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Literature / Fight Club

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I am Joe's novel.

"People are always asking me if I know about Tyler Durden..."
—The Narrator

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:

  • 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.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: To messages to Be Yourself. Tyler's view is that this trope, far from liberating people, does little more than turn them into atomized pawns of consumer capitalism with nobody to turn to for help, and endeavors to recreate a lost sense of brotherhood among men. The reconstruction comes when the story turns around and deconstructs Tyler's own worldview, which eventually turns into a totalitarian cult that dehumanizes its subjects even more thoroughly than they were before. The Narrator's victory comes from rebelling against Tyler and becoming his own man.
  • 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, and repeating the rule makes the importance of secrecy more memorable.
    • Similarly, the first two rules of Project Mayhem are the same: you do not ask questions.
    • "...the president of the united union of united projection operators independent and united theaters united..."
    • God asks me, "Why?"
      Why did I cause so much pain?
      Didn't I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness?
  • Disobey This Message: A key component of Tyler's ideology is that he believes that individualism is a sham used by the elites to atomize and exploit the masses, and that it always ends in people doing what they're told even when they're told to be themselves.
  • 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.
    • 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."
  • 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. The titular Fight Club doesn't end at fighting, though.
  • 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.
  • Gainax Ending: In the prologue to the graphic novel sequel to the book, most, if not all, of the ending is implied to have been just the Narrator's own hallucinations while in the mental institution. A variant of the book's undeniably happened, except with Marla giving a more definite declaration of affection and onset of pregnancy, but the confrontation with Tyler is framed through both electro-shock therapy and the actual shot through the cheek.
  • 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: The story begins with the Narrator and Tyler on top of a building about to be blown up. Then it proceeds to show how things got to that point.
  • 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?
  • 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. Doubly so for the Narrator when it's revealed that he's 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.
  • 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.
  • Murder-Suicide: Tyler's plan is to bring down a skyscraper with him and the Narrator in it, crashing into a museum, causing it to kill hundreds.
  • 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's true name is never brought up.
  • 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...
  • Present Tense Narrative
  • 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."
  • 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 the same person.
  • Rule-Abiding Rebel: This is a major component of the satire. Project Mayhem, Tyler Durden's hyper-macho, anti-consumerist revolutionary group, is ultimately founded on the very same philosophical base as the culture that they think they overthrowing, buying into the same idealized vision of masculinity that they got from pop culture and society. They're not rebelling so much as they are lashing out mindlessly, still trying to get a perfect life as "real men", only through fighting and terrorism instead of consumerism.
  • Rule #1: There are eight rules, though people only remember the first two (which are the same rule) due to Memetic Mutation.
  • Shout-Out: When the Narrator explains to Marla that Tyler is his Split Personality, comparisons are drawn to the movies Psycho and Sybil.
  • The Snark Knight: The narrator and Tyler, Tyler moreso, being the narrator's uninhibited id manifested as a split personality.
  • 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.
  • √úbermensch: 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.
  • Unreliable Narrator: A great deal of events in the novel are called into question after The Reveal that Tyler and the Narrator are one and the same.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Where's the Kaboom?: Tyler's plan to bring down a building fails, because he used paraffin mixed with nitro.
  • 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.