in a world that illustrate Marxist principles about social alienation.

Appropriately enough, he begins to make a connection with Marla at the same time he becomes a small business owner. According to classical Marxism, social alienation is a natural result of workers being cut off from the means of production. In a pre-industrial society craftsmen could take pride in their work, but after the industrial era workers became cogs in a machine. As the narrator begins to have sex with Marla, he is also taking control of the means of production.

Yet, the narrator remains distant from both Marla and the soap production since he does not realize that he is the one who is performing the actions. Instead, he concocts an imaginary figure named Tyler Durden. He even suspects that Tyler and Marla are the same person in a foreshadowing of the plot twist where he learns that he is the same person as Tyler Durden.

In the world of Fight Club, soap takes on a sinister tone as Tyler Durden talks about the glycerin in the soap which needs to be skimmed and then “you can mix the glycerin with nitric acid to make nitroglycerin” (72). If that does not make the point enough, Tyler Durden then states that “with enough soap…you could blow up the world” (73).

Thus, the soap becomes a weapon and a source of strife. Human sacrifice is invoked when the narrator starts burning his own hand with glycerine. When Marla brings bags of her mother’s fat which are designated for operations, the narrator (as Tyler) makes them into soap and this is how the narrator knows that he is using Marla’s mother to make the soap.

The soap works as a large scale cleansing agent in order to tear down the entire world in order to build it anew. The soap becomes not only the basis of operations but also the explosive material that allows for terrorist attacks. It even becomes a symbol of the enlightenment promised to Project Mayhem. The narrator is watching these soap-related events from a Tyler remove and remains alienated from his own handiwork when he asks “Has Tyler promised Big Bob enlightenment if he spends sixteen hours a day wrapping bars of soap?” (131) In both The Bell Jar and Fight Club the literal objects of cleaning become symbols of cleansing; however, they are depicting a sinister form of cleansing where the characters seek to transcend life and the social order.