I wrote this essay for a college class in 2007, but I recently decided to pick it up again and take a look at it. The sentiment described within and the 1996 publication date of Fight Club made this all seem very “90s” to me. Counter culture was on the upswing and Chuck Palahniuk swooped in at the perfect time to grab a hold of the overwhelming apathy, cynicism, and nihilism that has become so ingrained in American culture since then. It seems appropriate to post the essay in its entirety and let you judge for yourself. Enjoy.
The worth and social status of human beings are determined by their possessions, but this over-reliance on material products may strip people of individuality and identity. People often define themselves by the products that they buy. These products include the cars they drive, the houses they live in, the clothes they wear, and the size of their respective bank accounts. It is this obsession with bigger, better, faster, and more expensive products that has turned human beings into nothing more than machines of consumption. From birth to death, human beings are taught that the only way to truly be happy is to buy more and never settler for what they already have. This endless cycle of upgrading and dissatisfaction only lend to the jaded and hopeless state of humankind. Even with the best and newest monetary distractions, there is still an overwhelming sense of unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment. Human beings have essentially lost any semblance of their true identities.
While some have commented on this unfortunate trend, one novel remains at the forefront of this movement against consumerism—Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Fight Club, in its own darkly humorous way, tells the story of an unnamed narrator who happens to be an ineffectual man unhappy with his job and his life and is desperately searching for a way out. His only relief comes in the form of a man named Tyler Durden who is the inventor and de facto leader of a series of underground boxing matches called Fight Club. These Fight Clubs are a place for the common working men of society to come and release all of their anger and frustration with consumer culture by physically abusing one another. Little does the narrator know, though, that these Fight Clubs are the doorway to a much bigger movement in which there are no rules, no boundaries, and no way to stop it. The narrator soon realizes that Tyler Durden is more than just an entity, but rather, he is a part of the narrator himself. This revelation violently shakes up the narrator’s quiet little world and forces him to come to terms with his own moral dilemmas and face the awful truth that he does not truly know who or what he is. Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is an inexorable commentary of humankind’s loss of identity by means of materialism and a society driven by mass consumption. Through the struggles regarding his own suffering, the dichotomy of his own psyche, and the burden of having his life defined by the covetous nature of society, the narrator is stripped of his identity and forced to redefine himself based on the confines of a rigid capitalistic nation as well as an anarchistic underground subculture while never truly finding fulfillment or oneness along the way.