The Author in the Text: Homosexuality in Fight Club
10 December 2011
In his novel Diary, Chuck Palahniuk writes the following quote: “Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It’s all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary.” (Palahniuk 48). What he is essentially saying is that no matter what one does, they are represented in their works. Chuck Palahniuk also wrote the novel Fight Club (made into a movie by the same name), which, through various ways, shows the author’s sexuality through the two main characters, The Narrator and Tyler Durden. By utilizing the methods used by R. Barton Palmer in his article “The Narrator in The Owl and The Nightingale: A Reader in the Text”, the essay will show how Chuck Palahniuk’s sexuality is exhibited throughout the film Fight Club, mostly in the actions of the Narrator.
To utilize the methods of Dr. Palmer, this essay will look solely at the text (or the film, in this case), rather than at the criticisms of other scholars. In his article, he states “Central to my argument is a full-scale analysis of the poem’s narrator, who, in the tradition of the exemplum and fable, functions as the reader’s surrogate in the text, as an intelligence who attempts to (but never succeeds in) writing out the meaning of the avian debate he witnesses.” (Palmer 305-306). To fully utilize his method, this essay will heavily analyze the Narrator in Fight Club, as he is arguably a self-portrait of Chuck Palahniuk. In Fight Club, the story is told through the first person perspective of The Narrator, giving the reader his exact thoughts and emotions in certain situations (Fight Club). The first example of homoeroticism from The Narrator occurs in the very first moments of the film, as Tyler is pushing a gun into The Narrator’s mouth (Fight Club). This situation is overtly homoerotic, as the gun is representative of a phallus pushing against the back of The Narrator’s throat. The Narrator runs his tongue over the gun’s silencer as he tells the viewer how a gun operates (Fight Club).
In one scene, the viewer sees the Narrator in the bathroom, reading a magazine. He holds the magazine up sideways, as one would do when viewing the pull-out of a naked woman in a pornographic magazine (Fight Club). It is then revealed that he is looking at an Ikea furniture magazine, rather than a pornographic one(Fight Club). Here, one can see the Narrator (and therefore, Palahniuk’s), lack of interest in women and an embracing of what makes him happy (or, what he feels should make him happy at this point) (Fight Club). While this is not overtly homoerotic, it does show the Narrator’s lack of interest in women early on in the film. The Narrator questions, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” (Fight Club). The viewer now sees that The Narrator is struggling with his identity, and part of one’s identity is one’s sexuality. The viewer can translate that Palahniuk’s struggle with his own identity and, therefore, sexuality.
The Narrator’s first emotional connection with another person is with Bob, at the Testicular Cancer Support Group (Fight Club). The Narrator weeps into Bob’s chest, while Bob holds and comforts him. The viewer sees the emotional connection the Narrator is capable of with men, which is usually frowned upon within society (Fight Club). This may relate to Palahniuk’s relationships with male companions, sexual or not. The Narrator’s connection with Bob shows that the writer, Palahniuk, is capable of an emotional relationship with a fellow man, in the way that American society often frowns upon. However, after the meeting with Bob, the Narrator’s insomnia is temporarily cured. Within the context of the movie, he has never been shown happier.
The lead female character, Marla, is portrayed by the Narrator as a lying, conniving leech of a person (Fight Club). Is it coincidence that a character like this is a woman? The Narrator’s opinion of women is consistently low within the movie. This may not be Palahniuk’s exact view of women, but the way the Narrator sees women is as unnecessary, as they are within the relationship of homosexual men. This may reflect part of Palahniuk’s sexuality, in that women are an unnecessary part of it. That is not to say he does not have female friends or companions, but the most real connection felt is with men, specifically his longtime partner.
After his apartment explodes, The Narrator has a choice of either calling Marla or Tyler and asking for a place to stay. This is where the relationship with Tyler really begins. The Narrator shows a preference for Tyler to Marla, even though he arguably knows Marla better at this point. This could be referring to Palahniuk’s sexuality of preferring males to females. The physical relationship with Tyler begins after he invites the Narrator to stay with him. The relationship is not sexual, but it is intimate in the sense that the two men are fist-fighting with nothing to lose. Here, the film shows Palahniuk’s aversion to his own sexuality in the public eye. Rather than having the public know about this personal matter, he hides it. This could be the internal struggle and fight he deals with, which is shown by this fighting of the Narrator and Tyler.
One of the most overtly homoerotic scenes within the movie is when Tyler and the Narrator are in the bathroom together (Fight Club). Tyler is nude in the bathtub and The Narrator is sitting on the floor beside the bathtub, talking to him (Fight Club). This is not the normal behavior of most heterosexual men in their thirties. This blatantly shows that the relationship between The Narrator and Tyler is not a heterosexual one, as this behavior shows a deep level of intimacy. The two men converse about their father issues, and end up discussing the idea of heterosexual marriage. Tyler states, “I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need,” (Fight Club). Here, Palahniuk is making it very clear that, to him, a woman is not necessary in an intimate relationship like marriage. Adding to the fact that Tyler and the Narrator seem like a very close married couple, in the next scene, the Narrator adjusts Tyler’s bowtie (Fight Club). This is the behavior of two extremely close friends, even lovers — not the behavior traditionally exhibited by two straight men. Palahniuk here has shown the viewer through the work his homosexuality. If the viewer reads the Narrator as a self-portrait of Palahniuk, the viewer can see that Palahniuk struggles with who he is, and through the Narrator, he is coming to terms with his sexuality.
As Tyler announces the rules at the first “official” Fight Club, he states twice that the participants cannot talk about Fight Club (Fight Club). The viewer can read this as the aversion to homosexuality within society. One can cite the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy as a perfect example of this, and here, Palahniuk is expressing how homosexuality is a forced secret most of the time. The men at the Fight Club are not necessarily doing anything bad; rather, they are just doing something that makes them happy. This is like homosexuality in that the author of this essay believes it to be an inherent trait, and not a choice to be made. The men in Fight Club are there because they want to do what makes them happy, and in this case, it is beating each other up. Homosexuals ideally could do what makes them happy (be in loving relationships, often involving marriage), but because of the pressures of society, many feel they cannot. Palahniuk here is showing the hesitation many face when “coming out of the closet”.
The actual fighting in Fight Club has very obvious sexual overtones. Most of the men are very handsome and fit, and as they fight, they are sweaty and shirtless (Fight Club). This allows the viewer (and arguably the participants) to admire the fighting men as voyeurs. At one point in the movie, the Narrator glances at a Gucci advertisement of a man in a pair of thong underwear. He says to Tyler, “Is that what a man looks like?” Tyler laughs and says, “Self-improvement is masturbation,” (Fight Club). Here, the viewer sees the two main characters as voyeurs of other men, sizing them up and judging them based on appearance.
The viewer can sense the Narrator’s jealousy when Tyler and Marla begin a sexual relationship. The Narrator shows passive aggression, and eventually even peeks through the crack of Tyler’s door to see the two having sex (Fight Club). Palahniuk here may be showing the jealousy of having feelings for a heterosexual love interest. He is showing a hopeless feeling of unrequited love, of being unable to pursue a relationship with the one he truly wants. This feeling is brought up again when Tyler begins showing obvious preference towards another male the Narrator has nicknamed Angelface. He states, “I am Jack’s inflamed sense of rejection,” showing that he feels like Tyler is rejecting him for someone better (Fight Club). Palahniuk is once again showing the unrequited love he has likely felt within his lifetime as a homosexual. It is very likely that he has had feelings for someone who did not return them. The relationship between Tyler and the Narrator is representative of this.
At the end of the film, the viewer returns to the very first scene of the movie, culminating in the Narrator’s “suicide” – the killing of the part of him that is Tyler Durden (Fight Club). After Tyler is dead, the Narrator and his female acquaintance Marla join hands, and watch the destruction unfolding outside the building (Fight Club). In this way, the viewer can perceive that the Narrator essentially killed off the homoerotic desire he held within (represented as Tyler) to have a heterosexual relationship with Marla (Fight Club). The novel Fight Club was first printed in 1996, and Chuck Palahniuk did not publicly announce his sexuality until 2003. The viewer can see Palahniuk’s struggle with his homosexuality in the motifs of his work Fight Club, culminating in this final scene where the main character kills a part of himself. This can be seen as Palahniuk’s coming to terms with who he is, especially because of the presence he held in the public eye as a very famous author. If one reads the seen this way, then Tyler may represent what Palahniuk felt society wanted him to be: the handsome, masculine leader in a relationship with a woman. By having the Narrator kill Tyler off, one can see this as Palahniuk’s coming to terms with who he was, much like The Narrator had to do.
By utilizing Dr. Palmer’s method of analyzing the text by critically analyzing the narrator, the viewer or reader can see how Chuck Palahniuk is portraying his own sexuality and his conflicts with it through the Narrator and Tyler Durden in Fight Club. At the end of his article, Dr. Palmer states, “The poem does not authorize us either to name its subject or conclusions, but rather forces us to experience partial and unsatisfactory attempts to do so.” (Palmer 320). This is like Fight Club in the sense that the viewer can talk about the obvious plot and subject of the movie, but the viewer is also forced to experience the struggle of the sexuality of the author of the original text. By scrutinizing the actions of the Narrator in Fight Club, the viewer can see the internal struggle and eventually acceptance of Palahniuk’s sexuality.
- Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter. 1999. DVD.
- Palahniuk, Chuck. Diary: a Novel. 48. New York: Doubleday, 2003. Print.
- Palmer, R. “The Narrator in the Owl and the Nightingale: A Reader in the Text.” The Chaucer Review 22.4 (1988): 305-21. Print.