“Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk explores masculinity through clever characterisation, exploration of conformity and anarchy and unusual language. The traditional role of the man was as the head of the family unit. Looking after and providing for his wife and children in the hunter-gatherer role. What if a man has no wife and children? What is his role? What if the man comes from a broken family where he had no father? How is he supposed to live a good male life if he has no good example to follow? These are some of the issues that Chuck Palahniuk confronts on masculinity in “Fight Club”. In this essay, I will explore the author’s use of characterisation, conformity, anarchy and interesting and unusual language to support this main theme.
The characterisation of the main figure is executed particularly well. The characters of Joe and Tyler are cleverly interwoven throughout the novel until the reader’s realisation that they are both actually the same person. There are many hints in the novel, which suggest this until it is actually revealed. For example, several times, the narrator, Joe, says, “I know this because Tyler knows this.” This could be taken as meaning that they are very close friends and tell each other everything or that they are both the same person. The author also refers to the idea of multiple personalities in, “If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?” This illustrates the concept that Joe is a chronic insomniac and changes their personality in his sleep.
There are many similarities between Joe and Tyler up until we discover they are the same person. They both love Marla, but only Tyler sleeps with her. This provides comic moments when we realise that all through the book, Marla has been talking to Joe as her lover, but Joe has been talking to her as his friend’s girlfriend. Both Joe and Tyler end up looking like each other, “Tyler and I were looking more and more like Identical Twins. Both of us had punched-out cheekbones, and our skin had lost its memory and forgot where to slide back after we were hit.” Tyler starts off looking beautiful, an idyllic version of Joe; he is what Joe wishes he could be. This is indicated in “perfectly handsome and an angel in his everything-blond way.” He is smart, funny, and knows all of the interesting facts that Joe wishes he knew, like breaking security locks and making C4 explosives. Joe, after discovering how boring his life is, asks,
“Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete”, In my opinion, Tyler starts as an angelic, saviour figure and turns into an evil alter ego once Joe finds out the truth. The key “Fight Club” theme of masculinity is explored by examining the notions of conformity and Anarchy. The theme of conformity and non-conformity is examined by the contrast between Joe’s boss and Tyler. Joe’s boss, who wears a different tie for each day of the week, plays the stereotypical male role. He contrasts directly with Tyler, who squats in a house in the warehouse district, urinates in tomato soup at a hotel and splices single frames of pornography into family movies. He is the ultimate non-conformist. This is the exact opposite of “Mister Boss with his midlife spread and family photo on his desk and his dreams about early retirement and winters spent at a trailer-park hookup in some Arizona desert.”
I believe this represents the American Dream and conformity contrasted against Tyler’s vision of anarchy and chaos in a non-conformist nightmare. The language choice in this seems dismissive of the boss’ dream. “Some” suggests that the dream is irrelevant. The boss also represents Joe’s idea of his father. Joe believes that “If you’re male, and you’re Christian and living in America, your father is your model for god. And sometimes you find your father in your career.” This link between authority figures while growing up and different views of God indicates the lives of Palahniuk’s characters. I agree with Palahniuk’s belief that people create a view of God based on their own experiences. Therefore, if someone grows up in an unloving environment, they will have difficulty believing in a loving God.
The idea of non-conformity in Project Mayhem is ironic because the men no longer conform to society’s ideals; they are conforming to Tyler’s ideals. When a man wants to join Tyler’s Project Mayhem academy under his old house, they have to bring, “Two black shirts. Two black pairs of trousers. One pair of heavy black shoes. Two pairs of black socks and two pairs of plain underwear. One heavy black coat. This includes the clothes the applicant has on his back.” The men who are leaving conformist society end up wearing the uniform of Tyler’s space monkeys, one of the dozens of identical clones, dressing the same, eating the same and listening to Tyler’s speeches. “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. … Our culture has made us all the same. … We all want the same. Individually, we are nothing.”
Tyler criticises society for making everyone the same, yet in Project Mayhem, the men become drones to Tyler’s queen. They perform their duties, whether they make soap to sell or turn into explosives, tending the garden growing herbs to add to the soap, or simply cleaning the toilet all day. Every week after every Fight Club, Tyler gives each man a homework assignment, demeaning them and treating them like children. “Fight Club” is also about the impact of broken families, men raised by women, men with absent fathers. “I’m a thirty-year-old boy, and I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer I need.” Both Tyler and Joe are from single-parent families, and this becomes the basis of Fight Club because instead of seeing whom they are fighting at Fight club, they fight their absent fathers and everything else they hate in their lives.
“If you never know your father, if your father bails out or dies or is never at home, what do you believe about God?” This concept is mirrored in Joe’s quest for a father figure, either in his boss or Tyler. Tyler kills Joe’s Boss, but then Joe must kill Tyler as he realises he needs no father figure, no model for God. Thus there is the suggestion that because these characters did not know their fathers, they had a different view of masculinity. This challenges the traditional idea of paternalism and the father and son bond. The Fight Club experience has a huge impact on the men who participate, even influencing their view of God. The masculinity theme is also cleverly applied to one of the book’s minor characters, Bob.
“Raise the testosterone level too much, your body ups the estrogen to seek a balance … too much estrogen, and you get bitch tits.” Bob is an ex body-builder, and due to his excessive steroid use, he ended up with testicular cancer; the medication he took had the side effect of giving him breasts. This rather frightening revelation almost implies that if you get too much testosterone, the male hormone associated with masculinity, you can end up looking like Bob, a man with a woman’s breasts. Project Mayhem and Fight Club provide the anarchy in “Fight Club”. Joe is too perfect, and so he creates Tyler to strike back against the world. “You justify anarchy,” Tyler says. “You figure it out.” Joe and Tyler recruit hundreds of men into Fight Club and then into Project Mayhem. Palahniuk shows these men as gullible even as they try to kill their own leader because he had told them to do so. This shows that they just needed an idea to follow; once Tyler/Joe had given them, they abandoned him just as they were abandoned.
Palahniuk uses extraordinary language in “Fight Club”. The story is told through a narrator, but when the narrator speaks, no punctuation is used, so the narrator’s thoughts become mixed with what he is saying. “I tell Tyler, Marla Singer doesn’t need a lover, she needs a caseworker. Tyler says, “Don’t call this love.” Long story short, now Marla’s out to ruin another part of my life.” The narrator is saying the first two lines. Still, no speech marks are used, the next line is said by another character using speech marks, and the last line is a thought of the narrator and has no speech marks. This confusing stream of consciousness conveys the idea of the character’s nonconformity and inability to fit in. By ignoring grammatical rules, the author emphasizes that they are defying convention. Another aspect of unusual language which I enjoyed in the novel is where Joe writes Haiku poems, which pop up in the text with no warning. ‘One of these is, “Worker bees can leave Even drones can fly away The queen is their slave.”
These show up several times in the novel and seem to show how Joe feels trapped in his life and job. The idea of “Worker bees” conveys the idea of hundred of identical clones with no personality, which Joe believes sums up the business world. He and Tyler both believe that the Bosses of companies all depend on the blue and white-collar workers. Tyler shows this when he tells the police commissioner, “The people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on. … We guard you while you are asleep… We control every part of your life.” The word choice in “trying to step on” emphasizes that Joe feels that workers are treated like insects. This passage also carries a hint of the anarchy threatened by Project Mayhem. This odd use of language can be seen throughout the novel. In the novel, Joe is travelling between many airports, and Palahniuk uses concise sharp sentences. At the beginning of the novel, this fractures the narrative and creates the idea of how mundane, routine and repetitive Joe’s life is, “You wake up at O’Hare. You wake up at La Guardia. You wake up at Logan.”
The repetition of “You wake up” shows how pointless the travelling is, and the emphasis of waking up is a continuation of Joe’s wish to wake up as something or someone else. I like this because it seems to illustrate the effect of this travelling on Joe. He believes that his job is pointless, repetitive and uninteresting. In conclusion, Palahniuk uses masculinity as one of the main themes of this novel. The traditional view of the male in society is challenged. Fight Club’s bare-knuckled boxing matches feature a generation of men raised by women, highlighting the narrator’s broken link with his own father, who left when he was six years old.
The clever characterisation of the story’s main protagonist gives the reader gradual hints and clues until it becomes clear that Tyler and Joe are one. Conformity is also explored to show us the difference between Joe’s safe world of traditional values and work ethics and the dangerous underworld of Tyler’s anarchic counter culture. Palahniuk’s use of unusual language also illustrates each of the themes mentioned. The sharp sentences, short paragraphs and lack of punctuation make us think about conformity because it challenges the writing styles we are more familiar with. In short, “Fight Club” is a highly original and entertaining story that challenges our views of the world.