Fight Club & Masculinity

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Critical Essay on Fight Club
Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is the story of a man struggling to find himself. The main character, a nameless narrator, is clearly unhappy with his life. He obsessively fakes diseases and attends support group sessions as a way to deal with his hopelessness. Obsessive behaviors often lead to unfavorable events if they are interrupted (Lizardo). Just as it seems the support groups have brought him to a form of equilibrium, they are interrupted by a fellow faker. His inability to treat his restlessness by attending these support groups drives the narrator to shocking extremes.

As the text continues, it becomes obvious that the narrator’s true struggle lies within his efforts to find a form of masculinity that best suits him. Many men in today’s society are in search of what it means to be a man (Connell). The many definitions for masculinity create an abundance of confusion for an individual searching for its meaning (Franklin). Palahniuk uses the two most prominent characters in Fight Club to demonstrate males in pursuit of the ideal form of masculinity. This paper will discuss how he deconstructs their efforts using the four themes of masculinity.

The commonly cited gender-role model states that there are four major masculine themes that men struggle to maintain. The first theme is “No Sissy Stuff” (Kahn). This theme encourages men to distance themselves from femininity, any type of heterosexism toward gay men, and to avoid showing any emotion. It is also demonstrated by men who simply don’t do what women do. Men who follow this theme reject anything that is perceived as threatening to masculinity (Brubaker).

“Be a Big Wheel” establishes the second theme. This theme suggests that masculinity is the dominance and power over others. Wealth, status, and physical space are some examples of how this form of masculinity is exerted onto others. Men who are unable to achieve the Big Wheel status are often left feeling powerless and discouraged (Kahn).

The third theme is called “The Sturdy Oak.” This theme involves men who need to be independent and self reliant. They, like an oak tree, must remain unaffected by weather and conditions (Kahn). This includes having control over their emotions. Men relating to this theme must always be seen as reliable. Men who embody this these usually distance themselves from others and have difficulty maintaining meaningful relationships (Brubaker).

The final theme is “Give’em Hell.” Men who model this theme feel the need to be courageous risk-takers (Brubaker). Followers of this theme do so in a variety of ways. Some resort to violence at the risk to themselves and others, while many use a form of perseverance to align themselves with this masculine ideal. Men following this theme will do almost anything to ensure their belief of masculinity is met (Kahn).

It is difficult, if not impossible, for a man to achieve all four forms of masculinity; however, it does not stop men from trying (Brubaker). The men in Fight Club use these four forms of masculinity to measure their identities as males (Kahn). Most men are in pursuit of a concept known as hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is the form of masculinity that society believes most strongly (Lusher, Dean, and Robins). Given these four forms of masculinity, we know that society does not support one superior form of masculinity above others (Kahn). Therefore, men who attempt to achieve hegemonic masculinity are unable to do so. The characters in Fight Club, like men in our society, are in the pursuit of hegemonic masculinity. The following characters will demonstrate some of the struggles during their pursuit.

The most prominent character in Fight Club is the narrator. By keeping the narrator an unnamed character, Palahniuk allows the audience to participate in the creation of the character’s identity. It is important to recognize that the reader’s perceptions also play a...
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