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Chuck Palahniuck wrote Fight Club in 1996 as a response to the prevalence of books promoting a social model for women

to be together. As he stated in the afterword of Fight Club, he wanted to write a book that presented a new social model for men to share their lives. (214) What he created instead was a book questioning how we all form our identities in modern society. How we decide what defines us and how the expression of that definition affects how we live our lives. Pahahniuck argues that in our shallow materialistic culture, we let our furniture, electronics, and clothes define us. This is perfectly illustrated when the narrator says Then youre trapped in your lovely nest, and the stuff you use to own ends up owning you.(44) The deeper implications here are that the pursuit of stuff is really what forces us into lives we dont want to lead. As Tyler pointed out following their near-life experience, Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they dont need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they dont really need.(149) With this quote Tyler illustrates how the media and the culture at large force us into tedious jobs we detest. We must abandon our dignity, our personal power, and our masculinity in order to obtain these materialistic possessions. Put another way, culture defines personal identity. Palahniuck use pathos and ethos as the lens to examine exactly culture accomplishes defining personal identity. Before I begin, I feel that some definitions are in order. For the purposes of this paper, ethos will be defined as persuading your audience through building credibility. It is used as a tool to get the audience to respect a characters or authors viewpoint. Pathos will be defined as persuading your audience through emotional appeals. Pathos uses your fears and desires, often working in tandem with ethos, to build credibility and prove your point. An emotionally invested reader will be more receptive to your logical argumentation. This brings us to logos which will be defined as persuading your audience through rational and logical reasoning. It is the proving of a point using facts and evidence. Palahniuck employs all three of these rhetorical devices quite heavily throughout Fight Club. I am going to start by examining how he builds up ethos.

Palahniuck sets up his argument by lending credibility to the narrator and Tyler Durden. The narrator is the everyman. He has no given name. He works for a large company doing a morally questionable job that hes completely detached from. He is a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct as Edward Norton put it in the film adaptation. Working class men can relate to the monotony of the narrators life. They can relate to the feeling of powerlessness the narrator expresses at the beginning of the book, the feeling of constantly being pushed and pulled by cultural conditioning. Some people deal with this lack of control by rationalizing that in order to obtain long-term happiness we must sacrifice our sense of self to play along with society. Effectively dividing who we believe ourselves to be with whom society tells us we should be. This sense of division between ones true identity and the identity we must present to other people causes detachment. The narrator actually has a physical manifestation of this detachment in the form of his insomnia. As he puts it This is how it is with insomnia. Everything is so far away, a copy of a copy of a copy. The insomnia distance of everything, you cant touch anything and nothing can touch you. (21) Anyone can relate to that statement, that feeling of being so far removed from the experience of living your life that everything seems like a copy of a copy of a copy (17). Anyone daydreaming at work or staring at the clock anticipating the end of their shift has felt this distance before. Maybe not to the chronic extent of the narrator but you can at least empathize with him. And by putting yourself into his shoes, by temporarily adopting his worldview, you will find Tyler Durdens words resonate more deeply. By giving credibility to the narrator as an everyman, Palahniuck ultimately turns Tyler Durden into every readers idea of the ideal man. Hes smart, confident, and is completely in control. Anybody in a subservient position at all has imagined themselves as Tyler. Any waiter whos ever wanted to spice up a rude customers clam chowder has imagined themselves as Tyler. Any office drone whos wanted to tell their boss off has imagined themselves as Tyler. He represents an ideal, the ideal of being totally unrestricted by society. Caring for no law, respecting no rules, Tyler lives in the moment. But most

importantly, Tyler has nothing to lose. Tyler was the pawn of the world, everybodys trash and this single trait allowed him to be completely free. Its only after youve lost everything, that youre free to do anything. When we hole up in our pretty little nests surrounded by furniture that defines us, we tend to focus on obtaining more stuff. We sacrifice our current satisfaction for delayed gratification that never comes because we are trying to reach an impossible pinnacle. As Tyler points out We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe someday well be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, (166) The pinnacle is to be rich and famous. That is the only possible goal to someone defining their self worth in material possessions. They want to have the power and money to obtain the best furniture and clothes so as to be complete. Its an aspiration that only a select few will ever realize which Tyler points out by finishing the above quote with, but we wont. And were just learning this fact, so dont fuck with us. (166) Tyler establishes his credibility by speaking to every working mans innate desire to break out of their socially constructed cage. The Truman Show perfectly illustrated the idea of a socially constructed cage. Truman and the narrator of Fight Club seem to have nothing in common, but they are both trapped. Truman is trapped in both a societal and physical cage (via the dome) but the dome just represents the mental limitations imposed by society. Instead of the physical dome of the Truman Show, the narrator of Fight Club is trapped in a mental dome constructed by society. Its interesting to note that both domes were created by a capitalistic and materialistic worldview attempting to make the human experience a commodity. While the people Truman interacted with were pawns of a single man, the people we interact on a day to day basis are controlled by cultural conditioning. Truman learns of his situation because he became bored with the monotony of his perfect life. The narrator of Fight Club learns of his cage through Tyler who is literally a product of the monotony of his life. The Truman Show contrasts with Fight Club by having Truman already at the peak. He has a wife, a house, all the latest home appliances, and he is well liked by everyone. However the narrator of Fight Club is miserable, has no friends, and is in the process

of building his nest. But they still reached the same conclusion. They wanted to break free. This points out that even if the narrator had reached the pinnacle of cultural perfection, he would still be trapped by an ephemeral goal. A goal that is ever-shifting just like how the culture is always in flux. After the narrators apartment gets blown apart, he says May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect. Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.(46) Being perfect and complete is an illusion, a goal that can never be achieved. Being in pursuit of these culturally defined concepts puts you in a culturally defined prison. As Tyler tells the narrator A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.(33) A point that the narrator later clarifies after the first fight club is held, Nothing is static. Even the Mona Lisa is falling apart. Everything we work for can only ever lead to instances of perfection. Its not a continual state that we can embody. Society has us convinced we can live a perfect lifestyle if we work hard enough to buy the right stuff. However the minute we obtain that perfect piece of furniture or perfect shirt, they have come out with the next best thing. We can never appreciate those minutes of perfection because once we reach one plateau; we immediately start climbing to the next. This is the great problem with materialism, a focus on the future instead of an appreciation of the present. Most of us, especially those working in the service industry, grapple with this paradox, that of delaying our happiness now for the promise of obtaining it later. As Tyler says when surveying the men of Project Mayhem, We dont 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.(149) Tylers credibility comes from his deep understanding of the condition of the modern working middle class man. He is not only one of us but speaks for us. He represents the voice we want to speak out against a culture we dont agree with. Palahniuck did an excellent job building up Tylers credibility to his audience. Tyler embodies an ideal to strive for and a philosophy that most can empathize with.

Building up Tylers credibility does a very important job in framing Palahniucks logical arguments. By getting the reader to respect Tylers position, he gets you to implicitly accept two assumptions; that we are living in a socially constructed cage and that is inherently a bad thing. On top of building up Tylers credibility or perhaps in the process of building it, Palahniuck employs many emotional appeals to get the reader to accept these assumptions. He perfectly illustrates the feelings of hopelessness when faced with the inevitable end of your life through the narrator going to support groups. Crying is right at hand in the smothering dark, closed inside someone else, when you see how everything you can ever accomplish will end up as trash.(17) At this point in the story the narrator is grappling with a conclusion we all must face someday, that no matter how hard we work someday we will be dead. He ends the quote by pointing out that, Anything youre ever proud of will be thrown away.(17) This is a very depressing thought to most and many feel the same hopelessness that the narrator feels when faced with this conclusion. Why create anything when in the end it will just end up as trash? Why strive to better yourself when, in the end, youll just end up as a worm buffet. Tyler embraces this fundamental truth. As he told the narrator when burning his kiss into the narrators hand, Someday, you will die, and until you know that, youre useless to me. The implication here is that it is pathetic to worry about death or act like it isnt imminent. Its just a fact that you will die. The fear of death is the single most dominant force guiding human nature. We make many concessions to live lives of comfort and it is in these concessions that our cages infrastructure manifests itself. Palahniuck uses Tyler to really highlight how society constructs this cage. One assumption many of us makes is that there is a god. The most prevalent response to our fear of death is religion. Tyler highlights how society constructs our idea of god through our fathers. If youre male and youre Christian and living in America, your father is your model for god. And if you never know youre father, if your father bails or dies or is never home, what do you believe about god? (141) Its not a stretch to suggest that your father is also your model for the ideal man. We take our

fathers qualities and idealize them to gain our picture of what it is to be a man. If your father is your model for god and your father is also the model for your ideal man then that means god is your mental picture of the ideal man. Since your father is really just an agent for the culture at large, our first contact with society, then that means society defines our personal idea of god. By extension, it also means that society also defines our concept of the ideal man. Tyler argues that what you end up doing is you spend your life searching for a father and God. (140) Since God and your father are just conceptions of your ideal man, what you end up doing is trying to embody their qualities. Society therefore defines your ultimate goal or purpose in life because your ideal man is the comparison you use to judge the relative worth of your actions and features. You strive to reach that ideal status which as Ive discussed earlier is an ever-shifting peak with continually climbing plateaus. The narrator illustrates this message when he said, After college, I called him long distance and said, now what? My dad didnt know. When I got a job and turned twenty-five, long distance, I said, now what? My dad didnt know, so he said, get married. (51) His dad, who ultimately represents his purpose in life, doesnt even know what he should do next. He provides no direction. Now most adults have asked the question, now what? at some point in their lives and the answer is almost always a variation on whatever you want! Everyone can sympathize with that situation. You, as a reader, will accept the assumptions that I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph if you accept Palahniucks appeal to that feeling of purposelessness most people experience at some point in their lives. Without direction, most people will languish around completely detached from society. By extension, they will also detach themselves from the act of living their life because their life is played out in the arena of society. As Tyler said, You have a class of young strong men and women, and they want to give their lives to something. (149) An office job is not worth giving your life to and everyone can agree and empathize with that. What Tyler is trying to do is show these people that they are not what they have let society define them as. They are capable of so much more. As Tyler points out, All a gun does is focus an explosion in a single direction. (149) Well Tyler is the gun

and the members of Project Mayhem are the bullets. He holds a sentiment that we all wish were true. That we have so much more potential than we think we do. Tyler is just focusing that potential into a single direction. Hes harnessing the suppressed power of all these individuals to destroy the system that originally suppressed their power. Thats the strongest emotional argument Palahniuck can make. We all have this feeling that we are being buffeted around by forces out of our control. We want Tyler to be right that we are wasted potential so we accept his fundamental assumptions that the source of our hopelessness is culture itself. We accept that society has placed us in a mental cage and that this is a bad thing. Once we accept these assumptions, it automatically follows that culture defines our identity.