In order to understand what motivates the characters of Fight Club, we have to understand what they’re fighting against. Overall, much of the novel’s project involves satirizing modern American life, particularly what the novel sees as the American obsession with consumerism and the mindless purchasing of products.
At first, the protagonist and Narrator of the book is portrayed as a kind of slave to his society’s values; he describes himself as being addicted to buying sofas and other pieces of furniture. The Narrator is trapped in a society of rampant consumerism, in which people are pushed (both by advertisements and by a general culture of materialism) to spend their money on things they don’t need, until buying such things is their only source of pleasure. The richest characters in the novel are so obsessed with buying things that they lavish fortunes on incredibly trivial items like perfume and mustard, while the poorest starve. As with any addiction, the characters’ consumerism is endless—no matter how many products they buy, they always feel an unquenchable thirst for more.
Another important aspect of modern American life, as the novel portrays it, is the emphasis on beauty and perfection, whether in a human body or in something like an apartment. “These days,” the Narrator’s alter ego, Tyler Durden, says, everybody looks fit and healthy, because everybody goes to the gym. In contemporary American society, the “perfect man” is supposed to be well-off, well-dressed, fit, own lots of nice furniture, and have a pleasant attitude at all times, ensuring that he impresses everyone around him. The novel suggests that America’s obsession with beauty and exercise and its obsession with consumer goods are one and the same: they’re both rooted in a desire to appear “perfect”—essentially to “sell themselves.” The result is that human beings themselves become “products,” just like a sofa or a jar of mustard.
In contrast to consumerism, the novel depicts traditional sources of fulfillment and pleasure, such as family and religion, as either nonexistent or fragmented. The Narrator barely knows or speaks to his father, and none of the characters in the novel are presented as believing in God—the implication being that consumerism has become America’s new “religion” (but, of course, a religion that doesn’t offer any profound meaning about life, or even real happiness). In structuring their lives around transient, superficial pleasures like the purchasing of products, consumers deny themselves any deeper emotional or spiritual satisfaction—a vacuum that Tyler’s fight club (and then Project Mayhem) attempts to fill.
Consumerism, Perfection, and Modernity ThemeTracker
Consumerism, Perfection, and Modernity Quotes in Fight Club
"Funerals are nothing compared to this," Marla says. "Funerals are all abstract ceremony. Here, you have a real experience of death."
My flight back from Dulles, I had everything in that one bag. When you travel a lot, you learn to pack the same for every trip. Six white shirts. Two black trousers. The bare minimum you need to survive.
The first rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.
The first night we fought was a Sunday night, and Tyler hadn't shaved all weekend so my knuckles burned raw from his weekend beard. Lying on our backs in the parking lot, staring up at the one star that came through the streetlights, I asked Tyler what he'd been fighting. Tyler said, his father.
"You have to see," Tyler says, "how the first soap was made of heroes."
Think about the animals used in product testing.
Think about the monkeys shot into space.
"Without their death, their pain, without their sacrifice," Tyler says, "we would have nothing."
New leather multiplied by labor cost multiplied by administration cost would equal more than our first-quarter profits. If anyone ever discovers our mistake, we can still pay off a lot of grieving families before we come close to the cost of retrofitting sixty-five hundred leather interiors.
After the union president had slugged Tyler to the floor, after mister president saw Tyler wasn't fighting back, his honor with his big Cadillac body bigger and stronger than he would ever really need, his honor hauled his wingtip back and kicked Tyler in the ribs and Tyler laughed. His honor shot the wingtip into Tyler's kidneys after Tyler curled into a ball, but Tyler was still laughing.
"Get it out," Tyler said. "Trust me. You'll feel a lot better. You'll feel great."
When Tyler invented Project Mayhem, Tyler said the goal of Project Mayhem had nothing to do with other people. Tyler didn't care if other people got hurt or not. The goal was to teach each man in the project that he had the power to control history. We, each of us, can take control of the world.
Up above me, outlined against the stars in the window, the face smiles. "Those birthday candles," he says, "they're the kind that never go out."
In the starlight, my eyes adjust enough to see smoke braiding up from little fires all around us in the carpet.
I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and charming and forceful and independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free, and I am not.
I'm not Tyler Durden.
"But you are, Tyler," Marla says.
Jump over the edge.
There's Marla, and she's in the middle of everything and doesn't know it.
And she loves you.
She loves Tyler.
She doesn't know the difference.
Somebody has to tell her. Get out. Get out. Get out.