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Fight Club is a fiction novel written by Chuck Palahniuk. It was Palahniuk’s first novel. The narrator who remains unnamed throughout the book suffers from insomnia. He finds solace in support group meetings designed for people with terminal illnesses though he isn’t one. After sometime a lady called Marla joins the group faking illness since this is a group for men with testicle cancer. Marla causes the narrator unease since the narrator new this was another faker. Then the narrator meets Tyler Durden a social misfit controller.
The narrator and Durden begins an underground club dedicated to men for releasing their stress and anger. The men meet secretly and beat each other mercilessly to a point of being semi-conscious. With time members become obsessed with fight club and to Tyler Durden it becomes a lifestyle. Fight club mutates into Project Mayhem a destructive underground movement that’s wreaks havoc leaving a trail of destruction in its path. The novel is comical, satirical and captivating all through.
About the writer
Charles Michael Palahniuk was born in February 21, 1962 in Burbank, Washington. When he was fourteen years old, his parents separated leaving Palahniuk with his maternal grandmother. His paternal grandfather shot dead his grandmother in presence of the Chuck’s father who escaped death by a whisker in the same incidence. The grandfather then shot himself.
Feminism in the book
Fight club has a strong denunciation of feminism. The narrator puts it thus; "What you see in fight club is a generation of men raised by women”. This is partly attributed toan increasingly assertive modern American woman, who has led to a lot of divorce cases and separations, leaving behind a generation of young men without fathers. These men lack the love of a father and a figurehead. They therefore grow up feeling unloved and without direction. The result of it is that they are mentally unstable and inwardly full of anger which they look for every opportunity to release. The blame is placed on women for oppressing young men as they grew up and for failing to involve fathers in the upbringing of their sons.
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Chuck gives an insight to this anger. A whole lot of white male Americans were brought up to become The Patriarchs, that they would have for inheritance a certain place in the world but now they are becoming increasingly angry because that world is no more and in its place there is nothing. This is now manifested through a generation of young white Americans that loath women, seem disillusioned, and turning to violence and destruction to release their frustration. The impression created is that if the females were less assertive and more accommodating, the husbands would have stuck with them and there would be partnership between the mother and the father in raising-up the children. These young men would be different then as they would have had the love of a father and a figurehead for them to respect and to show them direction.
The father is also seen as an earthly representation of God. So crucial is he that his absence is equated to be cut from God as this conversation between the Narrator and a mechanic recruited to Project Mayhem shows:
The mechanic says, “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?(Palahniuk 141)
Yet an increasingly feminine society has denied men this connection rendering them hopeless.
Fight club comes into being at a time in history when the Western men witness the past symbolic patriarchy recede and dissolve and are understandably worried and afraid of the new order and their position in it.
The book has only one female character Marla Singer. She is portrayed as a self-hating, self-serving woman beyond help. She smokes and displays all the characteristics that are traditionally associated with men. “I embrace my own festering diseased corruption” she says as she twists the cigarette into the soft belly of her arm uttering the words “burn, witch, burn.” This behavior is attributed to being raised in a matriarchal society devoid of fathers.
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Marla Singer represents everything manly but very little feminine. Her life philosophy “is that she can die at any moment. The trouble of her life is that she doesn’t” (Palahniuk, 18). This risky behavior is more of a masculine behavior than the feminine she is. Hell, 14 argued that “Marla is the underrepresented compliment to a masculine movement that is trying to break away from female reliance.” She plays a prominent role in the novel and is seen as the mover behind many of the actions. She is a representation of female dominance. She raids the Narrators group sending him back to insomnia, he juggles between the Narrator and Tyler and rather than the usual female who is taken care of by the man, Marla is calling shots. She displays unrivalled confidence. The traditional female is expected to be shy and calm but not Marla Singer. She is courageous enough to attend a therapeutic group of men only. She comes with noisy a high-heeled shoe that attracts everybody’s attention without shying off and she walks with similar confidence. She is also the only woman living with men who can be considered dangerous and she seems to fit well.
The Narrator on the other hand, who is a man, displays feminine tendencies. This is attributed to pervasion that has come as a result of breaking up of the traditional family where a man was the leader. Instead the families now are headed by women. The effect is since the woman is the head of the modern family; girls emulate her and acquire an assertive nature. Boys on the other hand acquire a submissive nature reversing the traditional set-up. The men in Fight Club fear exclusion in the new order. Tyler positions himself as anti-establishment and rallies his followers around rebellion to the modern society. The narrator outlines Project Mayhem thus:
Tyler said the goal of Project Mayhem had nothing to do with other people. Tyler didn’t care if other people got hurt or not. The goal was to teach each man in the project that he had power to control history. We each one of us, can take control of the world. (Palahniuk 122)
Tyler promises the participants of Project Mayhem that it will teach them how to be the masters of their own self. In Fight Club it is clear men have lost their position as the dominant sex. They have been relegated to weak and helpless persons. The Narrator is attending support groups such as “Remaining Men Together”, a support group dedicated to men ailing from testicular cancer. In this group men come together, console each other and cry together. Crying is traditionally associated with women not men. The men therefore are portrayed as the weaker sex and feminine. This is quite different from the masculine manifestation of ruggedness and perseverance commonly associated with men. To illustrate this, the Narrator argues that Marla acts as proof to the feminized character of the therapeutic groups. Her presence in the testicular cancer group proved the Narrator’s fears of the “manliness” of group therapy.
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In this support group we also meet Bob, ‘a man that had big tits like a bitch’. Bob consoles the Narrator and gives him a big hug. Together they cry on each other shoulders. This is rather a feminine characteristic as compared to masculine. Robert Paulson (Bob) therefore represents feminizing of men socially and physically. Bob’s feminized figure underscores the lengths of the men’s fear of castration-he is “bankrupt, divorced, and with two kids who can’t even answer his calls.” A man that used to be a body-builder(the peak of ‘manliness’) reduced to having no testicles with a hormonal imbalance that enlarges her breasts. Economically he would never feature in commercials that gave him money to educate his children and to take care of his wife now divorced. Unfortunately for Bob he had brought this on himself by using steroids to boost his physique.
Consumerism which is a central theme in the novel is also blame for feminizing the society. It is linked to what would well pass for a woman’s domain; AKA shopping and domestic world. The Narrator says “we used to read pornography (men’s’ staff), now it was the Horchow collection” (women’s). Consumerism and capitalism are blamed for the destruction of the American male. The Narrator is “a thirty year old boy” employed in the recall division of Federal Motor Corporation. Capitalism has women from home into offices and industries to compete with men for the same jobs. Women demand less than men for the same job. Capitalism therefore has brought about emasculation of men by paying women less forcing men to work more.
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Women are also taking more and more white-collar jobs that were historically held by men displacing men to lesser paying blue-collar jobs. These are seen as resulting from consumerism and capitalism and Project Mayhem is seen as a way of destroying these so that man can return to his real self; to the man he was before society constrained him.
Considering the novels post-modern concerns, it is clear that the cultural set-up it presents is feminized and covertly incremented for the symbolic castration of a whole generation of men. The novel addresses the anger of many young American males and many in the Western world who are facing a different world in which they are unable to adapt. Many who have been brought up without the strong arm of a father, without a hero to emulate and to guide them from boyhood into manhood. Many who are out without jobs because they feel the present world set-up favours women over men.