Fight Club (novel)

Fight Club (novel)
Fight Club  
First edition cover
Author(s) Chuck Palahniuk
Cover artist Michael Ian Kaye
Melissa Hayden
Proverbial Inc.
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Satirical novel
Publisher W. W. Norton
Publication date August 17, 1996
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 208
ISBN 0-393-03976-5
OCLC Number 33440073
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 20
LC Classification PS3566.A4554 F54 1996
Followed by Survivor

Fight Club is a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. It follows the experiences of an unnamed protagonist struggling with insomnia. Inspired by his doctor's exasperated remark that insomnia is not suffering, he finds relief by impersonating a seriously ill person in several support groups. Then he meets a mysterious man named Tyler Durden and establishes an underground fighting club as radical psychotherapy.[1]

In 1999, director David Fincher adapted the novel into a film of the same name, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. The film acquired a cult following despite lower than expected box-office results. The film's notoriety heightened the profile of the novel and that of Palahniuk.



The novel was inspired by an altercation Palahniuk once had while camping.[2] Though he was bruised and swollen, his co-workers avoided asking him what had happened on the camping trip. Their reluctance to know what happened in his private life inspired the writing of Fight Club.

Palahniuk first tried to publish his novel Invisible Monsters, but it was rejected by publishers due to the novel being too disturbing. Instead he concentrated on Fight Club, intending it to be more disturbing. Initially Fight Club was published as a seven-page short story in the compilation Pursuit of Happiness, but Palahniuk expanded it to novel length (in which the original short story became chapter six)[3]

Fight Club was re-issued in 1999 and 2004, the latter edition including an author's introduction about the conception and popularity of novel and movie, in which the author states

...bookstores were full of books like The Joy Luck Club and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and How to Make an American Quilt. These were all novels that presented a social model for women to be together. But there was no novel that presented a new social model for men to share their lives.

He later goes on to explain

Really, what I was writing was just The Great Gatsby updated a little. It was "apostolic" fiction - where a surviving apostle tells the story of his hero. There are two men and a woman. And one man, the hero, is shot to death.

The original hardcover edition of Fight Club was well reviewed. The book received critical interest and eventually generated cinematic-adaptation interest. In 1999, screenwriters Jim Uhls, August Olsen, and co-producers Conor Strait and Aaron Curry joined with director David Fincher. The film "failed" at the box office,[4] but nevertheless a cult following emerged with the DVD edition and as a result an original, hardcover edition of the novel is now a collector's item.[5]

In interviews, the writer has said he does not know, yet still is approached by aficionados wanting to know—Where is the local fight club?—insisting there is no such real organization, like in the novel. However, he has heard of real fight clubs, some said to have existed before the novel. The novel's current  introduction refers to actual, fight-club-style mischief, by a "waiter from one of London's two finest restaurants" who said he ejaculated into Margaret Thatcher's food. Moreover, Project Mayhem is lightly based on the Cacophony Society, of which he is a member, and other events derived from stories told to him.[6]

Fight Club's cultural impact is evidenced by U.S. teenagers' and techies' establishment of fight clubs.[7] Pranks, such as food-tampering, have been repeated by fans of the book, documented in Palahniuk's essay "Monkey Think, Monkey Do",[8] in the book Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories and in the introduction to the 2004 re-issue of Fight Club. Other fans have been inspired to pro-social activity, telling Palahniuk the novel had inspired them to return to college.[3]

Besides Fight Club, few of Palahniuk's writings have been adapted, although his novel Choke was made into a movie in 2008. In 2004 Fight Club was to be transformed into musical theater, developed by Palahniuk, Fincher, and Trent Reznor.[9] A dramatic version was penned by Dylan Yates and has been performed in Seattle and in Charlotte, North Carolina.[10]


Fight Club centers on an anonymous Narrator, who works as a product recall specialist for an unnamed car company. Because of the stress of his job and the jet lag brought upon by frequent business trips, he begins to suffer from recurring insomnia. When he seeks treatment, the Narrator's doctor advises him to visit a support group for testicular cancer victims to "see what real suffering is like". The Narrator finds that sharing the problems of others -- despite not actually having testicular cancer himself -- alleviates his insomnia.

The Narrator's unique treatment works until he meets Marla Singer, another "tourist" who visits the support group under false pretenses. The possibly disturbed Marla reminds the Narrator that he is a faker who does not belong there. He begins to hate Marla for keeping him from crying, and, therefore, from sleeping. After a confrontation, the two agree to attend separate support group meetings to avoid each other. The truce is uneasy, however, and the Narrator's insomnia returns.

Whilst on a nude beach, the Narrator meets Tyler Durden, a charismatic extremist of mysterious means. After an explosion destroys the narrator's condominium, he asks to stay at Tyler's house. Tyler agrees, but asks for something in return: "I want you to hit me as hard as you can."[11] Both men find that they enjoy the ensuing fistfight. They subsequently move in together and establish a "fight club", drawing countless men with similar temperaments into bare-knuckle fighting matches, set to the following rules:

  1. You don't talk about fight club.
  2. You don't talk about fight club.[12]
  3. When someone says stop, or goes limp, the fight is over.[13]
  4. Only two guys to a fight.
  5. One fight at a time.
  6. They fight without shirts or shoes.
  7. The fights go on as long as they have to.
  8. If this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight.

Fight Club, pages 48–50[14]

Later in the book, a mechanic tells the Narrator about two new rules of the fight club: that nobody is the center of the fight club except for the two men fighting, and that the fight club will always be free.

Marla, noticing that the Narrator hasn't recently attended his support groups, calls him to claim that she has overdosed on Xanax in a half-hearted suicide attempt. Tyler returns from work, picks up the phone to Marla's drug-induced rambling, and rescues her. Tyler and Marla embark on an uneasy affair that confounds the Narrator and confuses Marla. Throughout this affair, Marla is unaware both of fight club's existence and the interaction between Tyler and the Narrator. Because Tyler and Marla are never seen at the same time, the Narrator wonders if Tyler and Marla are the same person.

As fight club attains a nationwide presence, Tyler uses it to spread his anti-consumerist ideas, recruiting fight club's members to participate in increasingly elaborate pranks on corporate America. He eventually gathers the most devoted fight club members and forms "Project Mayhem," a cult-like organization that trains itself as an army to bring down modern civilization. This organization, like fight club, is controlled by a set of rules:

  1. You don't ask questions.
  2. You don't ask questions.
  3. No excuses.
  4. No lies.
  5. You have to trust Tyler.

Fight Club, pages 119, 122, 125[15]

While initially a loyal participant in Project Mayhem, the Narrator becomes uncomfortable with the increasing destructiveness of its activities. He resolves to stop Tyler and his followers when Bob, a friend of his from the testicular cancer support group, is killed during one of Project Mayhem's sabotage operations. However, the Narrator learns that he himself is Tyler;[16] Tyler is not a separate person, but a separate personality.

As the Narrator's mental state deteriorated, his mind formed a new personality that was able to escape from the problems of his life. Marla inadvertently reveals to the Narrator that he and Tyler are the same person. Tyler's affair with Marla -- whom the Narrator professes to dislike -- was actually his own affair with Marla. The Narrator's bouts of insomnia had actually been Tyler's personality surfacing. Tyler would be active whenever the Narrator was "sleeping." The Tyler personality not only created fight club, but also blew up the Narrator's condo.

Tyler plans to blow up a skyscraper using homemade bombs created by Project Mayhem; the actual target of the explosion, however, is the nearby national museum. Tyler plans to die as a martyr during this event, taking the Narrator's life as well. Realizing this, the Narrator sets out to stop Tyler, although Tyler is always thinking ahead of him. The Narrator makes his way to the roof of the building, where he is held at gunpoint by Tyler. However, when Marla comes to the roof with one of the support groups, Tyler vanishes, as he "was his hallucination, not hers."[17]

With Tyler gone, the Narrator waits for the bomb to explode and kill him. However, the bomb malfunctions because Tyler mixed paraffin into the explosives. Still alive and holding Tyler's gun, the narrator decides to make the first decision that is truly his own: he puts the gun in his mouth and shoots himself. Some time later, he awakens in a mental hospital, believing that he is in Heaven and imagines an argument with God over human nature. The book ends with the Narrator being approached by hospital employees who reveal themselves to be Project members. They tell him that their plans still continue, and that they are expecting Tyler to come back.



A modern day every man figure as well as an employee specializing in recalls for an unnamed car company, he is extremely depressed and suffers from insomnia. The narrator in Fight Club is unnamed throughout the novel. Some readers call him "Joe" because of his constant use of the name in statements such as "I am Joe's boiling point". The quotes "I am Joe's [blank]" refer to the narrator's reading old Reader's Digest articles in which human organs write about themselves in the first person, with titles such as "I Am Joe's Liver". The film adaptation replaces "Joe" with "Jack", inspiring some fans to call the narrator "Jack". In the novel and film, he uses fake names in the support groups. His subconscious is in need of a sense of freedom, he inevitably feels trapped within his own body and when introduced to Tyler Durdan, he begins to see all of the qualities he lacks in himself, "I love everything about Tyler Durdan, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and forceful and independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free, and I am not"[18]

Tyler Durden

"Because of his nature,"[19] Tyler works night jobs where he sabotages companies and harms clients. He also steals left-over drained human fat from liposuction clinics to supplement his income through soap making and create the ingredients for bomb manufacturing, which will be put to work later with his fight club. He is the co-founder of Fight Club, as it was his idea to instigate the fight that led to it. He later launches Project Mayhem, from which he and the members commit various attacks on consumerism. Tyler is blond, as by the narrator's comment "in his everything-blond way". The unhinged but magnetic Tyler becomes the antagonist of the novel later in the story.

Marla Singer

A woman whom the narrator meets during a support group. The narrator no longer receives the same release from the groups when he realizes Marla is faking her problems just like he is. After he leaves the groups, he meets her again when she becomes Tyler's lover. Marla is shown to be extremely grungy and uncaring, and sometimes even suicidal. At times though, she does show a softer, more caring side.

Robert "Bob" Paulson

A man that the narrator meets at a support group for testicular cancer. A former bodybuilder, Bob lost his testicles to cancer caused by the steroids he used to bulk up his muscles and had to undergo testosterone injections; this resulted in his body increasing its estrogen, causing him to grow large "Bitch Tits" and develop a softer voice. Because of this, Bob is the only known member who is allowed to wear a shirt. The narrator befriends Bob and, after leaving the groups, meets him again in Fight Club. Bob's death later in the story, while carrying out an assignment for Project Mayhem, causes the narrator to turn against Tyler because the members of Project Mayhem treat it as a trivial matter instead of a tragedy. When the narrator explains that the dead man had a name and was a real person, a member of Project Mayhem interprets this as an order to give names to all those who had died. The unnamed member begins chanting "His name is Robert Paulson," and this phrase becomes a mantra that the narrator encounters later on in the story multiple times.

Angel Face

A man who joins Fight Club. He is very loyal to Project Mayhem, laughing at the vandalism he and a group of 'space monkeys' caused as their crimes appear on the evening news. Angel Face is considered to be very beautiful, hence the name 'Angel face'. The blond-haired beauty suffers a savage beating at the hands of the Narrator during a session at Fight Club, the Narrator states that he "wanted to destroy something beautiful". The next time Angel Face is heard of in the novel, he is described as not being quite as beautiful anymore.


At two points in the novel, the narrator claims he wants to "wipe [his] ass with the Mona Lisa"; a mechanic who joins Fight Club also repeats this to him in one scene.[20] This motif shows his desire for chaos, later explicitly expressed in his urge to "destroy something beautiful". Additionally, he mentions at one point that "Nothing is static. Even the Mona Lisa is falling apart."[21] University of Calgary literary scholar Paul Kennett claims that this want for chaos is a result of an Oedipus complex, as the narrator, Tyler, and the mechanic all show disdain for their fathers.[22] This is most explicitly stated in the scene that the mechanic appears in:

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?
How Tyler saw it was that getting God’s attention for being bad was better than getting no attention at all. Maybe because God’s hate is better than His indifference.
If you could be either God’s worst enemy or nothing, which would you choose?
We are God’s middle children, according to Tyler Durden, with no special place in history and no special attention.
Unless we get God’s attention, we have no hope of damnation or redemption.
Which is worse, hell or nothing?
Only if we’re caught and punished can we be saved.
“Burn the Louvre,” the mechanic says, “and wipe your ass with the Mona Lisa. This way at least, God would know our names.”

Fight Club, page 141[23]

Kennett further argues that Tyler wants to use this chaos to change history so that "God's middle children" will have some historical significance, whether or not this significance is "damnation or redemption".[24] This will figuratively return their absent fathers, as judgment by future generations will replace judgment by their fathers.

After reading Reader's Digest articles written from the perspective of the organs of a man named Joe, the narrator begins using similar quotations to describe his feelings, often replacing organs with feelings and things involved in his life ("I am Joe's smirking revenge", etc.).

The color cornflower blue first appears as the color of the narrator's boss's tie and later is requested as an icon color by the same boss.[21] Later, it is mentioned that his boss has eyes of the same color. These mentions of the color are the first of many uses of cornflower blue in Palahniuk's books.

Isolationism, specifically directed towards material items and possessions, is a common theme throughout the novel. Tyler acts as the major catalyst behind the destruction of our vanities, which he claims is the path to finding our inner-selves. "I'm breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions," Tyler whispered, "because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit."


Much of the novel comments on how many men in modern society have found dissatisfaction with the state of masculinity. The characters of the novel lament the fact that many of them were raised by their mothers because their fathers either abandoned their family or divorced their mothers. As a result, they see themselves as being "a generation of men raised by women,"[25] being without a male example in their lives to help shape their masculinity. This ties in with the anti-consumer culture theme, as the men in the novel see their "IKEA nesting instinct" as resulting from the feminization of men in a matriarchal culture. The anti-consumer culture theme present in the novel is very enforced by the Narrator and his fascination with his apartments purchases,"You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you."[26]

Maryville University of St. Louis professor Jesse Kavadlo, in an issue of the literary journal Stirrings Still, claimed that the narrator's opposition to emasculation is a form of projection and that the problem that he fights is himself.[27] He also claims that Palahniuk uses existentialism in the novel to conceal subtexts of feminism and romance in order to convey these concepts in a novel that is mainly aimed at a male audience.[28]

Palahniuk gives a simpler assertion about the theme of the novel, stating "all my books are about a lonely person looking for some way to connect with other people."[29]

Paul Kennett claims that because the narrator's fights with Tyler are fights with himself and because he fights himself in front of his boss at the hotel, the narrator is using the fights as a way of asserting himself as his own boss. He argues that these fights are a representation of the struggle of the proletarian at the hands of a higher capitalist power and by asserting himself as capable of having the same power he thus becomes his own master. Later when fight club is formed, the participants are all dressed and groomed similarly, allowing them to symbolically fight themselves at the club and gain the same power.[30]

Afterwards Kennett says Tyler becomes nostalgic for the patriarchical power controlling him and creates Project Mayhem to achieve this. Through this proto-fascist power structure, the narrator seeks to learn "what, or rather, who, he might have been under a firm patriarchy."[31] Through his position as leader of Project Mayhem, Tyler uses his power to become a "God/Father" to the "space monkeys", who are the other members of Project Mayhem (although by the end of the novel his words hold more power than he does as is evident in the space monkeys' threat to castrate the narrator when he contradicts Tyler's rule). According to Kennett, this creates a paradox in that Tyler pushes the idea that men who wish to be free from a controlling father-figure are only self-actualized once they have children and become a father themselves.[32] This new structure is ended by the narrator's elimination of Tyler, allowing him to decide for himself how to determine his freedom.

"Paper Street," the location of Tyler Durden's home, is a pun on the term paper street meaning a street depicted on a map but not actually in existence.

Johannes Hell claims that Palahniuk's use of the Narrator's somnambulism is a simple attempt at emphasizing the dangerous yet daring possibilities of life. Hell enforces the importance of the Narrator's sleep walking and intense deprivation for they have a firm influence on suffering readers,"[33] from a twisted perspective this is solace for everybody who suffers from somnambulism in a sense, that things could be worse, much worse in fact. [34]


The novel won the following awards:

U.S. editions

See also

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  1. ^ In the novel, the club's name is in lower case; it is only spelled with initial caps as a title. In this article, "fight club" denotes the fighting club, "Fight Club" denotes the novel.
  2. ^ Jemielity, Sam. "Chuck Palahniuk:The Playboy.comversation"
  3. ^ a b Tomlinson, Sarah. "Is it fistfighting, or just multi-tasking?". October 13, 1999.
  4. ^ Linson, Art (Fight Club producer), What Just Happened?: Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line (New York: Grove Press, 2008) pp. 125–127.
  5. ^ Offman, Craig. "Movie makes "Fight Club" book a contender". September 3, 1999.
  6. ^ Palahniuk, Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, pp. 228–229.
  7. ^ "Fight club draws techies for bloody underground beatdowns". Associated Press. May 29, 2006.
  8. ^ Palahniuk, Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, pp. 212–215.
  9. ^ Chang, Jade. "tinseltown: fight club and fahrenheit". July 2, 2004.
  10. ^ Overcash, Anita (June 30, 2009). "Theatre: Fight Club". Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  11. ^ Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1999, p. 46.
  12. ^ The first rules of both fight club and Project Mayhem are repeated for emphasis. Fans of the novel and the film have latched on to the first two rules of fight club as a meme and have made it into a catchphrase (although slightly changed to "you do not talk about fight club", based on the variation in the film).
  13. ^ Shortly after the third rule is introduced, it is dropped from the club and the other rules move up one numbered position. It is mentioned by the narrator the first time he states the rules, but it is not mentioned by Tyler when he states them. Tyler also adds the eighth rule, which becomes the seventh rule in his version of the rule set. This may have been the result of a continuity error, though it is also possible that Tyler changed the rules to allow the narrator to break the third rule later in the novel. Another interpretation could be that the first set of rules are easier on combatants than the amended rules (ways out if unconscious and not having to fight compared to no ways out and having to fight), proving the more aggressive Tyler is taking a stronger hold of the narrator. Palahniuk (1999), pp. 49–50.
  14. ^ Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1999, pp. 48–50.
  15. ^ Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1999, pp. 119, 122 & 125. also pg 69
  16. ^ The narrator's inability to explain Tyler's existence earlier on in the story is a classic example of an unreliable narrator.
  17. ^ Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1999, p. 195.
  18. ^ Palahnuik, "Fight Club", 1999, p.174.
  19. ^ Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1999, p. 25.
  20. ^ Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1999, pp. 124, 141 & 200.
  21. ^ a b Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1999, p. 49.
  22. ^ Kennett, pp. 50–51.
  23. ^ Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1999, p. 141.
  24. ^ Kennett, pp. 51–52.
  25. ^ Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1996, p. 50.
  26. ^ Palahniuk, "Fight Club", 1996, p.44.
  27. ^ Kavadlo, p. 5.
  28. ^ Kavadlo, p. 7.
  29. ^ Palahniuk, Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, p. xv.
  30. ^ Kennett, pp. 53–54.
  31. ^ Kennett, p. 55.
  32. ^ Kennett, p. 56.
  33. ^ Hell, p.3.
  34. ^ Hell, p. 3.
  35. ^ Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Awards. Retrieved June 20, 2005.
  36. ^ Oregon Book Awards. Literary Arts, Inc. Retrieved June 20, 2005. Archived April 3, 2005 at the Wayback Machine


In addition, the following editions of the novel were used as references for this article:

Further reading

  • Goodlad, Lauren M. E (2007). "Men in Black: Androgyny and Ethics in Fight Club and The Crow". Goth: Undead Subculture. Duke University Press. pp. 89–118. ISBN 978-0-8223-3921-2. 
  • Schultz, Robert T. (June 2011). "White Guys Who Prefer Not To: From Passive Resistance ('Bartleby') To Terrorist Acts (Fight Club)". The Journal of Popular Culture 44 (3): 583–605. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2011.00850.x. ISSN 0022-3840. 
  • Tuss, Alex (Winter 2004). "Masculine Identity and Success: A Critical Analysis of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club". The Journal of Men's Studies 12 (2): 93–102. ISSN 1060-8265. 

External links

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