Fight Club

Fight Club Summary and Analysis of Chapter 17 to Chapter 20


Chapter 17

Once again, the Narrator's boss stops by with a sheet of paper he discovered in the copier. This time, it is a list of items that an applicant should bring with him to the house on Paper Street in order to join Project Mayhem. Tyler has measured out the basement and begun building bunk beds. He is converting the basement into barracks.

When a young man does come to the house, Tyler rejects him as an applicant and insults him, telling him he has to leave. This cycle of abuse and rejection continues for three days. Tyler then allows the young man to enter the house. Tyler says that this will be the model they will use for any and all applicants. They must be rejected first without reason. Tyler claims that Buddhist temples have used this model for hundreds of years. Every day the Narrator comes home from work to find new applicants waiting. Even Big Bob appears to try his luck.

Each applicant is asked to bring two black shirts, two pairs of black pants, an army surplus mattress, shoes, socks, two pair of plain underwear, a heavy black coat, a white towel, white plastic mixing bowl, and five hundred dollars cash for personal burial money. This final item is to ensure that the group does not have to endure financial hardship if the applicant dies during his training.

As more and more applicants arrive, the Narrator begins to refer to them as space monkeys, because of the way they just do as they are told and serve their basic function, like a monkey shot into space. They spend their time making soap and tending to the garden in the backyard. Tyler disappears completely. When the Narrator asks any of the space monkeys if they know where he is, they simply recite the rules of Project Mayhem to him. He visits other fight club locations and asks about Tyler there too, but gets no concrete response. He notices that the other men address him as "Sir" whenever he does ask about Tyler.

Marla comes by the house one night and she and the Narrator walk and talk in the garden. While they are walking the Narrator notices something out of the corner of his eye, catching the light. Making sure that Marla does not notice, the Narrator pushes a jawbone down into the dirt so that Marla will not see it.

Chapter 18

The Narrator awakens at his desk at work. It is after hours and his office is empty. He notices that his hands smell like gasoline. His boss has emailed him and told him to prepare for a formal review in two weeks. His phone rings. It is Tyler, who tells him to go downstairs and meet a car that is waiting for him. Tyler doesn’t explain where he’s been. The Narrator goes down to meet the car. A mechanic who is a Project Mayhem member lets him in and they start driving. A birthday cake is waiting inside the car for the Narrator. The mechanic says that he made it for the Narrator. The Narrator says it isn't his birthday.

The mechanic begins to recite some of Tyler Durden's dogma as he drives. "Your father was 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?" he asks. Tyler's philosophy is that God's hatred is better than total apathy. "Burn the Louvre," he continues, "and wipe your ass with the Mona Lisa. This way at least, God would know our names." The mechanic adds two additional rules to fight club: only the two men fighting are the center of fight club, and fight club will always be free.

The mechanic swerves the car into oncoming traffic. The other cars swerve to escape impact. The mechanic asks the two space monkeys in the back seat what they wish they had done with their lives if they were to die right now. The Narrator answers that he wished he had quit his job. He puts the car on a crash course with a truck. The truck swerves out of the way but the car's rear bumper makes contact with the truck, sending the car into a fishtail. The Narrator falls onto the cake. He wishes for death. "I'm nothing in this world compared to Tyler," he thinks. He grabs the steering wheel and tries to steer the car back into traffic but the mechanic manages to keep the car on the road without incident. The cake, however, is all over the Narrator and the floor of the car.

Chapter 19

The Narrator asks the mechanic if all of that was part of a homework assignment. The mechanic says that he was asked to do perform four human sacrifices and pick up a package of fat. As the Narrator tries to get some information from him, the mechanic launches into a monologue, quoting more of Tyler's philosophy. He touches on how the world needs to be shown freedom through enslavement, and courage through being frightened. He describes a return to a sort of hunter/gatherer or pre-agrarian lifestyle. "Imagine hunting elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center," he says.

The mechanic reveals that they are driving to the medical waste dump to retrieve liposuctioned fat. Tyler's plan is to take this fat, taken from the richest thighs in the world, and use it to make soap. This soap could then be sold right back to the very kind of people who had liposuctions in the first place. They are the only ones who could afford them.

Chapter 20

The Narrator is standing with his gun pressed against the cheek of Raymond K. Hessel, a convenience store clerk. Both the Narrator and the mechanic have to bring Tyler twelve driver's licenses to prove they made twelve human sacrifices. Raymond is crying uncontrollably as he squats on his knees. The Narrator looks through the contents of Raymond's wallet. He shows him a picture of his mother, asking him if these are his parents. This only upsets Raymond more. Among the other items in his wallet, the Narrator finds an expired community college student card.

The Narrator asks Raymond what he was studying. Raymond stammers and manages to say he was studying biology. The Narrator asks him what he wanted to be. Raymond has no answer. The Narrator says, "Then you're dead, turn your head." He begins to count down from ten. Raymond blurts out that he wanted to be a veterinarian. The Narrator says he would need more school for that. Raymond says it is too much school. The Narrator asks him if he'd rather be dead. Raymond says he'd rather be a veterinarian. The Narrator says he is going to keep Raymond's wallet and check on him in three months. If he isn't on his way to becoming a vet, he will be killed. He tells Raymond to go home. To himself the Narrator thinks: "Raymond K.K. Hessel, your dinner is going to taste better than any meal you've ever eaten, and tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of your entire life."


Project Mayhem continues to escalate as Tyler now begins a program to actively recruit members. Using a model fashioned after one allegedly used by Buddhist monasteries, Tyler makes the applicants wait for three days without shelter, food, or encouragement. To gain access, the applicants must endure the three day stretch and can only bring certain items with them. The list of items is basic, mirroring what the Narrator had left in his suitcase after his condominium was destroyed. The applicants then shave their heads. With their identical haircuts and clothing, their individuality is minimized, much like in military recruitment. They no longer matter as individuals. Tyler's philosophy, repeated by various members, is read aloud over a megaphone as members work around the house. Their indoctrination further convinces them to never question Tyler, the final rule of Project Mayhem. The military recruitment analogy is apt, as Tyler is hoping to build an army large enough to change the way the world works.

Various other elements foreshadow events to come. The Narrator notices that the space monkeys call him "Sir" whenever he asks about Tyler. This will finally be resolved when the Narrator's identity and true relationship with Tyler is revealed. Another element is the jawbone that the Narrator spots in the garden. Palahniuk signals a dark change in the atmosphere and spirit of what Project Mayhem represents as opposed to the spiritual rebirth previously offered by fight club. Project Mayhem comes to symbolize a more proto-fascist ideology where the extermination of history and society are complicit with an establishment of a "better" future.

During the Narrator's drive with the mechanic he tries to swerve the car into traffic, making an attempt at ending his life. He is distraught and lost, particularly since Tyler has disappeared. He feels completely weak and naked without him. After the near crash, the mechanic tells the Narrator that he just had a "near life experience." The birthday cake he gives the Narrator can symbolize a sort of rebirth. However, the mechanic mentions that the candles are the type that don't go out. This suggests that Palahniuk is again commenting on the chaos that Project Mayhem has placed in the Narrator's life: like little fires that he can't put out. This can also be taken as an analogy for Tyler Durden. As we will learn, Tyler is the Narrator's creation. He has transitioned from a savior to a monster that cannot be controlled. No matter what the Narrator tries to do, the specter of Tyler continues to exact consequences on his life.

The mechanic shares Tyler's vision for the future with the Narrator after their narrowly avoided car crash. He describes a sort of hunter gatherer/pre-agrarian lifestyle in which the Narrator might stalk elk in the shadows of Rockefeller Center. Tyler's exact mechanism for achieving this return to previous ways of life is not clear. It is also not clear just how this world would function. Tyler's vision has a certain romanticism about it, but the realities of the life he envisions do not seem to have been taken fully into account. Nor does it account for what might need to be done to establish such a world. Existing paradigms and systems would have to be removed, forcibly and violently if necessary. In their place, a return to a revised version of pre-civilization human history would be established. Tyler does not expand on the likely human toll such a dramatic shift would have.

The scene with Raymond K. Hessel, the convenience store clerk, demonstrates how Tyler's agenda and philosophy have become a larger part of the Narrator. Without questioning any of it, he waits for Raymond Hessel to get off his shift and ambushes him at the bus stop. The scenario that plays out is both sinister and oddly caring. The Narrator terrifies Raymond but also forces him to realize the value of his own life and to do something about it. However, he uses fear to grant Raymond freedom in his life, a tactic that Tyler is employing more and more. This idea, that fear must be used to truly grant the masses their freedom, has fascistic implications. While Raymond may now try to better his life, one can also ask if he is doing it because he wants to, or because he is now afraid that the Narrator will murder him if he doesn't. Also, note that the Narrator refers to Raymond K. Hessel in the second person, essentially addressing the reader as well. This makes the reader something of a participant in the chapter: the Narrator is holding the gun to our heads as well.