Fight Club & Masculinity

Topics: Masculinity

Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is the story of a man struggling to find himself. The main character, a nameless narrator, is clearly unhappy with his life. He obsessively fakes diseases and attends support group sessions as a way to deal with his hopelessness. Obsessive behaviors often lead to unfavorable events if they are interrupted (Lizardo). Just as it seems the support groups have brought him to a form of equilibrium, they are interrupted by a fellow faker. His inability to treat his restlessness by attending these support groups drives the narrator to shocking extremes.

As the text continues, it becomes obvious that the narrator’s true struggle lies within his efforts to find a form of masculinity that best suits him. Many men in today’s society are in search of what it means to be a man (Connell). The many definitions for masculinity create an abundance of confusion for an individual searching for its meaning (Franklin). Palahniuk uses the two most prominent characters in Fight Club to demonstrate males in pursuit of the ideal form of masculinity.

This paper will discuss how he deconstructs their efforts using the four themes of masculinity.

The commonly cited gender-role model states that there are four major masculine themes that men struggle to maintain. The first theme is “No Sissy Stuff” (Kahn). This theme encourages men to distance themselves from femininity, any type of heterosexism toward gay men, and to avoid showing any emotion. It is also demonstrated by men who simply don’t do what women do.

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Men who follow this theme reject anything that is perceived as threatening to masculinity (Brubaker). “Be a Big Wheel” establishes the second theme. This theme suggests that masculinity is the dominance and power over others.

Wealth, status, and physical space are some examples of how this form of masculinity is exerted onto others. Men who are unable to achieve the Big Wheel status are often left feeling powerless and discouraged (Kahn). The third theme is called “The Sturdy Oak. ” This theme involves men who need to be independent and self reliant. They, like an oak tree, must remain unaffected by weather and conditions (Kahn). This includes having control over their emotions. Men relating to this theme must always be seen as reliable.

Men who embody this these usually distance themselves from others and have difficulty maintaining meaningful relationships (Brubaker). The final theme is “Give’em Hell. ” Men who model this theme feel the need to be courageous risk-takers (Brubaker). Followers of this theme do so in a variety of ways. Some resort to violence at the risk to themselves and others, while many use a form of perseverance to align themselves with this masculine ideal. Men following this theme will do almost anything to ensure their belief of masculinity is met (Kahn).

It is difficult, if not impossible, for a man to achieve all four forms of masculinity; however, it does not stop men from trying (Brubaker). The men in Fight Club use these four forms of masculinity to measure their identities as males (Kahn). Most men are in pursuit of a concept known as hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is the form of masculinity that society believes most strongly (Lusher, Dean, and Robins). Given these four forms of masculinity, we know that society does not support one superior form of masculinity above others (Kahn).

Therefore, men who attempt to achieve hegemonic masculinity are unable to do so. The characters in Fight Club, like men in our society, are in the pursuit of hegemonic masculinity. The following characters will demonstrate some of the struggles during their pursuit. Narrator The most prominent character in Fight Club is the narrator. By keeping the narrator an unnamed character, Palahniuk allows the audience to participate in the creation of the character’s identity. It is important to recognize that the reader’s perceptions also play a role when identifying the masculine traits the narrator is trying to display.

As the reader progresses through the text, the narrator changes his beliefs, values, behaviors, and attitudes several times. It becomes obvious that the narrator has changed his theme of masculinity at least three times throughout the text. These changes in his identity surface as a direct result from his pursuit of hegemonic masculinity. In order to effectively monitor the narrators movement from one masculine theme to the next, moving through the text in chronological order of events will be most efficient.

That is, even though the first chapter of the book is describing the ending, the narrator’s first theme of masculinity is portrayed in chapter two. Chapter two is when Palahniuk begins to describe the narrator’s first theme of masculinity. In chapter two, the narrator is attending a support group called Remaining Men Together. This support group is the only thing that provides comfort for the narrator as he suffers from insomnia. Remaining Men Together is a support group for men with testicular cancer. At the beginning of this chapter, his actions are almost anti-masculine as he interacts with his fellow members.

He is literally pretending to have no balls, which are usually used as a man’s most prominent display of masculinity (Boon, and Alexander). He also shows deep emotion by crying into the breasts of his fellow male member, Bob. The narrator quickly changes his behavior when he discovers a young woman, Marla, watching him at Remaining Men Together. After two years of being able to cry and express himself at this support group, the narrator is interrupted. He is unable to cry with Marla watching. He immediately establishes the “Be a Big Wheel” theme of masculinity in order to preserve his spot at the support group. Her arms squeezed tight against her sides, and my lips pressed against her ear, I’ll say, Marla, you big fake, you get out. ” “The next time we meet, I’ll say, Marla, I can’t sleep with you here. I need this. Get out. ” The narrator is trying to exert his dominance and power over Marla in order to obtain his right to be at Remaining Men Together. As the novel moves on, the narrator is very discouraged and begins to suffer from his insomnia once again.

The “Be a Big Wheel” theme states that men who are unable to achieve the “Big Wheel” status are often left feeling powerless and discouraged (Kahn). This would hold true for the narrator. His inability to stop Marla from attending the support groups leads to negotiations that ultimately do not satisfy his need for relief. He is forced to find another way to treat his insomnia. Just as all hope seems lost, the narrator meets Tyler Durden and asks him to “deliver him from being perfect and complete” (Palahniuk). At first, Tyler and his philosophies help the narrator find another release for his suffering.

Together they invent Fight Club. During this period of the book, the narrator begins to follow the “Give’em Hell” masculine theme. The narrator attends multiple Fight Club meetings and begins to stray away from the support groups he used to attend. At Fight Club, he directly models the “Give’em Hell” theme by resorting to violence at the risk to himself and others in order to display his masculinity (Kahn, Brubaker). During the hours of Fight Club, he and his fellow members become different people and present their masculinities in ways they never have. Who guys are in Fight Club is not who they are in the real world. Even if you told the kid in the copy center that he had a good fight, you wouldn’t be talking to the same man. ” Shortly after its invention, the narrator’s behaviors shown at Fight Club begin to carry over to his day to day life. The narrator’s transformation to the “Give’em Hell” theme is complete.

Just as the narrator begins to feel happy and content, Tyler hits an extreme, so the narrator no longer feels comfortable participating. Tyler invented another group outside of Fight Club called Project Mayhem. When Project Mayhem takes a turn for the worst, the narrator switches his masculine theme, yet again, to stop Tyler. As Tyler and Project Mayhem take a turn for the worst, the narrator becomes suspicious. Then, without any warning, Tyler disappears. While Tyler is absent, the narrator investigates Project Mayhem and searches for answers about Tyler Durden.

During his expedition, he takes on the “Sturdy Oak” masculine theme. He is acting upon his own free will for the first time since he met Tyler. He will do what he must in order to find Tyler and stop Project Mayhem. The narrator’s acts of independency and control over his emotions mirror the “Be a Sturdy Oak” theme (Kahn). As the narrator gets closer to finding the truth about Tyler, Tyler presents himself. At this moment, the narrator discovers that, all along, Tyler has been a figment of his imagination. The narrator is schizophrenic. Ordinarily, this discovery would yield a great deal of emotion.

The narrator, however, remains the “Sturdy Oak” and tries to analyze the situation without emotion and take control. “ This is a dream. Tyler is a projection. He’s a dis- associative personality disorder. A psychogenic fugue state. Tyler Durden is my hallucination. ” The narrator ends the film using the “Sturdy Oak” theme. In order to stop Project Mayhem, he took control of his emotions. He acted independently of Tyler, and shot himself in order to kill Tyler.

This act ultimately ended his struggle for hegemonic masculinity because the narrator has in essence has chosen to be the “Sturdy Oak. ” As the narrator progresses through each of these themes, he is in a constant battle to find hegemonic masculinity. The gender-role model of masculinity states that no man is likely to achieve all four masculine themes (Kahn). The narrator, however, comes dangerously close to achieving all four themes. Palahniuk created an extremely complex character by allowing the unnamed narrator to change his masculine identity several times throughout the text.

Tyler Tyler is created by the narrator to fill a void in the narrator’s life. The narrator’s dissatisfaction with every aspect of his personality is somehow contrasted by Tyler’s. As the narrator and Tyler interact, the narrator begins to mirror Tyler’s behaviors and philosophies. It seems the narrator created his own mentor. During Fight Club, Tyler taught the narrator how to be a man. Over time, he also showed the narrator what kind of man he did not want to become. Palahniuk’s creation of Tyler’s character is far less complex than the narrator.

Unlike the narrator, Tyler remains steady and consistent with one of the four themes of masculinity. Everything he does can be considered risk-taking behavior; and he definitely uses violence to ensure his belief of masculinity is met. Tyler models the “Give’em Hell” theme of masculinity for the entire text (Kahn). Starting with the creation of Fight Club, Tyler believes all of the narrator’s problems can be solved by “hitting rock bottom” (Palahniuk). “Only through destroying myself can I discover the great power of my spirit. ” “We really won’t die. This isn’t really death, we’ll be legend. We won’t grow old. Tyler’s belief in destruction throughout the entire book is how he demonstrates his masculinity. He completes, what he thinks are, courageous acts to ensure his belief of masculinity is met. This also demonstrates the “Give’em Hell” theme of masculinity (Brubaker). In contrast, the narrator was unable to exert any form of masculinity into his life until he created Tyler’s influence. After the invention of Fight Club, the narrator continued to learn how to be the man he wanted to be. This is shown when the narrator and his fellow Fight Club members seem to be satisfied with their masculinity.

After Project Mayhem starts, however, the narrator becomes agitated and acts out in defiance toward Tyler’s version of the “Give’em Hell” form of masculinity. Tyler begins to step outside of the parameters of this theme and the narrator is noticeably uncomfortable. In the narrator’s eyes, Tyler makes the transition from the perfect man- “I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler if funny and charming 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. ” to insane and out of control- It has to be big, Picture this: you on top of the world’s tallest building, the whole building taken over by Project Mayhem. Smoke rolling out the windows. Desks falling into the crowds on the street. A real opera of a death, that’s what you’re going to get. ” The narrator is then seen as the protagonist, trying to eliminate Tyler, the antagonist, and his drastic actions. In the end, the narrator shoots himself hoping the bullet will result in Tyler’s death, and ultimately the death of Tyler’s new form of masculinity. Ironically, the narrator once wanted this form of masculinity for himself.

It is in this moment, when Tyler is eliminated, the narrator has found the theme that, to him, best demonstrates hegemonic masculinity. Even though Tyler’s character becomes an extremest, his core values that drive his behavior are still set within the parameters of the “Give’em Hell” theme of masculinity. All the way through the text until his eventual “death”, he remains a violent risk-taker who will do anything to ensure his alignment to this masculine theme. His behavior, although unorthodox, was a form of the “Give’em Hell” theme (Kahn). Conclusion Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is a story about a man struggling to find himself.

He used the narrator and Tyler in this story to demonstrate the pursuit of hegemonic masculinity. Palahniuk wasn’t glorifying violence, sex, consumerism, or even masculinity itself. He was giving the reader a critique of the steps men are willing to take in order to obtain societies’ preferred theme of masculinity. Palahniuk uses Tyler’s character to state the following: “We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression.

We have to show these men and women freedom by enslaving them, and show them courage by frightening them. ” Through this passage, Palahniuk is describing why, in our society, men have such a hard time defining themselves and claiming a form of masculinity. The narrator’s struggle throughout his journey to “masculine-enlightenment” is shared by many males in society. Men are able to relate to both the schizophrenic narrator and Tyler. Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club shows society through an extreme and entertaining story, something that occurs on a daily basis and surrounds us all.

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Fight Club & Masculinity. (2017, Mar 27). Retrieved from

Fight Club & Masculinity
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