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The Problem of Identity in Fight Club

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A young urban professional who works for a major car manufacturer can’t sleep. Although he doesn’t have any of the associated afflictions, he stumbles across support groups as a means to let out whatever emotions he is feeling, which in turn is allowing him to sleep. But the use of these support groups is ruined when he meets a young woman named Marla Singer, who is also going to all these support group meetings.

Because he knows she too is not afflicted with any of the maladies for which the groups exist, her presence has lessened the impact of the stories he hears; as he put it “when people think you are dying they actually listen, instead of just waiting for their turn to talk”.

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His life changes when he meets a soap manufacturer named Tyler Durden, who in many ways is the antithesis of the insomniac. Due to unusual circumstances with his own condo, the insomniac moves in with Tyler, who lives in a large dilapidated house in an otherwise abandoned part of town.

After a bit of spontaneous roughhousing with Tyler in a bar parking lot, the insomniac finds it becomes a ritual between the two of them, which is helping him cope with the other more difficult aspects of his life. The fights also attract a following, others who not only want to watch but join in. Understanding that there are other men like them, the insomniac and Tyler begin a secret fight club. As the fight club’s popularity grows, so does its scope in all aspects. Marla becomes a circle not specifically of the fight clubs but of Tyler and the insomniac’s collective lives.

As the nature of the fight clubs becomes out of control in the insomniac’s view, the insomniac’s life, in association, is one where he no longer understands what is happening around him, or how he can get out of it without harming himself. Both the movie and the novel are more than just entertainment, the story holds significant philosophical meaning. The question of identity is a common theme in Fight Club. The effects of materialism and modernity on identity afflict Edward Norton’s character throughout the film. Identity is a definition of the self, an explanation of character.

However, in the movie Fight Club, the components that comprise outward identity often prove to be transient. Edward Norton’s “Jack” character asks, “If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person? ” The effects of modernity lead to the impermanence of self-image, and the decay of identity. Rather than having a true identity, “Jack” (portrayed by Edward Norton) is called a “byproduct of a lifestyle obsession. ” He bases personal worth upon what he owns. It is this materialistic consumerism that steals individuality.

How can a solid identity be established when its value assessment is based upon chain store furniture? The first steps towards forming a real sense of self occur when his possessions are blown up. The push for materialistic progress and the need to base an identity around the needless possessions that represent progress is a principal example of the concept of modernity in the film; the viewer is led to believe that the destruction is an accident. In the bar scene, Tyler Durden says, “The things you own end up owning you”. His statement is a generalization of the life “Jack” leads.

Since “Jack” has no identity outside of his furniture and wardrobe; everything he knows about himself is dependent upon his possessions. When Tyler later asks Jack to hit him as hard as he can, he justifies his request by asking, “How much could you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? ” Within this question, Tyler proposes another key idea of the film, that of Dealing with Conflict. The strength of a person’s identity or self is heavily dependent upon how well he or she deals with conflict. Since neither had been in a fight before, each stood to gain a great deal of knowledge of his identity.

The term “fight” does not necessarily refer only to fisticuffs. The concept of the “fight” is more accurately represented by any kind of conflict. The club and Tyler are created to fulfill Jack’s primal need to rebel and be free. While at Paper Street, Tyler decides to make soap. Soap in itself is an agent of cleanliness, but in this context it is defiled by being made up of human waste. In a miserable moment, Jack is accidentally covered in waste that spills from a ripped bag full of human fat pilfered from a liposuction clinic. Even at this profoundly disturbing moment, Jack is unwilling to give up his associations with Tyler Durdan.

It is only after his encounter with a corpse that he changes his tune. While Fight Club attempted to blur physical boundaries via hand-to-hand combat and exchange of blood and blows, Project Mayhem threatens the psychic boundaries of self, a deeper danger. While a loud speaker drones “we are all part of the same compost heap” and a fellow occupant reminds Jack “In project mayhem we have no names,” Jack realizes he is truly losing himself, not gaining strength. Mayhem’s goal of ‘oneness’ is exposed via slogans like “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.

You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else. ” Tyler finally puts his cards on the table in one scene and asks Jack to “stop trying to control everything and just let go. The corpse of Bob causes Jack to confront the boundaries of life and death, both spiritual and physical, as he finally realizes the damaging effects of the cult-like environment into which he has fallen. Jack’s momentary indecision morphs into action after Bob’s death becomes just one more hymn for the zombie-like Project Mayhemers to chant: “His name was Robert Paulson. ”

Emasculation becomes a central theme in Fight Club as it is portrayed by the narrator Jack. Emasculated by the consumer culture, Jack finds solace in a support group for men with testicular cancer: The castration metaphor is obvious. There he meets Bob, a former body builder; who has developed feminine features resulting from his cancer treatment. Trying to comfort the sobbing Jack, Bob rasps in a high pitched voice, ‘We’re still men,’ with Jack affirming “Yes, we’re men. Men is what we are. ” Consumer culture emasculates by fostering false idealized images that motivate men to change what and who they are: men.

They run looking for this idealized image to which Tyler, Jack’s idealized alpha-male alter-ego helps to free Jack from this burden. At the beginning of the film we find the emasculated Jack seeking solace and identity in consumable products rather than in himself… whatever that may look like. In an early scene where Jack and Tyler first appear in the same shot, sitting side by side on the airplane Tyler reads the emergency instruction card to which Jack replies something about the great responsibility that seat has to open the emergency door.

Tyler asks if he would like to switch seats to which Jack replies, “I’m not sure that I am the man for that job. ” Lack of confidence or sense of responsibility Jack declines as a symptom of the emasculated male. In one scene Jack describes the relationship between he and Tyler as, “Most of the week we were like Ozzie and Harriet. ” We are not confused who is whom in this analogous pairing. In another scene at Marla’s apartment, Marla says to Tyler, “Oh Don’t worry he’s (referring to a dildo) not a threat to you. ” As the alpha-male, sure of his virile sexuality, Tyler is not threatened by a wobbling gelatinous penis on the dresser.

And yet, earlier when Jack, the emasculated male is at the airport, the attendant insinuates that Jack’s missing luggage may have been a result of a vibrating dildo. Jack narrates to the audience, “I felt sorry for guys packed into gyms, trying to look like how Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger said they should look. ” And turning to Tyler asks, “Is that what a man looks like? ” Later Tyler responds to similar thoughts in a monologue to the local fight club, “Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived.

I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t.

And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off”. Tyler represents Jack’s desire to be a strong male rather than the passive slave to culture. Jack’s internal and external struggles are compressed into one moment when he commits homosuicide. Placing a gun in his mouth, he attempts to rid himself of Tyler forever, his final words to Tyler: “My eyes are open now”. At this point, Jack is psychically ready to take charge of his life and confidently rid himself of the problems and insecurities from the narrative of his life.

He wants no more to do with Project Mayhem gang and is reunited with Marla with whom he finally appears ready to have a fully realized relationship. His masculinity and identity restoration are made blindingly apparent by the final splice in the film—the image of Marla and Jack hand in hand overlooking the new view out of the tower, spliced with the shot of a semi-erect penis—back to shot of Marla and Jack. The message is clear: Jack is a man, he has a woman, and he knows who he is because of it. “Fuck Martha Stewart! ”

Cite this The Problem of Identity in Fight Club

The Problem of Identity in Fight Club. (2017, Jan 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-problem-of-identity-in-fight-club/

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