We've noticed something weird around Shmoop HQ lately. See, people are walking around with black eyes and bloodstained ties. And there was a human tooth in the water fountain. Oh, and then we found this piece of paper in the copy machine: "The first rule of Fight Club is... stop cracking jokes about the first rule of Fight Club. That is so 1999."
In case you totally missed the 90s, Fight Club is a cult favorite novel that was later adapted into the visually stunning 1999 feature film, directed by David Fincher (who also adapted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. Talk about street cred.
Although it wasn't the first piece he wrote, the 1996 Fight Club was Chuck Palahniuk's first published novel. Unable to get his first novel, Invisible Monsters, published because it was a wee bit too disturbing, Palahniuk set out to write something even more controversial. Palahniuk expanded a short story he had written into a full-length novel, and Fight Club was born kicking and screaming into the world, ready to take names. After achieving success with Fight Club (in no small part thanks to the movie), Palahniuk has gone on to author twelve additional novels.
Fight Club itself focuses on an unreliable narrator, his relationship with an enigmatic man named Tyler Durden, and their creation of fight club, an underground boxing club which evolves into the anarchistic organization Project Mayhem. Project Mayhem intends to tear down the American social structure, replacing puffy-shirted bureaucrats with testosterone-fueled manly men as the ruling class.
Palahniuk definitely succeeded at writing something controversial. The book has been accused of having dangerous anti-consumerist themes, and the movie, a faithful adaptation, was called "a fascist rhapsody posing as a metaphor of liberation." (source). Both the novel and the movie were so successful at tapping into human emotion, that an assortment of real-world copycat fight clubs popped up across the world. So, yeah, Fight Club was the start of something big for this disaffected generation.
Even if you've seen the movie, you have to read the book. Not only are a couple key plot points different, but it really gets you inside the fractured mind(s) of our troubled protagonist. It's a fascinating place to visit, even if we wouldn't want to live there.
Why Should I Care?
Before people identified themselves as part of the 99%, and before people Occupied Wall Street, there was Fight Club. Palahniuk's 1996 novel was a kick in the teeth, distilling the frustrations of the American working class—specifically the American working class male—into its purest, most primal essence.
The men in Fight Club are sick of being treated as second-class citizens. They want a fighting chance at success. They want health care. They want to not be treated like slaves. They want to be defined by something other than their job title and their bank account. And they've realized that none of this will ever happen. This frustration and helplessness still exists today. As a result, Fight Club is more relevant than ever, and it still packs a punch.