Reading in-between the lines: An analysis of Fight Club
a novel by Chuck Palahniuk
a film directed by David Fincher
“You are not your job. You are not how much you have in the bank. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your khakis. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. What happens first is you can’t sleep. What happens then is there’s a gun in your mouth. And what happens next is you meet Tyler Durden. Let me tell you about Tyler. He had a plan. In Tyler we trusted. Tyler says the things you own, end up owning you. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Fight Club represents that kind of freedom. First rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club. Second rule of Fight Club: You do not talk about Fight Club. Tyler says self-improvement is masturbation. Tyler says self-destruction might be the answer.”
The novel Fight Club, by Jack Palahniuk was published in 1996 and released as a motion picture starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in October of 1999. Both the novel and motion picture proved to be very successful in their release to the public for one simple reason: Fight Club is a reflection of the suffering experienced by the ‘Generation X’ male who feels trapped in a world of the grey-collar (or service) working-class, a world filled with materialism and distractions, a group of men raised in single-parent families often devoid of a male role-model, and a world where there is no great cause for the average North American male to fight for. Whether consciously, or subconsciously, the average ‘Generation X’ male of modern society can relate to and understand Fight Club, which makes both the novel and motion picture such an important proclamation regarding the state of our modern culture.
In Fight Club, we meet our main character who comes to us without a name. He can be referred to as ‘Jack’ but his name is not important. He comes to us without a name because he represents ‘any man’, any one of those ‘Generation X’ males living in our society at present. Jack is a thirty-year old man employed as a recall coordinator for a major automobile company. He lives in a condo that is furnished with all the comforts of modern society, namely mass-produced furnishings that can be found in the homes of millions across North America. Jack owns a car and has obtained a respectable wardrobe for himself over the course of time. Despite all of these things, Jack is not satisfied with his life. He feels unhappy, unfulfilled, and trapped in the depths of chronic insomnia. Jack asks his doctor for help with his insomnia and receives the response that if he wants to see real pain, he should attend some of the support groups at a local church. So Jack attends these support groups, in fact he starts to attend them religiously using pseudonyms and pretending he belongs. Jack frequents groups for men with testicular cancer, groups for sufferers of brain parasites, and blood parasites among other groups for disease sufferers, and suddenly Jack finds he can sleep again. The support groups give Jack a sense of belonging, a sense of being important to others as he expresses on page 107 of the novel:
This is why I loved the support groups so much. If people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention. If
this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you…People listened instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.
And when they spoke, they weren’t telling you a story. When the two of you talked, you were building something, and afterward you were both different than before.
It is implied that Jack feels frustrated with others in his life, feeling as if they are too caught up with their own preoccupations to truly care about how Jack feels, what is happening to him, and what he needs and wants in life.
It is implied that the average ‘Generation X’ male also feels this way and has difficulty coping in a society where people are too busy to listen. Jack’s attendance at the support group meetings continues to fill one of the ‘voids’ in his life until he meets the character of Marla Singer, who has begun to frequent all of the support group meetings, just as Jack does. Jack becomes enraged with the presence of Marla, as he sees her as a symbol of the lie he has been living and fears that through Marla, he will be exposed as a ‘faker’. Jack confronts Marla and they agree to ‘share’ the meetings, by dividing them up between them. As long as Jack is not confronted with the sight of Marla he feels comfortable in continuing his attendance at the meetings, and carrying out the role of a person living at ‘death’s door’.
During Jack’s attendance at his weekly parasitic brain dysfunction group, he also discovers another way of dealing with some of his problems, through the use of guided meditation. During the meeting a member steps forward to lead the group on a journey of the mind, during which those participating are mentally lead through various coloured doors, which lead to a cave, which contains their ‘power animal’. This animal is a symbol of their personal power to overcome all obstacles they encounter in life. Jack discovers that his ‘power animal’ is a penguin that offers Jack the verbal suggestion to “slide”. The fact that Jack’s ‘power animal’ is a penguin is actually extremely significant. Through analysis of the penguin, it is noted that penguins, though part of the bird species, cannot fly. Jack is part of the human species, yet he does not grasp what he can do. He feels restricted by his walls and has essentially made himself a cave to dwell in where the simple decisions of everyday life have been robbed from him. The penguin is also symbolic in that penguins are also very ‘drone-like’. There has always been the old joke that penguins appear as if they are wearing little black and white suits, which would symbolize the ‘suit and tie’ environment that Jack works in each day, an environment that Jack feels to be stifling. The last important detail about the penguin is that penguins are content in their atmosphere and travel in flocks. They do not stray far from their homes and baby penguins stick close to their mothers. This is especially reflective of the life that Jack leads. Jack feels as if he is just one of the masses ‘travelling in a flock’ and not thinking for himself. He also has issues with his upbringing, as it is later revealed that Jack was raised by his mother in a single-parent family, having been abandoned by his father at a young age.
The next major event that occurs in Jack’s life, although he is unaware of it at the time, is meeting Tyler Durden. It is interesting to note that the author seems to have carefully chosen the name of this character, as an analysis of the name Tyler Durden reveals that in antiquated English, “Tyler” means gatekeeper or house builder, and “Durden” has the root dour meaning hard, as in ‘durable’, both which are descriptive of his personality. Although the novel and motion picture do not project the same circumstances under which Jack and Tyler meet, it is most interestingly projected in the novel. Jack awakes on a beach in the summertime to find Tyler pulling driftwood out of the surf and dragging it to the beach, then implanting the logs in the sand, forming a semi-circle. Tyler asks Jack what time it is and draws a line in the sand with a stick. Tyler’s creation is explained in the novel (page 33) as follows:
What Tyler had created was the shadow of a giant hand. Only now the fingers were Nosferatu-long and the thumb was too short, but he said how at exactly four-thirty the hand was perfect. The giant shadow hand was perfect for one minute, and for one perfect minute Tyler had sat in the palm of perfection he’d created himself…One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.
This scene is especially important and foreshadows the future for Jack and Tyler. It is indicative of Tyler’s personality, and goal (that later surfaces) of achieving just a moment of what he considers to be perfection in society. The giant hand symbolizes the world, and Tyler sitting within the giant hand symbolizes his wish to control the future of the world for just one tiny ‘perfect’ moment.
Shortly following Jack’s discovery of Tyler, he partakes on an extended business trip. Upon his return he discovers that his precious condominium containing all the comforts of home that he has grown to love dearly has been destroyed in an explosion. It is explained to Jack that the cause of the explosion is unknown, however it is suspected that the cause was a gas leak, and that there is nothing left of his personal possessions. Jack is forbidden to enter the condo unit, and is advised to find a place to stay. On his way out of the lobby of the building, Jack is approached by the doorman, whose words profoundly echo the current problems facing modern society with respect to our obsession with materialism (page 45/46):
“A lot of young people try to impress the world and buy too many things,” the doorman said… “A lot of young people don’t know what they really want.”… “If you don’t know what you really want…you end up with a lot you don’t.”
Tyler Durden later reveals to Jack that this is a problem of which he is especially concerned, a problem which he believes each person in society should become enlightened to, and work on correcting through the abandonment of material possessions.
When Jack discovers he has lost his home and all his possessions he suddenly feels a sense that he is truly alone. He does not consider calling family, or staying in a hotel, but instead debates calling Marla Singer whom he barely knows, and then decides impulsively to call Tyler Durden. It is implied through this decision, that Jack is not close with any family that he may have and that he does not have any (or few) friends. Jack and Tyler agree to meet at a local bar to have a few drinks and discuss what has happened. Jack expresses his grief over the loss of his condo and all his belongings to which Tyler replies that it is a good thing that all of that ‘baggage’ is gone, and that Jack is better off without all of his ‘stuff’. He explains (page 44):
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 of 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 are trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.
Tyler is stating here that people in modern society have become so consumed with what they own and what they don’t own (but wish they did), that they have lost track of what is really important in life. People have become obsessed with consumerism, forgetting that objects do not bring ultimate happiness, and ‘you cannot take them with you when you die’. Tyler is offering Jack the wisdom that it is actually a blessing that he is now free of all the distractions he has accumulated, so that he can now turn the focus onto himself, and what is really important in his life.
At the end of the evening Jack and Tyler find themselves outside the bar and they discuss that Jack should stay with Tyler. Tyler suggests to Jack that asking to stay with him must have been his real motive for calling him. Once it is agreed upon that Jack will stay or ‘live’ with Tyler, Tyler asks Jack for one favour. He asks Jack to hit him as hard as he can. Jack is shocked by Tyler’s request and asks why he would ever ask such a thing. Tyler explains to Jack that he has never been in a fight before, and listed his reasons (page 52) as: not wanting to die without any scars…being tired of watching only professionals fight, and wanting to know more about himself. Jack finally agrees to his request and they proceed to get into a physical brawl with each other, no holds barred. Eventually the bar closes; patrons come out and gather around to watch the fight. This is how Fight Club was born. Somehow Tyler and Jack had managed to leave an impression upon their fellow ‘grey-collar brothers’ who had been watching them carry on, and came up with the idea that the sort of fighting that they had engaged in as an act of ‘self-discovery’, could be beneficial to others for the same reason. It was decided that Fight Club would be formed and meet periodically in the parking lot of the same bar where they had engaged in their first fight.
Following this first fight Tyler and Jack fall exhausted and discuss what just occurred. Jack asks Tyler what it was that he had really been fighting during the brawl, to which Tyler replies “my father”. This is a very important underlying theme within Fight Club, the theme of ‘Generation X’ males in modern society being raised more commonly in a single-parent family, often with their mother as their only role model. There is a sense of anger towards the father figure for ‘abandoning’ the family, and even greater implications that men raised predominately by women have been forced to stifle their natural aggressive tendencies and take on a more unnatural, passive nature. This is supported by the ‘need’ for characters in the novel/motion picture to engage in physical aggression through Fight Club as a release for these pent up feelings. Jack explains his own relationship with his father as follows (page 50/51):
Me, I knew my dad for about six years, but I don’t remember anything. My dad, he starts a new family in a new town about every six years. This isn’t so much like a new family as it’s like he sets up a franchise…What you see at Fight Club is a generation of men raised by women…My father never went to college so it was really important I go to college. After college, I called him long distance and said, now what? My dad didn’t know. When I got a job and turned twenty- five, long distance, I said, now what? My dad didn’t know so he said, get married. I’m a thirty-year-old boy, and I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer I need.
It is especially important to note that Jack is analyzing himself in the above excerpt, acknowledging his lack of maturity, and that he would be most likely to look for a woman who would act as a mother-figure instead of a partner or mate. Jack is implying here that many men in his situation (raised in a single-parent family by their mother) instinctively look for someone to take care of them in a relationship, as they know only what their mother or female role-model has taught them, and are lacking the knowledge of what it means to ‘be a man’ in a relationship, due to a lack of a male parental figure or role model. There is also an underlying idea in Fight Club that a male role model symbolizes God in a young man’s formative years, and when abandoned by the male role model, the young man will develop a sense of being abandoned by God as well. This is described in Chapter 18 of the novel (page 140/141):
… “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?…What you end up doing …is you spend your life searching for a father and God. What you have to consider…is the possibility that God doesn’t like you. Could be, God hates us. This is not the worst thing that can happen.”…We are God’s middle children, according to Tyler Durden, with no special place in history and no special attention. Unless we get God’s attention, we have no hope of damnation or redemption.
It is an interesting theory that possibly the ‘Generation X’ male’s lack of connection with God and religion could be due to a lack of the male parental figure in their lives. It is observable that these individuals may be feeling that they are the ‘unwanted children’, cast aside and neglected by all father figures in their lives, and this had lead them to a sense of hostility which manifests through the aggressive fighting they partake in at Fight Club meetings.
Tyler Durden, self-proclaimed inventor of Fight Club soon decides to set a rule structure for their meetings so that they do not ‘get out of hand’. He sets the rules as follows (page 48/49):
The first rule about Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club…The second rule about Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club…That’s the third rule in fight club, when someone says stop, or goes limp, even if he’s just faking it, the fight is over…Only two guys to a fight. One fight at a time. They fight without shirts or shoes. The fights go on as long as they have to. Those are the other rules of Fight Club.
It is interesting to note that the character of Tyler Durden is completely opposed to societal rules and regulations. Regardless of this, he sees a need for rules in his club, in order to prevent chaos from occurring, and people from getting injured beyond repair or killed. The Fight Club has been officially established now as a therapy session for grey-collar workers, which Tyler Durden believes cleanses it of negative, meaningless violent intentions. This Fight Club, now established as a ‘group therapy session’, soon replaces Jack’s need to attend the other group sessions at the church. Fight Club has provided its members with a place to ‘fight their fears’, fears that they have been cheated and abandoned by their father and God, fears that they are not ‘good enough’, ‘strong enough’ or ‘smart enough’, fears that they will never be able to understand why they feel so trapped in their lives and unsatisfied, and also the fear of being alone, of pain, of brutality, of defeat, of losing control, and of inevitable death. It has become an outlet for anger and fear, a rite of masculinity, and frees them temporarily from their enslavement by modern society. The more members realize all these things, the more they break the first and second rule of Fight Club, sharing the experience with more and more fellow ‘brothers’ who feel just as they do. Fight Club soon moves to the basement of the bar, and eventually new, independent chapters surface across the city as more and more men become aware of what Fight Club can offer them.
While Fight Club is developing and growing, Jack discovers that Tyler has entered into a sexual relationship with Marla whom he met at the support group meetings in the church. Jack discovers that Tyler has ‘rescued’ Marla from an attempted suicide through the overdose of prescription medication (Marla had phoned the house that Jack and Tyler were currently sharing and Tyler had gone to her place to ‘save her from herself’). Jack becomes enraged when he discovers that Tyler and Marla are involved in a relationship. It is during this time that Jack has found some old magazines in the house, which use clever words to personify body parts such as ‘I am Jill’s colon’. Jack takes to describing his anger at Marla and Tyler’s relationship through the use of these clever analogies (page 59):
I am Joe’s raging bile duct. I am Joe’s grinding teeth. I am Joe’s inflamed, flaring nostrils. I am Joe’s white knuckles. I am Joe’s Enraged, Inflamed Sense of Rejection.
Jack takes to speaking about his feelings as if he is observing someone else, making them less personalized, and taking less responsibility for them. Marla also expresses feelings that she is having by stating them as if she is observing another person. This becomes clear when Tyler explains his ‘rescue’ of Marla to Jack. When Marla tries to overdose, she calls the paramedics, and Tyler takes her out of her suite just before they arrive. As he is dragging her away, she is calling back to the paramedics, expressing her true feelings about herself (page 61):
“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.”
In this description of Marla’s feelings, it can be observed that the problems facing ‘Generation X’ males are affecting females as well, who also feel a sense of insecurity, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction towards life. It is important to note that Marla is just as lonely and friendless as Jack, however the novel/motion picture does not address how females can deal with these emotions and problems, somehow minimizing their struggle.
Jack continues to come to work each day as Fight Club progresses. He shows up at work, proudly displaying his wounds and scars that he has obtained through fighting, like a badge of honour. He sarcastically describes his personal progress that he is shoving in the faces of his co-workers as follows (page 64):
I’m saying HELLO to everybody at work. HELLO! Look at me. HELLO! I am so ZEN. This is BLOOD. This is NOTHING. Hello. Everything is nothing, and it’s so cool to be ENLIGHTENED. Like me.
Here Jack is swelling with a sense of pride in his personal progress, at the same time showing a sense of bitterness towards his co-workers who do not understand the ‘wonderful personal journey’ he is on, and are doing nothing to enlighten themselves. Jack also begins to send messages to his co-workers in the form of haikus (page 63/64/67):
Worker bees can leave
Without just one nest
Flowers bloom and die
Even drones fly away
A bird can call the world home
Wind brings butterflies or snow
The queen is their slave
Life is your career
A stone won’t notice
These haikus symbolize different stages in Jack’s progress. The first haiku is a message to his co-workers that they are not really trapped by their boring, unfulfilling careers (even though it may seem that way), and that they can choose to leave and change their lives if they want to. It is implied that if they choose this path, then their boss will become their slave instead of them being enslaved by their boss. The second haiku is a message that material possessions are unimportant, as the whole world is literally a home. It is also saying that living and being free is more important than the materialistic ideals and stifling careers they currently consider to be important. The third haiku is a statement that all beautiful and living things do eventually die, but those who are strong or ‘stone-like’ will not be affected by the fear of inevitable death, and instead will embrace and understand it.
As time passes, Jack’s boss becomes more and more aware of what Jack has become involved in. His boss discovers the Rules of Fight Club that Jack has accidentally left in the photocopier at work, and confronts Jack about the matter. Jack’s reaction to his boss’ discovery shows how he is becoming more and more influenced by the strong personality of Tyler Durden, as he reacts in a manner which is completely unlike the ‘Jack he was before Fight Club’ (page 97):
I say, it sounds like some dangerous psychotic killer wrote this, and this buttoned-down schizophrenic could probably go over the edge at any moment in the working day and stalk from office to office with an Armalite AR-180 carbine gas- operated semiautomatic…The guy, I say, is probably at home every night with a little rattail file, filing a cross into the tip of every one of his rounds. This way when he shows up to work one morning and pumps a round into his nagging, ineffectual, petty, whining, butt-sucking, candy-ass boss, that one round will split along the filed grooves and spread open the way a dumdum bullet flowers inside you to blow a bushel load of your stinking guts out…
In the above excerpt, Jack is again describing his feelings as if he were speaking about someone else; he creates a clever message to his boss that says ‘leave me alone, or else’. It is especially interesting that Jack refers to himself as a schizophrenic, which will be analyzed further later on. Here Jack is saying things to his boss that many men have dreamed of, but never dared. He is finding that he is becoming more and more empowered and caring less and less about society’s rules and taboos.
During this time Tyler has also begun to teach Jack the art of soap making. Jack and Tyler begin making soap from human fat that they have obtained from the discard bins of liposuction clinics and selling this ‘primo’ soap to the upper class department stores in their city. Both Tyler and Jack find delight in ‘selling rich women their fat asses back to them’. Soap is a very important symbol in Fight Club, as Tyler explains that soap ultimately symbolizes heroism, and human sacrifice. This becomes known in the following excerpt (page 76/77/78):
“In ancient history…human sacrifices were made on a hill above a river…The sacrifices were made and the bodies were burned on a pyre…After hundreds of people were sacrificed and burned…a thick white discharge crept from the alter, downhill to the river…Rain fell on the burnt pyre year after year, and year after year people were burned, and the rain seeped through the wood ashes to become a solution of lye, and the lye combined with the fat of the sacrifices, and a thick white discharge of soap crept out from the base of the altar and crept downhill toward the river…Where the soap fell into the river…after a thousand years of killing people and rain, the ancient people found their clothes got cleaner if they washed them at that spot…It was right to kill those people…You have to see…how the first soap was made of heroes…think about animals in product testing. Think about the monkeys shot into space. Without their pain and sacrifice…we would have nothing.”
Tyler shows how soap was obtained through the suffering and sacrifice of humanity and that this is ultimately how all human progress is obtained. He wants Jack to realize that even though this may be disturbing, it is a fact of life.
As chapters of Fight Club have continued to spread across the city, Jack soon discovers that Tyler has an even bigger plan that will take members to a new level of therapy and ‘personal enlightenment’. Tyler has begun a new area of the club called Project Mayhem in which members of the club are assigned tasks and challenges through which they will obtain new knowledge of themselves. Members are assigned tasks such as starting a fight with a stranger and letting the stranger win. The goal of a task such as this is to spread the feeling of empowerment obtained through fighting to other individuals beyond Fight Club. Soon Project Mayhem has progressed even further, and Jack discovers that there are suddenly members on his front porch who have brought personal items as directed by Tyler and are willing to endure a three day waiting period without food, water or sleep in order to gain access to the house. Often Tyler shouts words of discouragement to the waiting member, telling them that they are too old, or too fat, or not what he is looking for. Tyler explains to Jack that he is testing these members and is considering them as applicants for the next phase of Project Mayhem. He explains the rationale for making them endure the three-day test as follows (page 129):
This is how the Buddhist temples have tested applicants going back for bah-zillion years…You tell the applicant to go away, and if his resolve is so strong that he waits at the entrance without food or shelter or encouragement for three days, then and only then can he enter and begin training.
Jack soon discovers that Tyler has installed army-style bunk beds in the basement of their house and is attempting to build his own personal army. As more and more applicants endure the test, they are given access to the house and begin ‘training’ in Tyler’s army. These new ‘space monkeys’, (this is a reference to Tyler’s explanation of human sacrifice in the previously quoted excerpt) are given specific tasks such as cooking, soap making and cleaning, and begin to recite mantras which Tyler has taught them, almost as if they have been brainwashed (page 134):
When I come home one space monkey is reading to the assembled space monkeys who sit covering the whole first floor. “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. Our culture has made us all the same. No one is truly white or black or rich anymore. We all want the same. Individually, we are nothing.”
Here Tyler has created a ‘group mentality’ or cult way of thinking to bring all of the space monkeys residing in the house to the same degree of ‘enlightenment’. He is training them to think and feel the same, as well as work towards one common, collective goal. Like Fight Club, Project Mayhem also has similar, established rules which must be followed and also include complete and total trust in Tyler Durden, without question. This is similar to a religion in that there are established rules to be followed, however one should never question God’s intentions or actions, but trust completely and have faith. Project Mayhem soon begins to carry out acts of vandalism and disturbance throughout the city such as drawing a huge happy face on the side of a large building and lighting fire to the eyes to make them glow. Through these acts of vandalism the grey-collar ‘space monkeys’ of Project Mayhem are delivering a message of defiance to society, stating that they no longer care about the established rules and distractions, and now live by their own set of rules which are considered by most to be counter-culture.
Tyler’s ultimate goal that he is trying to accomplish through Project Mayhem soon becomes apparent to Jack. He realizes that Tyler’s wish is to destroy all that society currently is and revert back to ancient times when the world had not yet discovered technology, money didn’t exist, and material possessions were unimportant. Only the necessities of food, water, clothing and shelter were valued. Tyler reveals his goal to Jack as follows (page 125):
It’s Project Mayhem that’s going to save the world. A cultural ice age. A prematurely induced dark age. Project Mayhem will free humanity to go dormant or into remission long enough for the Earth to recover. Imagine…stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos…you’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life…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 in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway…
It is interesting that reverting back to a primitive hunter-gatherer sort of society is so attractive to Tyler and that he truly feels this to be the solution to all of life’s problems. It is implied that in modern society men do not have the means to act out their instinctive nature which is to hunt, gather, and reside without rules, completely free, and that this is what men subconsciously long for.
As Project Mayhem progresses, Jack discovers that Tyler is suddenly present less and less and that Jack has begun to sleep more and more. He feels a sense of being ‘out of the loop’ as far as Project Mayhem is concerned as he is involved less and less in what is occurring. Jack views Tyler’s absence as an act of abandonment on Tyler’s part and becomes bitter and angry towards Tyler. He realizes that Tyler’s absence has begun to affect him much in the same manner that his father’s abandonment has affected him in his life. Jack discovers a bunch of plane ticket stubs in a drawer in Tyler’s room and sets out on a quest to find Tyler, flying to each destination listed. In each city that Jack lands, he frequents all the local pubs and bars, only to discover to his horror that Fight Clubs have ‘popped up’ all over these major cities. He speaks to the heads of each division that he comes across and is confused that they seem to know him, and often wink at him or refer to him as ‘Tyler Durden’. Jack becomes maddened in his obsession to find Tyler and to discover how he is linked to the new Fight Clubs that have surfaced across North America. In exhaustion one night, he lies down to sleep and awakens to find Tyler is there in his hotel room beside his bed. This is the scene in the novel/motion picture where Jack has a profound and important moment of clarity – the moment when Jack realizes that he and Tyler are one and the same, and that Tyler is only a manifestation of Jack’s frustrations in his life. Jack has invented Tyler because Tyler is everything that Jack wants to be, but isn’t, and only Tyler has the means to accomplish what Jack really wants to change about society. This moment of clarity is explained as follows (page 167/168):
Tyler said, “We’re not two separate men. Long story short, when you’re awake, you have the control, and you can call yourself anything you want, but the second you fall asleep, I take over and you become Tyler Durden.”…This is a dream, Tyler is a projection. He’s a disassociative personality disorder. A psychogenic fugue state. Tyler Durden is my hallucination.
It was previously noted that when Jack had the disturbing conversation with his boss upon the discovery of the Fight Club rules, Jack had referred to himself in the second-party as ‘schizophrenic’. It is as if Jack knew subconsciously all along that he was experiencing a mental crisis of sorts, but he did not clearly understand what was occurring or why. During this important conversation between Tyler and Jack it is also made clear that Tyler has discovered a way to accomplish his goal for the correction of society’s flaws. Tyler has created through Project Mayhem an operation in which important financial buildings in strategic cities across North America have been wired with explosives, set to go off when the buildings are completely unoccupied. This has been strategically planned and is now operating solely in the hands of ‘space monkeys’. Tyler explains that the idea is to blow up all financial institutions so that the debt record will be erased and everyone can start from zero, completely freed. Jack becomes completely enraged with this plan, and sets out to stop it only to discover that things have progressed too far and it is too late. Jack decides that the only way to fix the problem now is to rid himself of Tyler Durden. In one of the last scenes, Jack attempts to explain to Marla what has been happening, and expresses his feelings regarding Tyler (page 174):
I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage, his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and charming and forceful and Independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free and I am not.
It becomes apparent at this point that Jack does understand why he has created Tyler, but at the same time realizes that he cannot go on functioning under a split personality.
In the final scene Jack has a gun in his hand and is standing at the top of a building, waiting for the great explosion that has been set to take place. He puts the gun in his mouth, and before pulling the trigger states (page 205) “I’m not killing myself…I’m killing Tyler”. In his final moment Jack does not seem to acknowledge the fact that by killing Tyler, he truly is killing himself as they are one and the same. Jack proceeds to pull the trigger in a symbol of ‘final sacrifice for the good of all humanity’, as in his final moment he seems to consider what he (or Tyler) has accomplished to be unjust and immoral. The ending is different in the novel than in the motion picture. In the novel, Jack dies and sits in heaven discussing with God what he has done, and how God and him disagree about humanity. In the motion picture Jack lives and succeeds in ‘killing Tyler’ by blowing off the side of his face.
Despite which ending is chosen, the final summary of Fight Club is that the ‘Generation X’ males and females (as shown through the character of Marla) are dissatisfied, unhappy, confused and lost. Many people find that it is impossible to obtain a job or career where they are not part of the service industry (or grey-collar working class) in some way, shape or form. As society’s priorities have become more and more materialistic and consumer-driven, people are finding themselves more and more distracted and alone with their possessions, rather than with others. Relationships fail because of an increase in the number of single-parent families, in which there is predominately only a mother to act as a role model – men no longer know what it means to be a man, and how to act in a relationship. Women no longer understand how to treat men in a relationship and cannot relate to or understand the male species. There is no great war or depression for the current generation to fight for – instead there is a great war of the spirit and the great depression has become people’s lives. What Fight Club shows is a break down of our modern culture and suggests that things can only be improved through drastic measures. It suggests that the answer might be to abandon all of the materialism and greed that has consumed our culture and resort back to the ‘old days’ when everything was simple and things were only accomplished to meet the basic necessities for human survival. Perhaps now that so many members of ‘Generation X’ have been witness to the wisdom offered between the lines of Fight Club, this will stick in the backs of their minds. Perhaps these people will not accomplish a better society through such drastic measures, but instead will invoke a slow, proactive change in society by realizing what the problems are, and embarking on their own journeys of self-discovery with the intention of living their lives only for that which truly matters…happiness.
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