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Literature: Fight Club

Fight Club is a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. It revolves around an unnamed insomniac narrator who works a blue-collar job. The narrator becomes addicted to feigning illness at support groups for people with illnesses and conditions which he himself does not have in order to get himself to sleep, but eventually becomes obsessively plagued by an apathetic woman named Marla who he sees at various support groups, finally connecting with her at a support group for people with testicular cancer. The narrator eventually meets Tyler Durden, who starts a Fight Club where men alleviate their stress through fighting; as the club goes larger and its acts more heinous, the narrator is forced to confront Tyler, who reveals his true identity...

It was adapted into a movie starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham-Carter.

A graphic novel sequel was announced for a 2015 release.

This book provides examples of:

  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": The fact that The Narrator is Tyler.
  • Arc Words: Too many to count, this trope being a core part of Palahniuk's writing style (Palahniuk referred to them as "choruses".). They include...
    • "On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."
    • "I am Joe's *insert body part*."
    • "Prepare to evacuate soul."
    • "I know this because Tyler knows this."
    • "Tyler's words coming out of my mouth. And I used to be such a nice person."
    • "You're in Ireland."
    • "'Valley of the dogs' style."
    • "The miracle of death: one moment, you're a person, and the next, you're an object."
  • Battle Strip: No shirt, no shoes while fighting.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Marla and the Narrator.
    • The Narrator and Tyler, more so in the book.
  • Better Living Through Evil: Tyler helping the Narrator.
  • Black Comedy
  • Broken Ace: Tyler, being the narrator's subconscious conception of his ideal self, which he manifests as an alternate personality.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The paraffin explosive has never worked...
  • The Commandments: The rules of Fight Club.
  • Dark Messiah: Tyler.
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    • "The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about fight club." Justified in-universe, since Tyler isn't joking — you really shouldn't be telling anyone.
    • "...the president of the united union of united projection operators independent and united theaters united..."
  • Dissonant Serenity: The union president beating Tyler as hard as he can and Tyler just laughing.
    "Get it out. Trust me. You'll feel a lot better. You'll feel great."
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Ho Yay between Tyler and the narrator is very much intentional.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: The story is supposed to show how awful and self-destructive Fight Club, Project Mayhem and basically anything at all to do with Tyler Durden is, but some fans instead think it's glorifying violence and Tyler is living the life they all want to live, to the point where some people are setting up Fight Clubs.
    • Alternatively, the story is supposed to mock both ways. It's meant to scorn the normal corporate suburban life and how people need to learn to let go a little more, but also show the dangers of living completely like someone like Tyler. Both the book and the movie show that you can and need to find a balance, and not become a person solely focused on their appearance, money, and job, but not become a self-destructive nihilistic nut like Tyler.
      Project Mayhem was an exaggerated version of the very real Cacophony Society, which the author was a member of. The Cacophony Society was formed out of a group known as the Suicide Club (though they did not actually commit suicide) and is more or less the evil twin of Improv Everywhere, where they play pranks to make people unhappy rather than happy.
    • Later printings include an afterword where Palahniuk disclaims any credit for inventing the Cool Things. Waiters, he says, have always put foul things in aristocrats' food. Projectionists have always collected banned or distasteful works. Around the world and throughout recorded history, men have fought for the simple reason of celebrating their manliness.
  • Driven to Suicide: The narrator reaches this point near halfway, but Tyler wants an operatic death so he can die a martyr. Then, subverted when the Narrator's goal is to stop Tyler.
  • Empty Fridge Empty Life: "Yeah, I know, I know, a house full of condiments and no real food."
  • Everything's Better with Space Monkeys
  • Evil Feels Good
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Tyler Durden. Sort of. More of an Evilutionary Sociologist, all things considered.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: The Narrator gets a hole through his cheek. Near the end, he gets another hole when he shoots himself in the mouth, describing himself as an angry Halloween pumpkin or Japanese demon mask.
  • Fight Clubbing: The Trope Namer.
  • Foreshadowing: Especially obvious with lines such as, "I know this because Tyler knows this", "If you could wake up in a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?" When the Narrator fights himself in the Pressman Hotel manager's office, he muses, "For some reason, I was reminded of my first fight with Tyler."
  • Freudian Threat: The threat to cut off someone's balls happens a few times.
  • Gag Boobs: Bob is a rare male example.
  • Genre-Busting: Looking past the bare-knuckle fights and domestic terrorism, this is probably the best example of a Romantic Black Comedy.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: The narrator and Tyler do this to the Project Mayhem applicants, which becomes really weird after you get to The Reveal.
  • Groin Attack: "Anyone interferes with Project Mayhem, we gotta get his balls."
  • Happy Place: Ireland. But it turns out this was the narrator's first taste of rebellion when he peed on the Blarney Stone.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: By the end, Tyler has shaped his group to be just as conformist as the consumerist society he's trying to overthrow, and in some cases, it's even worse. Many fans of the novel missed this point.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: "I want you to hit me as hard as you can."
  • Homoerotic Subtext: All over the place, and in fact is an important part of the plot, since much of the conflict may stem from the Narrator's sexual confusion. The phallic imagery gets so out of control that at many points it's not even imagery.
  • How We Got Here:
  • I Ate What?: The movie has several references to people urinating or worse into food, based on stories told to the author by waiters who spoiled the food of bad customers.
    Narrator: And clean food, alright?
    Waiter in the Tyler-staffed restaurant: In that case, may I advise against the lady eating the clam chowder?
  • I'm Not Afraid Of You
  • Imaginary Friend
  • Jekyll & Hyde: The big twist of the story.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: One interpretation of the third act of both film and book.
  • Life Will Kill You
    Narrator: "On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."
  • Made of Iron: Lots of characters, but particularly Tyler.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Darkly subverted with Marla. Tyler is sort of a Manic Pixie Dream Guy.
    • Marla is a Double Subversion in the book: it turns out she has served as a confidant to many messed-up guys, and even helps the Narrator when they find out the Narrator and Tyler are the same person.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Tyler.
  • Masquerade: If you're not allowed to talk about Fight Club, you might never know who is in on it and who isn't. The narrator mentions that nobody knows whether a prank pulled in public was pulled by Project Mayhem or not because the first rule is you do not ask questions. This is lampshaded in both the book and movie when police officers the narrator is counting on to save him from castration appear to be part of Project Mayhem.
  • Meaningful Echo: A lot of them, too many to cite. Possibly as much as ten percent of the text.
  • Memetic Mutation: The much referenced and parodied "The first rule of fight club..." line, as well as "You are not a unique and beautiful snowflake..." Played darkly with in the In-Universe example, "His name is Robert Paulson", when the Narrator first realizes that no matter how much he tries, any members of Project Mayhem not present at the birth of a rule will just become the Misaimed Fandom of the mutated meaning.
    • "On a long enough timeline, the ______ drops to zero." Often used in regards to music quality of bands who start out good but degrade as new albums are released.
  • Mental Story: In large part, but a lot of interesting stuff happens in reality, too.
  • Mind Screw: The book is weird from the start, but after a certain point, everything gets thrown out the window.
  • Missing Time
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Tyler sounds like one at first glance, but it soon becomes apparent that he's anything but a true nihilist.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • The "fights" in the film are usually sloppy brawls or lopsided beat-downs, particularly the Narrator vs Angel Face, and Tyler vs the Narrator.
  • No Name Given: The Narrator. Brilliant subversion, actually.
  • Percussive Therapy: A big part of the novel's premise, and gradually taken apart when the group begins going too far.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Marla compares a bridesmaid's dress to a rape victim. She's that kind of weird. Since it's heavily indicated that Tyler isn't her first abusive partner, she probably knows what she's talking about here...
  • Rated M for Manly: One of the themes of the story is that society has neutered the male nature and made traditionally male impulses and activities shameful or discouraged — the Fight Club itself is, in part, a way for the characters to subvert society's expectations by releasing their impulses in secret (emphasis is put in dialogue on the Club being "for men only"). This makes it one of the most notable masculist (yes, there is such a thing) works out there.
    • Given how the story ends, and the actual results of said Masculism, it would ultimately appear to be deconstructing the idea. Eventually, Fight Club is just the sort of conformist machine its members were seeking to escape, it just got a different set of rules. As noted elsewhere, the ultimate arc of the story seems to be "the oppression and stifling of consumer life is pretty bad, but there's something fundamentally wrong when you go around creating underground clubs that start fucking with people."
  • Reality Subtext: Palahniuk was wrestling with his sexuality at the time of writing, and came out as gay shortly after the novel's publication.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Tyler is impulsive and rash, whereas the Narrator is a calm and cool corporate executive. Their different personalities are, of course, all mixed-up in the heat of the fight, and then we find out that they're actually Not So Different.
  • Revised Ending: In the book, The protagonist tries to destroy one building, but fails when Tyler botches the explosive mixture (the botching of which is foreshadowed in the book's opening chapter.) The Narrator ends up in a place he describes as being Heaven, but is really a mental institution, and some of its wardens are members of Project Mayhem, convinced that Tyler some day will return from the depths of the Narrator's mind and are patiently waiting for it. It's also stated outright (instead of suggested in the film) that the mental split happened the moment the Narartor fell in love with Marla; the Tyler psyche loved her while his regular psyche hated her. In the movie, the Narrator manages to regain his sanity, eleven buildings are destroyed by Tyler's explosives, and the Narrator and Marla hold hands while watching in awe. Big black cock, roll credits. Chuck Palahniuk likes the movie's ending more than his.
  • Rule Number One: There are eight rules, though people only remember the first two (which are the same rule) due to Memetic Mutation.
  • Screw Yourself: Ho Yay between Tyler Durden and the Narrator is something akin to this.
  • Secret Other Family: The narrator's father, repeatedly.
    "This isn't so much like a family as it's like he sets up a franchise."
  • Sensei for Scoundrels: The trope was originally titled The Tyler Durden, which still exists as a redirect.
  • The Snark Knight: The narrator and Tyler, Tyler moreso, being the narrator's uninhibited id manifested as a split personality.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Heathers.
  • Subliminal Seduction: Tyler inserts single frames of pornography into children's films, and later threatens to reveal this to the public unless the boss of the projectionists' union pays him off.
  • Technology Marches On: A few minor examples:
    • Tyler asks the narrator to photocopy the rules of Fight Club on the copier in his office, rather than simply asking him to type them out and print them.
    • One of Project Mayhem's pranks involves them pouring petrol into the tube of a CRT monitor so that it explodes when turned on - when's the last time you saw one of those?
    • The narrator writes haikus and faxes them to everyone in his office. This was changed to e-mail in the film.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: A classic example.
  • Trickster: Tyler.
  • ‹bermensch: Tyler. Charismatic? Check. Atheistic? Check. Has agenda intended to tear down the existing establishment (mindless consumerism coupled with a society where masculinity cannot be expressed openly) with a new paradigm after rejecting all previous moral codes and overcoming the inherent nihilism? Check. Has a Last Man equivalent (and in the protagonist, no less)? Check.
  • The Unfettered: Tyler Durden
  • Unreliable Narrator
  • We Are Everywhere: Noteworthy because it's delivered to the man charged with taking them down at his own reception.
    Tyler Durden: Remember this. The people you're trying to step on, we're everyone you depend on. We're the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you're asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life. We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we'll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won't. And we're just learning this fact. So don't fuck with us.
  • Western Terrorists: Project Mayhem. A rare case in that the fact that the terrorists are Western is the entire point.
  • Wham Line: "You have a birthmark, Mr. Durden."
  • Where It All Began: Near the ending, the narrator returns to his apartment after blacking out, then reunites with Marla post-blackout at the support group they met at it, only to learn he killed someone at a murder mystery party while he was Tyler.
  • You Are Too Late: Subverted. Marla and the support groups would have arrived too late to save the Narrator and stop the buildings from coming down, but Tyler's bomb didn't work properly.
    Tyler, you mixed the nitro with paraffin, didn't you.

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