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Diane Stjern ENGL 358 Discovering the Marxist Qualities of Fight Club

Chuck Palahniuks novel, Fight Club, is more than grotesquely descriptive novel with a devilish twist at the end. It is clearly driven by underlying principles which reveal themselves to the reader different times during the novel. Before revealing the lens I chose to work with, the reader of this analysis should remember the method and purpose behind reading a text through a literary lens. Briefly, literary lenses are used view a work (a novel in this case) through a specific set of characteristics or assumptions based on an already established theory. The reader reads past the plotline and into the authors underlying comments and criticisms. As the reader of Fight Club, I see Chuck Palahniuk making many references to the ideas of Marxism. The Marxist principles make themselves known through both Palahniuks descriptive style of writing and certain scenes in the novel. In reading this novel, I chose a Marxist lens because of the prominence of class struggle and instances of getting back at the man. The Marxist principles used in this analysis are discussed further. When beginning to understand Marxism, one needs to understand the man whose namesake is the title of this movement. Karl Marx, a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, and revolutionary sociologist was born in 1818. He studied law in Berlin, and after completing a doctorate, hoped for a position in academia. However, because he had become heavily involved in several radical groups, his hopes of being in academia were squashed. He entered into journalism and became interested in political and social issues, still with an underlying background of economics. He developed his famous communist theory soon after

becoming involved in historical studies. His economic ideas helped in the establishment of several communist states well after his death in 1883. Marx saw epochs of history as moving through struggles with production and class. Marx uses Rome and the Middle Ages to describe this in the Manifesto of the Communist Party. In ancient Rome, we have patricians, knights, plebians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeyman, apprentices, serf; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations (Marx). In other words, Marx saw the hierarchy of classes in these societies (and other societies as well) and did not see the modern world (at the time of this manifesto, 1848, in which the industrial revolution was making its way) as being much different. At his time in history, he considered the society to be split between the bourgeoisie and the proletariats. The struggles between the proletariats (the working class) and the bourgeoisie (those in control of the capital) defined his era. At the end of any specific time in history, Marx believed communism rose out of the ashes of the breakdown of the capitalist state (Wolff). It is important to remember that Marxs theories were not discussed much during his lifetime. The Marxist theory began to be really discovered around the 1930s and continues to be a prominent topic today. One specific Marxist principle is discussed next. One important term needs to be defined. The working class, or proletariat, are not people who have only a certain amount of money, but are people whose lives depend on their work and who sell themselves as their work or commodity as Marx himself would have said. Frederick Engels, a colleague of Marx, describes how the modern proletariat came to be in Principles of Communism. Engels says that during the industrial revolution, capitalists (or the bourgeoisie) discovered and purchased machines to do cheaper work than their laborers had previously done.

The laborers were left with nothing. Their work was now done more cheaply by machines and they had nothing to offer the bourgeoisie other than even cheaper work on their part. Thus, their labor and their livelihood were exploited by those who had the money and the resources to do so. In moving toward how Palahniuks novel is guided by Marxist principles, the evidence found in Fight Club will be closely discussed with the principles. Each paragraph will feature the definition of Marxist principle as well as how it is found in Palahniuks text. The text will serve as the evidence to show Palahniuks use of Marxist ideas in his novel. First, Palahniuk describes a similar situation in his novel to the situation happening during the industrial revolution. Just as the workers of the industrial revolution attempted to keep up with the machines that were slowly making their time and hard work obsolete, Palahniuks worker (the narrator) begins the novel by constantly attempting to keep up with those of higher stature through his possessions at the beginning of the book. Palahniuk intricately describes the narrators furniture and other possessions which were destroyed when his apartment was bombed. This attention to detail makes the reader realize the importance of these possessions to the narrator. The narrator seemed to identify himself by his possessions. Another similar reference (in different terms professions instead of possessions) can be found in Marx and Engels following claim: The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers (Marx & Engels). In their claim, the bourgeoisie have managed to create an ideal set of characteristics for the masses even saying those who have admiral professions are not considered worthy. They are still at the level of the working class. In Palahniuks novel, the bourgeoisie can be seen as the

mainstream culture and has managed to create this ideal set of characteristics for the masses in concerns to possessions. I believe Palahniuk recognizes this fact and shows it to the reader by having the narrators apartment blown up (later we find out he blew up the apartment himself) in rebellion against the middle class definition of what it is to be perfect and complete (46). The narrator wants to start at the bottom and rebel against the social norms designated by those at the very top of society. For a while, he sees his life as perfect and complete through all of this stuff in which it took [his] whole life to buy (44). Even as the narrator has all of this stuff to make his life perfect and complete, he asks Tyler to deliver him away from which he is striving because he knows he cannot ever feel satisfied by attempting to reach the level of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie have made it impossible to reach that feeling of perfection case in point being Marx and Engels claim cited earlier this paragraph. Even those in the most admirable jobs are made to believe they are on the bottom rung with the other workers. Australian Marxist philosopher, Andy Blunden, defines another principle of Marxist philosophy which is used in this analysis. Blundens first point of Marxist philosophy is the self-emancipation of the working class and the destruction of the capitalist state (Blunden). Blunden continues to contend that Marxist philosophy argues for the destruction of the bourgeois rule through the organized force of the workers. The struggle of the workers to destroy the bourgeois is not an unorganized effort like anarchy, but is a strategic movement that promotes and prepares the working class for the seizure of public power. One can see how Palahniuk aligns his novel with this principle by describing how the efforts of Project Mayhem are quite specific and organized. First, there are requirements to Project Mayhem applicants. The applicants cannot simply show up with a desire to be a part of the project. They must arrive at the house with exactly five hundred dollars cash for personal

burial moneyTwo black shirts. Two black pairs of trousers. One pair of heavy black shoes. Two pair of black socks and two pair of plain underwear. One heavy black coat.One white towel. One army surplus cot mattress. One white plastic mixing bowl (127-128). The requirements are quite specific and make for a very organized set of applicant men. Furthermore, the actual activities of the men are very well-organized before and as they are carried out. The Projects attack against the Seattle Police Commissioner is planned to the last minute. The space monkeys and Tyler have taken the precaution to estimate their time and do run-throughs. Wed projected twelve minutes. Our best run-through was nine minutes (164). Palahniuk is also very careful to describe all of the activities of the space monkeys. And while Im at work, teams of space monkeys dig up the muddy lawn around the house and cut the dirt with Epsom salts to lower the acidityAt any time of the night, space monkeys from some slaughterhouse come home with bags of blood meal to boost the iron in the soil and bone meal to boost the phosphorusAnd other teams go out at night and kill the slugs and snails by candlelight (131). The fact that Palahniuk is very careful in his descriptions of the space monkeys work leads readers to believe this organization was not formed by accident. The activities of those involved are purposeful and contribute greatly to the good of the entire group much like the communist end result desired by the Project. Palahniuk also includes several quotes which show the characters desire to destroy the capitalist society. The narrator, after pummeling an angel-faced newbie at fight club says, I wanted the whole world to hit bottom. The narrator wants the whole world to rid itself of the capitalist tendencies in order to start anew like Blundens explanation. Also, one of the final quotes of the book also displays the destructive needs of those in Project Mayhem: Were going

to break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world (208). These individuals in Project Mayhem can be likened to the proletariat of Marxs time. Next, Palahniuk connects his novel with Marxist work through the establishment of Tyler as dictator of Project Mayhem. In Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx and Engels make the following claim about communism: Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat (Marx & Engels). In leading Project Mayhem the way he does, Tyler is clearly the dictator. He says, No one guy understands the whole plan, but each guy is trained to do one simple task perfectly. The narrator continues this thought with, The rule in Project Mayhem is you have to trust Tyler (130). It is evident that Tyler is the dictator of this organization because his workers have no clearly defined reason to follow Tylers orders; they simply trust his leadership and do what they are told. The workers do not know the ultimate outcome but are ordered to do tasks that they are not allowed to question. After all, the first rule of Project Mayhem is you dont ask questions about Project Mayhem (131). Finally, Palahniuk states in his afterword that he insisted to other people that he and his friends, from whom he got many of the stories to add to the book, were just blue-collar nobodies living in Oregon with public school educations (215). By this statement, one might assume that Palahniuk identifies with the radical outcasts of his novel looking to get back at the privileged that believe they are above him and his friends. One might think that Palahniuks past experiences growing up influenced his writing because he identifies himself as a blue-collar

nobody and because he was able to go to his friends for ideas they had tried in order to get back at the uppity-ups. In contrast, this means Palahniuk might consider the white-collar workers somebodies of importance, even though he feels they have no substantial reason to feel above any of the blue-collar workers who drive the society. Palahniuk expresses this through Tyler in the novel, Remember this, Tyler said. The people youre trying to step on, were everyone you depend on. Were the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinnerWe control every part of your lifeWe are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday well be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, by we wont (166). One can assume Palahniuk meant to say that people have been raised to believe if they work hard, their work will pay off. They will have every possession and glory theyve ever wanted. However, Tyler understands this dream is false which is why he gives this spiel to police commissioner. At the end of this novel, the reader might be left wondering, Was there something deeper Palahniuk was looking to communicate? To answer this question, the reader can look to the events happening when Palahniuk wrote Fight Club. When he published his novel in 1996, the top one percent of people in America were worth (through financial assets) as much as the combined worth of the bottom ninety percent of people (Gilbert). So, of the about 265 million people living in the United States in 1996, about 2.6 million people had as much wealth as 238.5 million people. In other words, the wealth distribution through the United States was (and still is) skewed. Through his novel, Palahniuk shows his distaste for this by having Project Mayhem wreak havoc on those he might deem unworthy of their worth like those the soap is sold to. Our goal is the big red bags of liposuctioned fat well haul back to Paper Streetand sell back to the

very people who paid to have it sucked out. At twenty bucks a bar, these are the only folks who can afford it (150). Connecting Palahniuks writing with the events of his time gives the book even deeper meaning. When reading Palahniuks novel through a Marxist lens, one can see the connections he makes between the proletariats and bourgeoisie of Marxs time and the cultures present at the time he published Fight Club. Without knowledge of Marxist principles, the reader may still be able to make judgments about Palahniuks underlying message, but reading Fight Club through the Marxist lens makes the message even more apparent.

References Blunden, Andy. "Marxism." n. page. Web. 7 Dec. 2012. <http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/help/marxism.htm>. Gilbert, Dennis. The American Class Structure in an Age of Growing Inequality. N.p.: Wadsworth Publishing, 2002. Marx/Engels Internet Archive (marxists.org) 1987, 2000. Manifesto of the Communist Party & Principles of Communism. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License. Marx, Karl. Engels, Frederick. Critique of the Gotha Programme. 3. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970. Web. Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996. Wolff, Jonathan. Karl Marx. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.), 2011. URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/marx/>.