Literary Analysis of the Novel “Fight Club”
Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is an unusual book which is mostly concerned with the problem of making secure identities during challenges. In this book I saw consumerism, capitalism, emasculating white-collar work, and an absence of fathers. The text’s main character, Jack, is so lost in his life that he has created an unruly alter-ego, Tyler. Throughout the text, Tyler acts out Jacks unconscious thoughts and promises Jack he will get deliverance. In this essay, I will discuss the underlying messages of emasculation I saw while reading this text.
The text presents the argument that men in today’s society have been reduced to a generation of men that do nothing themselves, but have become obsessed with watching others do things instead. Masculinity becomes a brand, a means to sell products to men. “Being a man” then becomes owning the right watch or car instead of knowing who you are and what your values really are.
As a result the Narrator, Tyler, and the other members of Fight Club reject this approach to living and trying to find them. By putting themselves through the experience of fighting and facing fear and pain, they hope to strip away the unnecessary parts of their lives and discover their true selves. “What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women” (pg. 50). To me this is saying that without a father figure, these men feel the need to act more “manly”. Maybe they are taking out their aggression of their absent fathers on each other. “Tyler stood next to me, both of us looking down at the big O of my mouth with blood all around it and the little slit of me eye staring up at us from the floor, and Tyler says, “cool”” (pg. 51). Cool? I do not see how hurting and demolishing your face is cool. This to me is another way for them to think they are manlier. When he is hurt and has bruises and cuts, it makes him look tough. To be a man you have to beat the living crap out of another man but after the meeting you cannot talk about it.
The Narrator also experiences emasculation in the face of Tyler’s relationship with Marla. He feels like he has lost his place next to Tyler, who embodies a perfected sense of masculinity. Ironically, Tyler exists in the Narrator’s mind as a prime male physical specimen. Something that shows how advertising says men have to look. Without Tyler’s attention, the Narrator feels a rejection bordering on romantic jealousy. On page 59, the narrator says “After Tyler and Marla had sex about ten times, Tyler says, Marla said she wanted to get pregnant. Marla said she wanted to have Tyler’s abortion”. Jack then says “how could I compete for Tyler’s attention” (pg. 60). Jack isn’t competing with Tyler for Marla; he is competing with Marla for Tyler. That one simple statement from Jack took me by surprise. He doesn’t care about his love life with a woman, yet he cares what Tyler thinks of him. He wants Tyler’s attention so that he can show him that he can and wants to live up to Tyler’s expectations. He wants to be accepted into the “mans” world. “Long story short, now Marla’s out to ruin another part of my life. Ever since college, I make friends. They get married. I lose friends” (pg. 62). Here he is saying that Marla is taking Tyler’s attention away from Jack. Marla will ruin his life in the sense that he is taking Tyler away from him. To me, this shows just how dependent Jack is on Tyler. Does he feel like less of a man without Tyler around?
The threat of castration exists throughout the book. First, the Narrator meets Bob at a support group for men who have lost their testicles to cancer. The men the narrator meets at the support group are a representation of loss of masculinity. Bob is a former fitness guru whose steroid use has caused him to lose his testicles and in their place, develop “bitch tits” as a result of hormone replacement therapy. While Jack feels emasculated because of his consumer driven and IKEA furnished life, the men in the support group represent the actual physical part of emasculation. Jack turns to violence in an attempt to reawaken the senses that have been dulled. Fight club is a place where men can experience a true sense of “being.” “You weren’t alive anywhere like you were alive here,”(pg. 49) the narrator tells us because, “who you were in fight club is not who you were in the rest of the world.” (pg. 49). The basement arena of the fight club provides a space in which the men in the text can transcend the reality of their lifestyle, their jobs, and their bodies. The narrator demonstrates his understanding of rebirth through violence by describing how after a fight “we all felt saved.” Despite the fact that fighting is supposed to enable the men to rise beyond their existence, it in fact reinforces social order. On the first night fight club meets, Tyler establishes eight rules informing the men, “The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club” and “The second rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club.”(pg. 48). Despite the narrator telling us, “Fight club wasn’t about winning or losing”(pg. 49) the basic reason of the fight is that one man will emerge victorious. The men have no protection and must rely on their own instinct and strength to “win” the fight. Endurance and the ability to withstand pain becomes a means by which the individual and his masculinity can be saved.
Although Tyler attributes the stagnation the men in fight club feel in their lives to the fact that they are “a generation of men raised by women,” it is Marla that enables Jack to break free from his domineering alter ego. Marla is a catalyst in the narrator’s realization that he and Tyler is the same person. After the narrator confronts Tyler in the hotel room he phones Marla, questioning her about their sexual relationship. Marla confirms that she has in fact been intimate, and she tells him that his name is Tyler Durden. Realizing that Marla’s life is in danger because of her knowledge of Project Mayhem, the narrator assumes the role of the hero in the captivity myth who must rescue the female from the “wild” Indians who in this case are the “space monkeys” of Project Mayhem.
Later on, the threat of castration is used by Tyler and the space monkeys to get the police commissioner to call off his investigation. The Narrator, too, is threatened with castration for trying to shut down fight club. This loss of manhood is the worst possible fate these men can imagine, particularly because they feel they have just begun to appreciate their masculinity due to fight club and Project Mayhem.
In the modern society, masculinity now includes taking care of yourself and your image. The text attempts to reject this by taking masculinity views on appearance back to the pre-industrial society. However, even though fight club members reject current images of male “beauty” and express their hunter and gatherer role through the use of violence, the members are conforming to a female idea of beauty through fighting as a sport and gaining muscular attractive bodies. I think confused masculinity is seen throughout this text. I think about the pre-fight club life of Jack as an example of a modern man and the superego emasculates and confuses him between whether this has brought him happiness or not. His job, his possessions, clothes and care has made him happy, but his male status is an illusion. I think he always had a lack of real happiness. He lost his traditional male role and has no male friends, no sexual partner and no “action” type job. Society influences what people find important and has made the modern man have a more female mindset. Jack is low on the totem pole at work, which shows how he is not achieving highly how masculine providers should. By choosing to spend his money on furniture over food for survival (constantly empty fridge) he is attempting to make the “perfect home”, for a family he doesn’t have. I see that as the text emphasizing the importance of males to keep the traditional masculine roles and way of life.
The mechanic says, “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?” (pg. 133). This quote is one main passage that shows how masculinity works in this text. Why does the father have to be the model for God? Why can it not be the mother? Is this what the author believes or society? I have a lot of questions on this passage alone. To me, no human can compare to God. God is all knowing and almighty. The gender of God is unknown. Looking at this passage, the father model is masculine, which is where you get the view of masculinity. Since the father is the model, which when the father is absent then the mother becomes the model but is feminine. So as a man with no father model or figure he would search for a figure, therefore in order to be a man fight club is produced.
I think the saddest part of this text is the end. When the masculinity is threatened by feminization, a battle to reclaim what it once was is fought to the death. The question then becomes, to the death of what? Obviously, Tyler, the ultimate metaphor for masculinity, is killed off. However the reader interprets it, neither the narrator nor Tyler is fully independent of each other’s influence and there seems to be no escaping the social damage of extreme feminine or masculine categories. What is interpreted was that in order to escape each other, one must escape them all. He can only find that peace by leaving the world in which he once lived in. By being institutionalized, he can finally “just be.” He has merely left one institution for another, confining himself once again in the wake of realizing that our world may never change.
Overall Fight Club’s ideology and message is to the modern male. It’s expressing the view that the “new man” is feminized and isn’t going to succeed if relying on materialistic goods and consumerism traits. However, it does offer other views by incorporating Marla and introducing the importance of a partner. It also results in Jack killing his masculine role model. Offering the idea that perhaps the “new man” is a good and an important adaption, but needs to find the right balance between societies to be the perfect man.