Fight Club presents the argument that men in today's society have been reduced to a generation of men that do nothing themselves, but have become anesthetized 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 spoon-fed approach to living and try to find themselves. 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.
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 is reminiscent of how advertising says men have to look. Without Tyler's attention, the Narrator feels a rejection bordering on romantic jealousy.
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. 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.
The fighting in the novel is not presented as a solution to the character's problems, but is a means of achieving a spiritual reawakening. The fighting itself reminds the men that they are alive. As part of Tyler's philosophy, it also reminds them that they will die. Fighting is used as a path to reach the core of who they are. While the fighting can be seen as an attempt by the men to reassert their masculinity, it is more of a rejection of what they have been told masculinity is by prior generations, their jobs, and mass media.
Chaos & Societal Breakdown
Tyler believes that the use of chaos as perpetrated by Project Mayhem will lead to a better world. Tyler plans to reset civilization to a more agrarian or hunter-gatherer phase, allowing the planet to recover from all the damage done by human beings.
Tyler asks the Narrator which is worse: God's hate or His indifference? Tyler feels it is better to be hated than to be ignored. Here, God also represents the absent fathers that were missing in his and the Narrator's lives. To strike out, to create chaos, would at least have gotten some attention. Without it, the two men feel they have no identities. They do not have a war or any other great historical challenge to overcome. They have no purpose.
If they are given a purpose the world can be changed. The world runs on the backs of these men and others like them. If they were to suddenly disappear as a service class, the economy would halt. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Tyler envisions a world where people are not defined by their jobs or income bracket but by who they really are. If the shackles of self-regard placed on these men by society can be removed, they can be truly free to be whoever they really are.
The Narrator and Marla Singer both seek out some sort of contact to save themselves from their mundane lives. The Narrator repeatedly complains about the empty trappings of his consumer lifestyle. Tyler is depicted here as a liberator, able to free the Narrator from his life of material attachments. This, Tyler argues, will allow him to achieve the potential of his true self and discover the greater power of his spirit.
Absent Father Figures
Tyler and the Narrator bond over their recollections about their fathers. Both men state that their fathers were not a major part of their lives. The Narrator says that his father left when he was young. Tyler describes his father as a distant figure who he would speak to on the phone roughly once a year. With no distinct male role-models in their lives the Narrator and Tyler have largely accepted the role of men in society as it has been presented to them by advertising. The aim is to secure a good job with a good salary, get married, and have children. The men of fight club have seen an emptiness in this model and reject it.
The Threat of Death
Tyler stresses the importance of being fully cognizant of the fact that one's life will eventually end. He employs the "human sacrifice" to shock unwitting "victims" into realizing that their lives are passing them by. By bringing them face to face with the possibility of their deaths, they are pushed to improve their lives. Raymond K. Hessel, for example, wanted to be a veterinarian but abandoned the plan because he found the schooling tedious. When the Narrator puts a gun to his head, he hopes to motivate Raymond to change his life, thereby empowering him but using fear as the mechanism to do so.
This idea also ties in to Tyler's ideology of chaos and societal breakdown. If the disenfranchised classes can be pushed to stand up, the world can be changed.
The Narrator touches on the emptiness he experiences in consumer culture and the goals and rewards it sets out. The Narrator finds himself shopping for "clever" items for his condominium as a sort of opiate for the emptiness in his life. He hates his job and doesn't appear to have much of a social life. Instead of taking steps toward changing his life, he channels his frustration into the purchasing of more and more consumer goods. When he deems a product worthy of purchase it is the only real power he feels over his life.
Fight Club Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fight Club is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
These questions are way too much for this space. I can tell you that the men meet not to simply beat each other up but to feel something real. They had lost their identity in a sea of artificial masculinity from society and media manipulation. The...
I believe it was a sort of an underground fraternity of men. They met not to simply beat each other up but to feel something real. They had lost their identity in a sea of artificial masculinity from society and media manipulation. The group was...