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Written by Chuck Palahniuk in 1996, Fight Club follows a dejected man suffering from chronic insomnia who meets a peculiar man named Tyler Durden. The nameless Narrator soon finds himself living in Tyler’s condemned house after his perfect apartment is destroyed by a mysterious explosion. The two jaded men form an underground club with stringent rules and fight other men who are fed up with their tedious, button-down lives. Their perfect friendship frays when Marla Singer, a fellow support group crasher, entices Tyler’s attention. The culminating result could mean the annihilation of society as we know it. Throughout the book, Palahnuik utilizes instances of death and violence to prove his point about the downfall of society. Destruction and mayhem go a long way in changing what one sees as important in life. Only through pain and struggle can one experience life in its wholeness. In this novel, Palahnuik expresses how experiencing pain, violence, and death is the only way to achieve spiritual reawakening and change the world.

Palahniuk uses the theme of death multiple times throughout the novel, starting at the very beginning. In the second chapter the Narrator is attending the Staying Men Together, a support group for men with testicular cancer. Though the Narrator is not ill, he attends multiple meetings that support people with terminal ailments, typically set in church basements. He uses these meetings to find emotional cleansing and catharsis to help ease his intense, chronic insomnia. ‘It’s easy to cry when you realize that everyone you love will reject you or die” (Palahniuk, 176). This quote, along with much of the language used throughout the novel, portrays his nihilistic point of view. To sleep at night, the Narrator needs to cry and lose himself in his despair. Only by letting go of any hope can he rest. In the Narrator’s mindset, we are all destined to die and there is nothing any of us can do about it. This attitude also suggests that the Narrator has fallen into a cycle of self-pity. This quote re-affirms the Narrator’s worldview and prevents him from moving out of this mindset. This helps to perpetuate the upcoming onslaught that creates an underground lair of mayhem and destruction.

Just over halfway through the novel, the Narrator and a few members of Project Mayhem are in a car, traveling down a dark stretch of freeway. The driver swerves into oncoming traffic. The car sideswipes a tractor-trailer, tossing the Narrator around the car, and bashing his forehead against the steering wheel. The Narrator did not experience fear, but instead an exhilaration of a near-death experience. “The amazing miracle of death, when one second you’re walking and talking, and the next second, you’re an object” (Palahniuk 146). By confronting death so closely, the Narrator seems to have shed his existential hopelessness and sought to be the exacter of such despair on the rest of society.

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“On a long enough timeline, everyone’s survival rate drops to zero” (Palahniuk 176). It is easy for the Narrator to separate Project Mayhem from realism when its members are nameless and detached. However, this changes when Bob joins the organization. Bob was a member of Staying Men Together, where the Narrator and he met. This is the moment when the Project becomes personal for the Narrator. Bob’s death makes the philosophical extremity of Project Mayhem a reality for the Narrator. When Bob dies during a mischief mission, the Narrator finally decides that Project Mayhem must be eliminated. Bob’s death is primarily distressing as he had come to represent innocence early in the novel. Without Bob and his ultimate sacrifice, the Narrator may never have realized the true destruction Project Mayhem is capable of.

When Bob joined Project Mayhem, he gave up his name, as do all members. After Bob’s death, which was the first known death within Project Mayhem, his name was restored to him. “Only in death will we have our names since only in death are we no longer part of the effort. In death, we become heroes’ (Palahnuik 178). This indifference for the loss of life passed down to members of Flight Club from Tyler, is disturbing to the Narrator because it does not run on par with his principles but was still created from somewhere in his subconscious. This dichotomy represents Tyler as a dissolute creation that has gained its individuality and now is working to eliminate the originator of the mission. Realizing that many people may die due to the events he has put into play, the Narrator tries to shut down the fight club, but his attempt is met with resistance – from Tyler, and himself. Project Mayhem has moved beyond the Narrator and can continue without him, creating a path of death and destruction in its wake.

Death, violence, and destruction repeat throughout Fight Club on most pages of the novel. Even the first line of the book depicts this recurring theme: “Tyler gets me a job as a waiter after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is having to die” (Palahniuk 11). This, along with the consistently dreary and loathsome setting creates an overall chaotic and melancholic tone to the story. By starting the fight club, with the intent to experience and inflict pain, the Narrator and Tyler are trying to feel “real” and “alive.” The book ends with the Narrator’s attempted suicide. He wakes up in a mental institution, however he believes he is dead and in heaven. He finds it boring, but he can finally sleep. Palahniuk leaves it to the reader to decide if the Narrator ever truly achieved the enlightenment he sought, or how much more destruction project Mayhem had in store for the rest of society.                                                   

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