Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fight Club is The Great Gatsby


In the afterword of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk states:
"Really, what I was writing was just The Great Gatsby, updated a little. It was 'apostolic' fiction--where a surviving apostle tells the story of his hero. There are two men and a woman. And one man, the hero, is shot to death."
Now, Palahniuk simplifies things a bit. The Great Gatsby is at it's heart a story of a love triangle and in the end the "hero" does indeed get shot to death. The Great Gatsby is about so much more than that, but I get what he is suggesting. I am not the first one to look at these comparisons either. There is a terrific article by Reece Choules entitled, Fight Club vs. The Great Gatsby: Was Palahniuk's Novel a Modern Update which you should check out.
But I do think that it would be interesting to dig into this idea a little further.

First, we could spend some time sussing out who the characters connect to in The Great Gatsby.

Choules states that Tyler is Gatsby, Marla is Daisy, and the narrator could be a sort of Nick Carraway. Then the Fight Clubs and Project Mayhem would be Tom Buchanan since they stop the main characters from getting what they want. This is a fine interpretation. I can see how Tyler could be Gatsby. He wants things--Marla, destruction, but most importantly he wants a world that is different than the current one he live in. Gatsby could be said to share that desire. He wants to live in a world in which Daisy never loved Tom and Gatsby is willing to do everything in his power to create this world. Tyler also does not hold back in his attempts to achieve his dream.

I think you could also see the characters in a different light, with the narrator as Gatsby, Marla is still Daisy, and Tyler Durden is Tom Buchanan. Gatsby gets shot in the end and Tom (essentially) is the one that makes that happen. The narrator is shot at the end of Fight Club and Tyler pushes that event. Marla is the sexual desire of the narrator, even if it is just subconscious. Like Gatsby, the narrator deeply wants Marla. And Tom Buchanan is a definition perfect man-child, just like Tyler.

Of course, these character analyses become muddled when we get to the end of the book and it is revealed that the narrator is Tyler Durden. So they the narrator is both Gatsby and Tom Buchana? Or the narrator is both Gatsby and Nick? See what I mean? Not quite as interesting anymore.

Choules then discusses the themes of both books and I totally agree with his assessment.
"The Great Gatsby was about a vacuum in the soul of society after WWI, or the downside of the American dream and the struggle of the classes; then Fight Club is about the rejection of that dream. In the world Palahniuk creates everyone has become cocooned in the pursuit of perfection. Perfect catalogue houses, impossibly sculptured bodies, designer clothes, rock god status, and fast cars are the dreams on sale, and everyone is told to believe in these."
Choules is absolutely right. The characters in The Great Gatsby are just beginning to understand the problems inherent in the American dream. Which they all become very disillusioned with at the end. The characters in Fight Club outright reject the American dream as many people in society are doing today. 

But on a very simplistic level, I can agree that Fight Club could be seen as an updated Great Gatsby.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fight Club Review

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One wouldn't think that Fight Club would be an overly literary book, but it is. Palahniuk uses the strange, dark world of Fight Club to comment on society.

The narrator can't sleep. He works as a car recall inspector and is faced with gruesome death everyday. He is the one who inspects vehicles and decides whether to prompt a recall on the cars or not. He has a very scientific approach to this--a mathematical formula to decide when to pull the trigger. Because of this torture, the narrator develops insomnia. He begins going to support groups for the human contact. He doesn't have any of the diseases that they rest of the group does, but he pretends. When he cries in the arms of another person he then is able to sleep. Eventually, the narrator meets Tyler Durden, who is everything that he isn't. Tyler is smooth and manly and aggressive and rebellious. Through this interaction with Tyler the narrator helps to create Fight Club which becomes a new way of life for Tyler, the narrator, and a whole generation of men.

I really do not want to spoil anything, but this book is excellent. I have a colleague who says that Fight Club should be required reading for every teenage male, and I tend to agree with him. This book is more about what it means to be a man than anything else. How society has bastardized that idea and modern men stray far away from their primal roots.

I enjoyed Palahniuk's writing style. He uses repetition and short, crisp sentences. After the big reveal you can even go back and see how the surprise is hinted at all the way through the book because of the writing style. Now that takes skill and a really good editor to accomplish.

I don't know if I will read anymore books from Palahniuk. I have heard that this is pretty much his pinnacle and wonder if they would really be worth my time. But maybe. This book certainly was fueled many blog posts for me.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 22, 2015

On the Popularity of Poems

It fascinates me to see what students decide to do when given choice. Of course, you have to stand back and allow them to make those choices...and get the subsequent consequences of those choices. You try to help them to see the best course of action, but it is always better to let these growing people ultimately make those decisions for themselves.

Thus we come to Poetry Response #2, which was just due this last weekend for my AP Lit students. I was very surprised to see so many people choose Margaret Atwood's tiny poem, You Fit Into Me--just four lines of poetry. The jaded teacher in me wants to analyze this and say my students were just being lazy and choosing the shortest poem. Or maybe they chose it because I had told them that it didn't get chosen very often. Or maybe they all got together and decided to do the same poem. Who really knows?

I find very short poems very difficult to analyze though. I hope my students experienced that too, hopefully not to their detriment. When you are analyzing it is better to have more content to work with. I don't know if I would have chosen a four line poem just because of the difficulty inherent in filling an entire page of analysis. I don't know if I would have had enough to discuss. The brevity makes this poem difficult.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fight Club is Oedipus Rex

Super interesting article about how Fight Club is really just a retelling of Oedipus Rex. I won't go into all of the details on this one like I did with Marla Singer Doesn't Exist. But you can read the article for yourself here.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Marla Doesn't Exist

While I read Fight Club, and more so while I was viewing the film, I kept thinking that something was up with Marla Singer. Her character just seemed strange to me. After, I did some research and I am not the only person to have these ideas. There are many people who subscribe to the theory that Marla Singer does not exist! You can even read another article, by Rob Conery, which you can read here, and I will be quoting and paraphrasing heavily from Conery's article. But let me break it down for you...

The Marla Singer Didn't Exist Theory

Our narrator is messed up, there is no doubt about that. He is having a difficult time sleeping and his job is such that he moves all around the "country staring at death and destruction." Eventually that has to have some sort of effect on a guy. Because of all this stress, our narrator creates Tyler Durden, another side of himself--a split personality if you will. Tyler represents the animalistic, destructive side of our narrator. But Tyler created another split personality earlier on in the story, before he created Tyler, he created Marla. Marla could represent the narrator's remorse, his guilt, his lies. This first split personality was the result of his work and lack of sleep. How all the death and destruction first affected him. First he created a persona who feels and wants to deal with her emotions and her own mortality. I find it very interesting that the narrator's first persona is a female. But when that persona doesn't work, the narrator creates a new persona that just wants to embrace all of the destruction and even expand it.

So, enter Marla Singer. The narrator first "meets" Marla at a support group for testicular cancer. I'm pretty sure that if Marla was real she would not have testes and probably would be seen as strange attending a support group for testicular cancer. I can't say for sure because I haven't ever attended a support group like this, maybe they just welcome everyone regardless, but Marla should probably be at a different cancer support group. Then she is found smoking through the entirety of the meeting. Fight Club was published in 1996 and if I remember correctly, most states were passing strict no smoking laws during that time. Growing up in the 90's I don't remember people being allowed to smoke inside buildings unless it was a bar or bowling alley. Maybe people smoke at support groups like this, but if I were there I would at least say something, or move to the other side of the room so I would not have to breath in her smoke. But no one seems to notice. She just smokes and no one says anything, not even the narrator. Maybe because she isn't really there? And if Marla Singer didn't actually exist I think that makes the part where the narrator goes to hug her at the meeting and confront her all the more interesting. If she isn't there then he is embracing and arguing with himself. 

After the testicular cancer meeting, the narrator chases Marla out into the street arguing with her. She crosses the street several times in the midst of heavy traffic and walks into a laundromat and steals some cloths. In both instances no one seems to notice. The cars don't honk at her, she isn't hit by them. No one yells, "thief!" when she steals the clothing. Maybe because she isn't really doing those things. You can really see this in the film. Fincher did a wonderful job in this scene and it is probably one of the biggest pieces of evidence for this theory.

What becomes very interesting and could spark whole essays about this book, is the fact that Marla and Tyler copulate in the book. I don't want to go into details, but I believe that suggests something interesting about our narrator.

Once the narrator falls deeply into the Tyler persona, Marla moves out of the lime light. The narrator has chosen to pursue the animalistic side of himself and he doesn't need the grieve and guilt side anymore. He doesn't want to feel those emotions, he wants to feel pain. So, Marla isn't apparent for many chapters, but she is still there, waiting in the corners of the narrators mind.

One more clue that really convinced me was the fact that Marla and Tyler can't be together in the kitchen scene. After Tyler copulates with Marla, they both come down to speak with the narrator in the kitchen, but they never come down together. The book even takes a moment to explain that Tyler cannot be in the kitchen when Marla is there and vice versa. I believe that is because they are both persona's in the narrator's head and he can't have more than one persona at a time occupying his mind.

Eventually, the narrator figures it out. That Tyler isn't real and he begins to try to bring the whole thing down. Tyler has set it up so that the narrator will be unable to do it, he even has instructed the Project Mayhem lackeys to harm the narrator if he tries to stop them. And who comes to his rescue, when his other persona isn't working out anymore? Marla Singer. His guilt and remorse returns to hold his hand and help him through the final moments of his life. In the film she holds his hand while they watch the destruction of another building in the distance. Giving him the comfort that Tyler was unable to.

Marla isn't an animal and she cannot compete with Tyler and so she just fades into the background. But Marla knows that the narrator cannot embrace the animal forever. He is using the animalistic persona to mask his feelings instead of dealing with them. And when he is finally ready to deal with his emotions, once Tyler is gone, she reappears. Unfortunately, the narrator never actually does deal with his emotions, with troubling things he has seen and done in his life. Both of his made-up persona's have failed him. He decides that all he can do is take his own life.

Now, there are plenty of things that could refute this idea, but that is why it is a theory and not fact. The biggest thing to remember is that Fight Club is an incredibly fun book to think about.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Coming Soon 3--I Changed My Mind

I can do that right?

So, I will save James Joyce for another day. It has been a long time since I have read McCarthy. I think I am going to enjoy this one immensely. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fight Club ch. 20

Just a short post this time. I thought Palahniuk made some interesting choices in chapter twenty. 

In Chapter twenty, the narrator goes out on a homework assignment for Project Mayhem--Tyler has asked his groupies to bring him twelve driver's licenses to prove that they had made twelve human sacrifices. The narrator targets a Korner Mart (convenience store) employee named Raymond Hessel. He points the gun at Raymond's face and starts rummaging through his pockets. 

I like this scene for two reasons: first, the narrator lets Raymond go. He doesn't kill Raymond like I assume Tyler has instructed him to. The narrator looks through Raymond's wallet and discovers little details about him from the contents--a library card and a college student ID. He asks Raymond why he isn't going to school anymore? What he was studying? What he wanted to be when he grew up? They he lets Raymond go. The narrator tells Raymond that he will be watching him and if Raymond doesn't get back into school and begin working towards being a veterinarian (like he dreamed), then he will come and kill him. I love this. I love that the narrator decides that this young man needs this in his life. All he needs is a little push to get back into the right path. Which is very interesting because the narrator has rejected that same path. He walked what he is asking Raymond to walk and it didn't bring him any fulfillment. At the end, the narrator decided that it was all a lie and he really had nothing in his life; nothing made him happy. And yet, he pushes Raymond to seek after this dream. I love the last couple of lines...
"Now, I'm going to walk away so don't turn around."This is what Tyler wants me to do."These are Tyler's words coming out of my mouth."I am Tyler's mouth."I am Tyler's hands."Everybody in Project Mayhem is part of Tyler Durden, and vice versa."Raymond K. K. Hessel, your dinner is going to taste better than any meal you've ever eaten, and tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of your entire life."
I'm sure that meal was the best he's every tasted.
They add Tyler Durden to this scene in the movie, which is an interesting choice.
The second thing that I really like about this chapter is the use of the second person. I usually don't like it when authors use "you" in their writing because it is so difficult to get right. Palahniuk gets it right in this chapter. You can feel the tension because this is happening to you
"You gave me your wallet like I asked.
"Your name was Raymond K. Hessel on your driver's license. You live at 1320 SE Benning, apartment A.
"Raymond K. K. K. K. K. K. Hessel, I was talking to you."
The use of you draws the reader in and after a while you really get into the scene. At the end when you are let go, you can breath again.  Because you realize that you've been holding your breath the entire time.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fight Club and the Man-Child

My mind keeps going back to my chapter 6 read along of Fight Club, and how Palahniuk talked about a generation of men raised by women. How men don't know how to be men anymore. Those thoughts reminded me of several articles (even a book) written about this very subject; the foremost being an article by Kay S. Hymowitz entitled Where Have the Good Men Gone, published in 2011 in the Wall Street Journal.

Essentially, Hymowitz details the decline of the modern American male. She discusses the societal phenomenon wherein men become stuck in this limbo--pre-adulthood. These "pre-adult" men "talk about Star Wars like it's not a movie made for people half their age; a guy's idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his band mates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends." They wait longer periods of time before starting a career, getting married, settling down, and having children. And this problem is perpetuated by our society. Mom and Dad say, "why not, he can move into the basement." "Getting a job right now is tough." Hymowitz doesn't necessarily blame these "pre-adult" men, but more points the finger at American society. Although, I would make sure these "men" do understand that this problem isn't out of their control--they could make the choices to become responsible...anyway.

I wonder if Palahniuk is concerned about this same thing. Let's go back to chapter 6 and look at a passage one more time:
   "My father never went to college so it was really important I go to college. After college, I called him long distance and said, now what?
     "My dad didn't know.
     "When I got a job and turned twenty-five, long distance, I said, now what? My dad didn't know, so he said, get married.
     "I'm a thirty-year-old boy, and I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer I need."
Sure sounds like the same thing that Hymowitz is talking about. The narrator drags himself through the milestones of life, not quite sure what should be next. He has a job, a nice apartment, beautiful furniture, and a top-of-the-line car. But he isn't happy; in fact, the narrator is miserable--he can't sleep, he doesn't seem to have friends, he drunkenly spins through life. He consults with his "father," but even then he doesn't get any certainty. There used to be a set plan and now that plan has been thrown out the window and set on fire. Men (and especially the narrator in Fight Club) don't know where to turn, where to go, what's next.

The narrator creates Tyler as his new father-figure, but Tyler is part of this problem. Tyler is the epitome of the "pre-adult." Tyler is the frat boy with ideas of anarchy. Tyler doesn't have a career, he has a series of jobs. Tyler squats in an abandoned house in a shifty part of town. He cuts in scenes of pornography into family movies because he thinks its funny. He drinks and fights and plans to shake the world up. But does Tyler contribute anything to society? I would argue that he doesn't. "Pre-adult" men don't contribute, they just take.

Fight club, the group of "pre-adult" men who gather in the basement of a bar to smash each other's faces in, is a definition perfect example of what Hymowitz is talking about. I like to think that Palahniuk is writing this as a rejection of the idea of the man-child. He creates a narrator that simply cannot do the work of an adult. Because of his failure, the narrator reverts back to this man-child ideal and ruins his own life and the life of those around him. For a while he is happy, but he continually has to find more extreme things to occupy his time. This all leads to his eventual suicide. He doesn't like what he has become. The man-child destroys the narrator.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fight Club ch. 6 Read Along

Still really enjoying this book. Such a delight to re-read. I look forward into jaunt into this world each evening. 

My thoughts for this read along are in no particular order:
  • "I did this to myself." 
    • More on lines like this later.
  • "Maybe at lunch, the waiter comes to your table and the waiter has the two black eyes of a giant panda from fight club last weekend when you saw him get his head pinched between the concrete floor and the knee of a two-hundred pound stock boy who kept slamming a fist into the bridge of the waiter's nose again and again in flat hard packing sounds you could hear over all the yelling until the waiter caught enough breath and sprayed blood to say, stop."
    • Now this is a sentence. While some people may slap the hand of people who write sentences like this, I really love them. Thus why I am drawn to authors like Faulkner, Joyce, McCarthy, and now I guess Palahniuk. You can see this happening though. The description is simple and beautiful.
  • "Maybe self-improvement isn't the answer." and "Maybe self-destruction is the answer."
    • But between those two lines is this one, "Tyler never knew his father." Now this idea comes up several more times in this chapter, but we are beginning to see this theme formulate throughout the novel. Now-a-days we have a lot of young men being raised without a male figure to look up to, to learn from. Who is teaching these men to shave, to fix things, to fight, to take a punch, to throw the ball. I don't think that I am the best person to answer these questions as I am not the manliest of men (I mean I read and discuss literature for a living--nothing better than curling up with a good book), but there is something to be said about the modern man and what we have devolved into. Maybe this is why Mr. Warren says that every young man should be required to read Fight Club.
  • Then we get the famous rules of Fight Club that every knows from the movie.
  • "What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women."
    • Nothing inherently wrong with being raised by a woman. Many great men have been raised by women. But like I said before, do we lose something by not having a male figure to look up to?
  • Then Palahniuk talks about football on television and it occurs to me that we are used to watching other men doing manly things rather than doing manly things ourselves. He has this great line, not entirely appropriate, but the point is made: "After you've been to fight club, watching football on television is watching pornography when you could be having sex." The point is this...that we watch people being manly and never get out there and do man things for ourselves. We don't hunt for our own food. Heck, I hate working in the yard. Building my shed in the backyard was probably one of the worst experiences of my life, I hated it. But that is what a man would do, right? He would get up and build something out of wood, build it to last.
  • "The gyms you go to are crowded with guys trying to look like men."
  • "I'm a thirty-year-old boy, and I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer I need."
    • Another good point to my whole argument about men. The narrator talks about walking through his life, just jumping through the hoops. Graduation high school because that is what is expected of you. Going to college to get a degree. Upon graduating, what comes next? Get a job. Get married. Have children. Work until you can retire. Our lives are scripted these days. Everyone follows the same formula. But are we really happy? Living our lives which are the copies of every other life, are we really happy? Palahniuk would say no, I think. And what will break the mold? Being a man.
  • "You aren't alive anywhere like you're alive at fight club."
  • "Fight club isn't about words."
  • "Sometimes, Tyler speaks for me."
    • Again, hints at things that will come later.

I agree with all of this to a point though. Palahniuk is trying to make the point that we are all the same and that men are no longer men. But if we all attending fight club and "become" men, then don't we have the same problem again? The meathead cliche of men is one I actively reject, and I spent a lot of time trying to dispel when I used to teach All Boys English. Men are just a varied as any other group of people and I believe that is a good thing. Being a man can mean so many different things. I especially like the renaissance man ideal--a man that is strong, smart, artistic, and sensitive. Hey Palahniuk, how about a fight club of the mind?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fight Club ch. 2

Introduced to Marla Singer in chapter two and Palahniuk shows his description chops in this chapter.

"Short matte black hair, big eyes the way they are in Japanese animation, skim milk thin, buttermilk sallow in her dress with a wallpaper pattern of dark roses, this woman was also in my  tuberculosis support group Friday night. She was in my melanoma round table Wednesday night. Monday night she was in my Firm Believers leukemia rap group. The part down the center of her hair is a crooked lightning bolt of white scalp."

"Skim milk thin" and "buttermilk sallow" are just the most awesome of descriptions. I don't think she is supposed to come across a beautiful or anything. Maybe androgynous? Her features don't scream gorgeous; more like sickly

And she seems to be smoking the entire time the narrator is watching her in this scene. I find that interesting and would like to come back to it later.

The other thing I would like to revisit in a future blog post is the fact that the narrator is at a support group for men who suffer from testicular cancer. And the group is called Remaining Men Together. I find it very ironic. Plus Marla is there.

Like I said, I want to circle back around to this one, but I find it very interesting.