Fight Club: Search for Identity
Fight Club is a famous novel by Chuck Palahniuk, telling the story of an unnamed protagonist, who has to manage the problem of insomnia. This novel has caused a lot of critical debates and controversies. The novel was characterized as revolutionary and cynical and it explores the theme of journey of the main hero towards his identity through his personality disorder. The protagonist is to manage various challenges in his life, his own emotional troubles, his homophobia, his desire for aggression. Being chased by the idea that he is just a copy of a copy, the protagonist is fascinated by mysterious personality of Tyler, whom he meets during one of his business trips. Later, it turns out that Tyler is nothing more, but an illusion, which was generated by the mind of the narrator to let him escape his reality and become a different person, letting his inside desires out. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk is one of the greatest examples of masculinist novels of the 1990s, expressing the realities of white, heterosexual men in the modern society, where the materials possessions suppress the concepts of spiritual wealth to such an extent that a whole culture of consumerism is created.
Fight Club is a great example of experimental and transgressive work of fiction and thus it does not follow any typical narrative way. There is a nameless narrator, suffering from insomnia. In order to solve his problem, he starts attending the groups for ailments, which he does not actually experience. In one of these support groups he meets Marla Singer, woman who attends the same support groups because they make her “[feel] every moment of her life” due to the “dying and death and loss and grief” of the other attendees (Palahniuk 2005) and develops rather controversial relationship with her.
The author did not give the name to the narrator in order to have the chance to use it as a kind of “vessel” for the readers. Narrator is very close to any of the readers, being young, surrounded by consumer products, isolated from his society, having a job, which bores and irritates him, demanding constant ethical compromises from him. Once, when traveling by plane the narrator meets Tyler Durden. Tyler seems to be an example of perfect personality for the narrator, as he is associated with freedom and moral and physical power, which are the things, missing the life of the narrator. At the same time Tyler is not deprived of violence and lack of tolerance, as he is convinced that only his position is correct and the narrator supports him: “I know this, because Tyler knows this” (Palahniuk 2005). This phrase is important for understanding of the narrator’s perception of Tyler as a strong personality and leader. Tyler is motivated enough to follow his ideals and at the same time he is smart to manipulate other people around him. He has impact upon other individuals, forcing them subdue to his power: “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.” (Palahniuk 2005). According to Tyler most of individuals were just lost in history and in order not to mix with the rest and become a part of the general mass, each person had to identify himself, as individuals without identity were of no value at all. Tyler is opposed to the narrator in all aspects, but in reality he is the representation of all the suppressed and hidden parts of the narrator’s personality and appeared because the narrator was searching for his own identity.
Due to the fact that the narrator’s apartment was destroyed, he moved to live with Tyler and they develop the idea of Fight Club. This is a kind of organization, where men gather in order to fight with each other on the basis of strict set of rules. Initially the club was created with the aim to provide the needed emotional and psychological support for its members, however, gradually it transformed into a different kind of organization – Project Mayhem. This organization had absolutely different aims; it was to tear down civilization via destructive acts of violence, very similar to terrorist acts. As time passes the narrator is to reveal that there is no such person as Tyler Durden in reality, instead this is his second personality, living inside him and performing all these actions. Tyler prefers to manipulate other people with the aim to make them change themselves, choosing those, who are unable to live happy and exciting lives, as they are the best targets for him. He is able to easily find their weak sides and introduces them a new idea of creating their own history. The strongest characteristic of Tyler is his ability to transform men into “space monkeys”. Actually this group is just a terrorist organization, ready to implement Tyler’s anarchistic plans. The narrator realizes that he has to stop Tyler and not to let him fulfill his plans of blowing up of multi-stores buildings. The only way to stop Tyler is to kill him and the narrator shoots himself into the face. By the end of the novel the narrator is shown as the victim of his inability to find his identity and reveal his masculinity and leaves in mental ward, while he is convinced that he died and moved to heaven.
The narrator was focused upon his job, as he believed that one’s job had great impact upon the views of an individual and his choices: “Every takeoff and landing, when the plane banked too much to one side, I prayed for a crash. That moment cures my insomnia. (Palahniuk 2005). These were the thoughts of the narrator each time, when he took his business trip and felt that he was suppressed by stress. His job seemed to be very stressful to him due to a great number of business trips and he was dissatisfied with life in general, as well as all the other men in Fight Club were not satisfied with their society and their lives. They claimed to value only strength and personal achievements and struggle, whereas the rest people in America seemed to value only money and power. Tyler was convinced that the only way to change the situation is to return to the times, when each individual developed his self-worth on the basis of his physical prowess and ability to survive, disregarding of his job or social status.
Marla has also certain impact upon the narrator’s identity, as the author shows the themes of romance and masculinity as two integral parts of the identity of the narrator. The search for identity for the narrator and his masculinity spectrum are closely related to the relationship, which he develops with Marla. Marla is present by both parts of the narrator’s identity, when he is in his emasculated state at the beginning of the novel, and when his new masculine id developed in the form of Tyler. In the process of searching of his identity the narrator is developing his romantic relationship, which also has certain impact upon him. Marla Singer is the only female character of the book and she is highly enigmatic. Marla says about herself: “The girl is infectious human waste, and she’s confused and afraid to commit to the wrong thing so she won’t commit to anything. […] The girl in 8G has no faith in herself […] and she’s worried that as she grows older, she’ll have fewer and fewer options.” (Palahniuk 2005). She talks about herself as is she describes someone else, but this is a form of honesty, which is not often met in the novel. The narrator calls Marla a “big tourist”, as she is not able to cry, when she is on the support groups “Marla’s lie reflects my lie, and all I can see are lies.” (Palahniuk 2005). Marla is aware of the fact that she is going to die and the main reason, why she visits those support groups is because they let her feel alive, as she comments “I embrace my own festering diseased corruption.” (Palahniuk 2005). Her identity is to some extent confronted to the identity of the narrator, as she is not forced to split her personality into two in order to manage her problems. She does it in a different way, being honest in her own lies. At the same time the narrator is in the constant state of self-deceit and Marla motivates him to stop it. She penetrates into all his life spheres, including even his guided meditation, becoming almost a part of him.
The narrator’s identity is under the great impact of the culture of consumerism, which is actually well-known to all modern men. His description of men “sit[ting] in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalog” instead of watching “pornography” is the symbol of not only his weakened sexual drive, but his despair about the substitution of the natural romantic ideals with consumer goods in frames of creation of the consumer culture. (Palahniuk 2005). Consumer goods in the modern world seem to substitute the world of sexual and romantic feelings for men and deprive them of their masculinity, as a part of their identity. Looking for an agent of change, the narrator turns to the theme of self –destruction – “Maybe self-destruction is the answer.” (Palahniuk 2005). Tyler discusses this theme with the narrator, informing that in ancient history “human sacrifices were made on a hill above a river. After hundreds of people were sacrificed and burned, Tyler says, a thick white discharge crept from the altar, downhill to the river” (Palahniuk 2005). Tyler insists that it is normal to kill people for the sake of making a sacrifice. The idea of self-destruction is very closely connected by the author to the idea of identity search. Tyler claims that the only way of progress is through destruction or a kind of human sacrifice. Some part of the narrator’s identity also needed to be sacrificed and this is the reason, why he takes the decision to destruct his possessions, which constitute a part of his identity.
The novel should not be treated just as the description of personal transformation; it is also related to the spheres of social and cultural transformations in the society of the narrator. There are two poles of the society, one is occupied by the IKEA representatives and the other pole is occupied by Tyler Durden and his anarchism and extremism. The second pole is opposed to the previous existence of the narrator:
Imagine…stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos…you’ll climb up through the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles. This was the goal of Project Mayhem, Tyler said, the complete and rightaway destruction of civilization… (Palahniuk 2005).
Tyler needs to adjust his hypermasculine identity to the society and the only way of applying it in frames of self-destruction of identity, is to motivate the actions of Project Mayhem. Then this self would be able to expand universally. The narrator also has the desire of self-destruction, but it exists on a larger scale – “I wanted to burn the Louvre. I’d do the Elgin Marbles with a sledge-hammer and wipe my ass with the Mona Lisa. This is my world, now” (Palahniuk 2005). The masculine identity includes a great portion of narcissism, and it reinforces the narrator’s desire to destroy not only himself, but also the whole world around him. One of the most important moments in the novel is the moment of transformation of Fight Club into Project Mayhem, as it is associated with the moment, when the narrator’s wish for finding his self-identity becomes destructive. He stops the process of just searching for it, instead he aims at finding the ways to exercise his destructive identity. Only by the end of the novel, the narrator becomes aware of the fact that he needs to get rid of Tyler.
Fight Club by Palahniuk is a masculinist novel of the 1990s and it tells about the search of identity of one of the representatives of the highly consumerist society. The narrator aims to finding and preserving of his masculine identity in the conditions of his society and his world and creates an option of “additional” personality of Tyler Durden. Tyler Durden represents all the qualities, which are absent by the narrator, he is a kind of alpha-male, a strong and violent leader, ready to fight for his ideals, using any methods, including complete destruction. This novel reveals the shocking truth, assuming that the most dangerous and the strongest enemies of individuals are these individuals themselves.
- Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. W. W. Norton, 2005