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Book Review: Fight Club by Palahniuk (1996)

Updated on March 4, 2015

Fight Club is a title of a popular novel written by Chuck Palahniuk (1996). The novel focuses on unidentified protagonists who narrate the experiences of living and dealing with insomnia. Having been inspired by the doctor who informs him that insomnia is not related to suffering, the unnamed protagonist finds relief through pretending that he is seriously sick in order to be given support from various support groups. While in this endeavor of seeking relief through impersonation, he encounters a mysterious man by the name Durden Tyler and together, they form an underground fighting club as a means of establishing radical psychotherapy and cultivating their own self-identities. Although the main narrator in this novel is not identified, he presents the ideals of a common man in today’s society which can be related in real life aspects. Therefore, the narrator can be regarded as a reliable man.

The unnamed narrator in the novel is identified as a specialist in product recall for a company, which is not, identified either. After some time, the anonymous narrator is diagnosed for insomnia, which according to the doctor is attributed to regular business trips and the stressful jobs in his company. Upon seeking treatment, the doctor informs him that his condition is no disease at all a there are more serious conditions that can make one worry. In this respect, he informs him to visit a testicles cancer victim to find out on “what real suffering is”. This encounter with the doctor raises his self-ego as he gets to know that there are many people who are undergoing intense suffering than him.

The Character

The unnamed narrator is a common man who works at a certain car company, as a recall specialist. Just like any man who may be having the condition of insomnia, the narrator finds himself under constant depression because of his insomnia condition. Though his identity in the novel is concealed, he may be identified by the nickname of Joe because he employs this name on regular basis throughout the novel such as

"I am Joe's blank" (25) or "I am Joe's boiling point" (141).

Moreover, the narrator puts himself in the level of a common man when he feels that his sub-consciousness has a need of freedom since he feels to have been trapped within himself by insomnia. Upon meeting Tyler Durden, he starts seeing the qualities that he lacks and admires them

"I sincerely love the character of Tyler Durden, particularly his smartness, courage, and his nerviness. Tyler is independent, forceful and funny and is a role model for many people. Furthermore, he is free and with capability, while am not” (174).

From this articulation, is clear that he undervalues himself and has a low self-esteem.

The relation of the narrator with the Novels Theme

The main theme in this novel is that of emasculation. This relates to the idea that in today’s society, men do not want to do anything themselves, but want others to do things for them. Masculinity has become a brand, which is also used as a means of selling products or services to men. According to this concept, a “real man” is one who owns something like a car, an expensive watch, and not necessarily understanding yourself or the values that you hold. Consequently, the narrator and other characters in the Fight club have failed to take an approach of living and finding themselves and who they are. For instance, in page 174, the narrator says that.

"I sincerely love the character of Tyler Durden, particularly his smartness, courage, and his nerviness. Tyler is independent, forceful and funny and is a role model for many people. Furthermore, he is free and with capability, while am not” (174).

This implies that the narrator has stopped appreciating himself or identifying his positive aspect while focusing and admiring the achievement of Tyler Durden. Furthermore, the character is trying to put himself in the fighting experience in order to face pain and fear with the hope of stripping away the unnecessary parts of their lives, as well as discovering their true identities. Although we may blame this narrator for acts and behavior, which may appear as “cowardice”, this is in fact what many people in today’s society are doing. In other words, men have failed to find their identities or values while admiring those of others because of their popularity or achievement.

Further, the Narrator has also experienced emasculation particularly in the face of Marla’s relationship with Tyler. He develops a feeling that owing to the development of this relationship, his relationship with Tyler has been lost. Typically, the narrator places a high value for Tyler whom he considers as embodying a good sense of masculinity. Interestingly, this depiction of Tyler as a perfect form of masculinity is only existing in the narrator’s mind as a physician who should be emulated by others and not in actual or physical sense. This is reminiscence of today’s advertisements, which give pictures of how men ought to look. Failing to attract the attention of Tyler makes the narrator to develop a sense of rejection, which is simply bordered on romantic jealousy.

The castration threat in the book also makes the characters fearful. This is apparent when the narrator meets Bob and other men at the support group who had lost their testicles to cancer. In addition, this threat of being castrated is also employed by Tyler, as well as the space monkeys in making the police commissioner stop his investigations. The narrator is also himself threatened with castration for his intention of closing down the fight club. These men cannot imagine themselves losing their sense of manhood and they consider this as the worst possible fate that can befall them. These feelings develop because of the project mayhem and the fight club, which has helped them to appreciate themselves and their masculinity.


From the plot, narration and characterization of the narrator and events surrounding the “Fight Club”, it is apparent that the narrator, though anonymous and unidentified throughout the novel is a reliable man who typifies a common man in today’s society. In today system, men have stopped embracing core values and cultivating their own identities. Instead, they admire others and want to live according to the lifestyle advocated by the media platforms without considering whether such values and people exists in the real world. The unidentified narrator in this novel has been effective in presenting such ideals.


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