by Chuck Palahniuk
Where It All Goes Down
5123 NE Paper Street
The house at Paper Street has a mighty specific street address, but we never find out what city we're in. It's your textbook Anytown, USA strategy. The original location of fight club doesn't matter. What matters is that, by the end of the book, fight club and Project Mayhem are everywhere. Dun dun dun.
But before we move along, let's not glaze over the house. It's an important setting because it's the complete opposite of our narrator's yuppie apartment filled with modular Swedish furniture and floor-to-ceiling curtains. Let's take a look at some of the main differences:
- Where our narrator's apartment is safe and sterile (before it blows up, of course), the Paper Street house is dangerous ("Everywhere there are rusted nails to step on or snag your elbow on" [7.10]).
- In his apartment, our narrator relaxes on a matching living room set. In the Paper Street house, his only furniture is "big teetering stacks of magazines that get taller every time it rains" (7.11).
- Our narrator's building is described as "a sort of filing cabinet for widows and young professionals." (5.12) Filing cabinets represent order (well, depending on who's doing the filing), and order is one of Project Mayhem's number one enemies. Remember when they throw filing cabinets out the window? Yeah.
- The narrator's apartment is lifeless, sterile, and fake. In stark contrast, "Tyler's rented house on Paper Street is a living thing wet on the inside" (17.78). It's alive. They're actually growing things inside there: "Tufts of hair surface beside the dirt clods. Hair and shit. Bone meal and blood meal. The plants are growing faster than the space monkeys can cut them back" (17.115). Yeah, they're growing weird stuff, but growing nonetheless.
In order to hit bottom and deconstruct his life as well as society, our narrator has to first deconstruct his living space. Living in the Paper Street house isn't too far removed from living in the wild for him—with only his wits and resources to keep him alive.
How about those hotels?
First, the Regent Hotel, where Marla lives. Described as "nothing but brown bricks held together with sleaze" (7.24), its name is ringing some irony bells. A regent is someone who rules and gives the impression of glory and majesty. This hotel is anything but. Instead, the name highlights how Marla is oppressed by society, a victim of the ruling class.
Next up, the prestigious Pressman Hotel, where the rich party while the poor and working class serve them. Put an "op" in front of the name, add a space, and you've got "Oppress Man Hotel," a name that reveals exactly what is going on behind its gilded doors.
So what's in a name? Would these hotels by any other name still be hell-bent on breaking the spirit of the working class?