by Chuck Palahniuk
Who Are You? We Really Want to Know
Spoiler alert: Our narrator and Tyler Durden are the same person.
Okay, we know. That's about as much of a spoiler as Darth Vader being Luke's father or Dumbledore dying (sorry, kids), but this crazy identity crisis is a huge part of the book. Even though our narrator's name is technically Tyler Durden, we just don't feel comfortable calling him that. Our narrator and Tyler Durden are as different as Ed Norton and Brad Pitt.
Maybe you guessed the big twist before the end. After all, our narrator drops all sorts of hints that something isn't quite right on Paper Street—you know, besides all the bomb making and body burying. But this isn't an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Just because you know the big twist, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy the ride.
There's a hint to this kind of dissociative identity disorder practically on the first page: "I know this because Tyler knows this," (1.8) our narrator tells us. Um, are they psychic friends or something? There are a few other factors pointing to the twist, too:
• Our narrator never tells us his name. He even gives fake names at support groups.
• Tyler's seemingly able to appear or disappear at will.
• Our insomniac narrator works day jobs, and Tyler works night jobs.
• There's a lot of talk of what's a dream and what's reality. He tells us at one point, "It's not clear if reality slipped into my dream or if my dream is slopping over into reality" (18.2).
So where did Tyler come from, and why did our narrator cook him up? According to our guy, "Tyler had been around a long time before we met" (3.80). Basically, Tyler is the physical representation of everything our narrator thinks he is not. He's suave, sexy, free-spirited, devious, anarchistic, violent, and funny—just to name a few. In short, he's the opposite of our neurotic, high-strung, IKEA-loving, corporate drone of a narrator who, when faced with a gun in his mouth, wonders how clean it is.
It Takes Two to Tango
Our narrator is totally aware of this huge contrast in personalities, saying, "I love everything about Tyler Durden. [...] Tyler is capable and free, and I am not" (23.80). But wait a minute. Our narrator is Tyler. If Tyler is all those awful and incredible things, that must mean our narrator is all those awful and incredible things too, right?
Well, kind of.
Our narrator feels that he's been raised in a society where everyone is special. And when everyone is special, no one is. Instead, we have to pursue false goals that capitalism has forced upon us. In other words, "working in jobs [we] hate, just so [we] can buy what [we] don't really need." (19.16)
In a world like this, someone outside the norm, like Tyler, can't survive. Therefore, our narrator has to distance himself from these aspects of his personality. Where some people might repress it completely, this aspect of our narrator's personality is so strong, it finds a way to come out and take over. And it doesn't end well.
The Fault in Our Stars
There's something else in this book that has a tendency to take over, too: cancer. Our narrator worries that "the cancer [he doesn't] have is everywhere now." (13.33) That cancer could be Tyler, or it could be fight club or Project Mayhem. Whatever it is, it's a cancer he's totally made up. That sets him apart from the other people at the cancer support groups he's been going to every week for two years—people who didn't ask for their very real diseases.
These support groups are the only place he can pretend to hit bottom, and he believes that "[o]nly after disaster can we be resurrected" (8.85). He cries a lot, and even though he tells us he cries because he can see that one day "everything you can ever accomplish will end up as trash" (2.9) and everyone will die, he also enjoys the attention he gets: "If people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention" (14.1).
When we think about it that way, the support groups become a place where our narrator can reveal his true cancer: feelings. Men aren't supposed to have feelings, right? Men are raised to hide and deny their feelings, to suppress them before they spread and infect the entire body. Only in the touchy-feely support groups is it okay for him to let them go.
But a problem arises when our narrator, through Tyler, decides that hugging it out isn't the way to go. He sees "a generation of men raised by women" (6.29). Feelings? Bah, those are women's doings. What men really want to do to work out their anger, rage, and frustration is to smash stuff. Preferably each other.
And so, fight club is born.
Since fight club is the creation of the Tyler Durden side of our narrator's personality, we'll get to its conception more on Tyler Durden's "Character Analysis." Here, we're going to talk about its death. Appropriate, since death is something else our narrator is just a little obsessed with.
This guy totally surrounds himself with death. He deals with death and disease as part of his job. His support groups are filled with people in various stages of their final days. And to top it off, he often sits around and wonders what it might be like to die.
When fight club is being born, our narrator stands aside and lets Tyler take care of it. It's almost like he's afraid of creating things. He can't even cook for himself, instead living in "a house full of condiments and no real food" (5.64). He only wants to destroy things. This is especially apparent when he almost beats to death the boy with the angel face at fight club. Our narrator says, "I was in the mood to destroy something beautiful." (16.50) (Watch out, Ryan Gosling.)
Eventually the Tyler side of his personality takes this lust for destruction to its extreme, and Project Mayhem is created. Its ultimate goal is the destruction of civilization as we know it. From its destruction, a new civilization will be created. Created being the key word here. That makes our narrator scared—it's a new world that he might not be equipped to deal with. So he sets out to destroy Project Mayhem.
What's his motivation? Well, think about our narrator's job. His daytime corporate job is to analyze whether or not it's beneficial for a company to initiate a recall. His department: Compliance and Liability. Only if the cost of a lawsuit is greater than the cost of a recall do they do it. Our narrator applies this theory to fight club and Project Mayhem. Only when the cost to society of keeping Project Mayhem is greater than the cost of stopping it does our narrator try to end it.
Very fancy, Palahniuk.The Narrator's Timeline