Tyler has just poured lye on The Narrator’s wet hand. The pain is excruciating, but Tyler yells at the Narrator to remain calm. As the Narrator writhes in agony, Tyler reminds the Narrator that one day, he will die, just like everybody else. The Narrator tries to make himself think of his “happy place”—Ireland—but Tyler tells the Narrator to focus on here and now. The Narrator remembers being in Ireland and learning about the human sacrifices that the Celts made centuries ago. Tyler reminds the Narrator that the melted fat of the sacrifices trickled into the Irish rivers, reacting with the water to form lye. Because of the lye in the water, the Irish were able to clean themselves in the water, centuries later.
The Narrator tries to use “new age” psychological techniques to cope with his pain, but Tyler insists that the Narrator is just dodging the real issue. Instead of evading his pain, Tyler wants to make The Narrator embrace his pain. Tyler’s explanation for the link between human sacrifice and cleanliness exposes the sinister link between civilization (symbolized by soap) and violence. Furthermore, his explanation suggests that all social progress requires sacrifice: without human sacrifices, the Irish wouldn’t have had clean clothes.
Tyler then pours vinegar over the Narrator’s hand, neutralizing the burn of the lye. The Narrator sees that he has a scar on his hand, in the shape of Tyler’s kiss. Tyler, crying with joy, tells the Narrator that he’s one step closer to hitting bottom. Without pain and sacrifice, Tyler insists, “we would have nothing.”