Masculinity in Fight Club

October 3, 2007

This blog post is brought to you courtesy of Tammy, Zena, Misti, and Ryan

The treatment of masculinity and manliness is a major theme throughout Fight Club. 

The first passage from the book we chose is on page 17, and takes place while the narrator is at the support group for testicular cancer, and is in the clutches of Bob:

“You cry,”  Bob says and inhales and sob, sob, sobs.  “Go on now and cry.”  The big wet face settles down on top of my head, and I am lost inside.  This is when I’d cry.  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.”

There is the obvious significance of the fact this is a group for men with testicular cancer, many of whom have lost their testicles.  This leaves them feeling empty, and without their manhood and what it is that defines them as men.  The male organ is featured prominently throughout the text; in the testicular cancer group, in the pieces of film Tyler splices into family movies, and threat of castration, which is the strongest weapon project mayhem uses.  Whenever someone poses a threat to project mayhem, they are not killed, they are simply held down and shown a rubber band and a rather large knife.  This is a bigger threat to most men than even death.  Because if any man were to suffer this fate, they would end up in that same church basement locked in a big wet hug with Bob.

The second piece from the novel we used is on page 141:

The mechanic says, “If you’re male and you’re Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God.  And if you never know your father, if your father bails out or dies or is never at home, what do you believe about God?… “What you end up doing,” the mechanic says, “is you spend your life searching for a father and God.” 

In this example, God is a symbol of masculinity, and another father figure.  A boy’s father is his example and role-model for what manliness is supposed to be; and when a boy is without a father and without God, they have no model for manliness and spend their life searching.  It is also worth noting that the person delivering this speech is known as the mechanic.  The mechanic is regarded as a manly profession, with the cars and working with your hands. 

The novel gives no set definition for masculinity.  What it does present is a notion that masculinity/manliness is its own underground society, bordering on cult-like status.  And men must seek out these underground groups, such as the cancer support group and fight club, and join in an attempt to be around other men and discover what it is to be a man.  


This notion of masculinity is the opposite of what we saw when we read Written on the Body.  In that text, the use of the ambigious narrator illustrates how gender does not matter and either sex is capable of acting in such a way.  This goes against what we see in Fight Club, which is an attempt to discovery the exact meaning of what it is to be a man.  Switching to Jameson, we could say that the historical image of masculinity does not exist, and what we have is only a representation of what we think manliness is supposed to be.


4 Responses to “Masculinity in Fight Club”

  1. Jessica said

    this is non sense

  2. Barney Rupert said

    Men without role models will either constantly seek them, or destroy the failures that they once tried so hard to venerate. Fight Club is not about masculinity alone. It is about men who have embraced nihilism and in passionate fury dedicate themselves to the destruction of everything. Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons” brilliantly captures this thesis.

    The central flaw in men who seek to be manly in the lack of self-acceptance and self-awareness that comes with being alive. They are men, and all the ingredients to be manly are there. But because they do not know this, because there is something to the idea that to accept ourselves we need to be accepted by others, Fight Club men have conformed to society’s rejection of them. Then, they reject society to annihilate it and themselves. The only cure is to accept themselves. But they do not understand how to do this without resorting to violence.

    Incidentally, Palahniuk’s consistent typological references to male genitalia less have to do with an argument that there is no historical representation of manliness, than they show how other people rob men of their masculinity with fear. It is not the testes that makes men men. It is their bravery. We actually witness the transformation of Bob as he joins Fight Club and abandons his former milquetoast personality in the Testicular Cancer group.

    The fundamental misapprehension of men these days is searching in others for their own self-worth. This is going to end in disappointment, because everyone is out for their own gain, and everyone’s definition of someone else will inevitably place someone else as inferior to them. Only a perfect being could ever properly contextualize the worth of a person, whether male or female, and that person is Jesus Christ. Jesus accepts who you are. You don’t have to be something for him, like you do for everyone else. You don’t have to smile your way into his approval, or try to prove yourself through actions. All you have to do is to be yourself and to follow Him. He knows you, and won’t make you be anyone you aren’t.

    Fight Club is thus a tragedy, as the virtues which its adherents sought to institute eventually became vices. Men who once simply sought approval, and who accepted society’s ostracization of their nature, have now turned to petty crime, sabotage, terrorism, and murder. As far as a traits-based analysis of masculinity goes, these men did have focus, passion, discipline, physical fitness, and drive. But they lacked character. They abandoned who they were as they lost themselves in their collective nihilism. This loss of identity, while it may have rejected those who once rejected them, accepted rejection as the basis of worth. Love is that basis. Hatred tears down and consumes. Love does the same but it destroys that which is worthy of being destroyed, and rebuilds what once was not there.

    This actually was the conclusion of the movie (not that of the book), as Edward Norton killed off his alter ego in order to embrace who he really was without all that volcanic hatred. If there were an epilogue, though, it would have shown him never really understanding his proper role in society, never understanding society’s proper role in his weltanschauung, and ending up alone, confused, bitter, and sad. Only God can provide the dignity and understanding we crave. Without Him, all else is trash.

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