Marx, Durden and Soap

"Remember this," Tyler said. "The people you're trying to step on, we're everyone you depend on. We're the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you're asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life" (Palahniuk 166).

In 1999, 20th Century Fox released a film version of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. The film was released to great critical acclaim, and most reviews focused on the film's brilliant psychological depiction either of the narrator's split personality disorder (manifested in the form of Tyler Durden), or of the extraordinarily graphic violence depicted in the movie, which critics often said was representative of a "search for lost masculine authority" (Maslin).
The book, while disturbingly graphic at times in terms of its descriptions of violence, is actually less about violence than (director) David Fincher interpreted the book to be.
Fight Club is not about a search for a man's lost masculinity in a button-down, white-collar society, as many critics interpreted it to be (Ebert). Rather, Fight Club is a book laden with Marxist and Communist rhetoric. All of it is spewed from the mouth of the nameless narrator's other half, Tyler Durden. Tyler takes jobs to harass rich members of society (the bourgoise). Durden consistently reminds the members of Fight Club (and eventually Project Mayhem) that they are not their possessions and should not be identified by them: "'Sticking feathers up your butt,' Tyler says, 'does not make you a chicken'" (Palahniuk 69). Finally, in the most defining Marxist aspect of all, The Paper Street Soap Company Tyler starts is essentially a physical manifestation of Marxist ideals.
Tyler's first act as a Marxist takes place when he is working nights as a waiter. Tyler urinates in soup, flatulates on a dessert and sneezes on fish. "Tyler and me," the narrator says, "we've turned into the guerrilla terrorists of the service industry" (Palahniuk 81). The narrator describes why they have taken on these roles.

The giants [patrons], they'll send something back to the kitchen for no reason at all. They just want to see you run around for their money. A dinner like this, these banquet parties, they know the tip is already included in the bill so they treat you like dirt. We don't really take anything back to the kitchen. Move the Pommes Parisienne and the Aspereges Hollandaise around the plate a little, serve it to someone else and all of a sudden it's fine (80).

The language of this passage is the most revealing aspect of the Marxist rhetoric. First of all, the narrator refers to the patrons as "giants," a word that Marx did not use but rather implied about the bourgeoise, as he described them as oppressors of the less powerful (Marx 9, 14). The narrator also describes the patrons (i.e., the bourgoise) treating the workers (the proletariat) "like dirt" essentially because they know that they can. Tyler and the narrator revolt and engage in a miniature form of Marxist revolution. The narrator drops the names of fancy, expensive dishes at the reader to illustrate the excess of the wealthy.
What Tyler/the narrator finds the most fault with in these people is that they are the materialistic part of himself; Tyler assumes that they define themselves by their possessions. When the narrator returns home to his apartment which has been bombed (the reader finds out later that the narrator (or, presumably Tyler) set the bomb), he thinks not of the shelter he has lost, but of the possessions he has lost.

Something which was a bomb, a big bomb, had blasted my Njurnda coffee tables in the shape of a lime green yin and an orange yang that fit together to make a circle . . .
My Haparanda sofa group with the orange slip covers, design by Erika Pekkari, it was trash, now. . . .
We all have the same Johanneshov armchair in the Strinne green stripe pattern. Mine fell fifteen stories, burning, into a fountain (Palahniuk 43).

When the police begin investigating the explosion at Tyler/the narrator's apartment, there is a literal separation between the narrator's two halves. Tyler, who represents the proletariat, non-material oriented side of the narrator, and the narrator himself, who is still stuck in his bougoise values:

I told the detective that it was the refrigerator that blew up my condo.
"I'm breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions," Tyler whispered, "because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit." . . .
"The liberator who destroys my property," Tyler said, "is fighting to save my spirit. The teacher who clears all of my possessions from my path will set me free." . . .
I told the detective, no, I did not leave the gas on and then leave town. I love my life. I loved that condo. I loved every stick of furniture. That was my whole life. Everything, the lamps,s the chairs, the rugs were me. The dishes in the cabinets were me. The plants were me. The television was me. It was me that blew up. Couldn't he see that (Palahniuk 110-11)?

In terms of Marxist rhetoric, this passage functions in two ways. First, it separates the narrator from his alter-ego, Tyler, which allows the reader to understand that each character represents a different side of the Marxist ideal: the narrator represents the money and possession-driven bourgoise, and Tyler represents the survival-driven proletarian. Whereas the narrator (the bourgoise) wants to make his existence better through possessions and money, Tyler (the proletariat) has to work within the limited means given to him by the oppressor. Tyler (the proletariat) understands that no cost can be placed upon the power of the spirit.
As Tyler's influence over the narrator grows stronger, his Marxist ideals move from just rhetoric and thought into action. Tyler's Marxist ideals become manifested through Project Mayhem (which I will discuss in a moment) and the Paper Street Soap Company. The soap made by the Paper Street Soap Company is made of the excess of the bourgoise. Marla, Tyler's girlfriend, asks to store a bag of fat in his freezer for the purpose of having a collagen trust fund: "Ever since silicone turned out to be dangerous, collagen has become the hot item to smooth out wrinkles or puff up thin lips or weak chins . . . The best kind of collagen, Marla said, is your own fat, sucked out of your thighs, processed and cleaned and injected back into your lips. . . . This stuff in the fridge at home, it was Marla's collagen trust fund (91)." The fat, Marla explains, comes from her mother, a woman who can afford to have extra fat sucked from her body by surgeons. Only a member of the bourgoise would engage in such an activity, because only a member of the burgoise would afford to be able to do so. As we saw before, the proletariat knows that the strength of spirit is important, and not physical appearance.
Instead of keeping the fat for a later collagen injection, Tyler makes soap out of it. In turn, he sells the soap to Nordstrom's at twenty dollars per bar; an exorbitant price for something so basic that only a member of the bourgoise could afford to pay. To make matters more ironic, customers say that it is "the best soap ever" (Palahniuk 87). Later on in the book, Tyler/the narrator scavenge through medical waste dumps to find more bags of human fat which they can turn into soap. The creation of the soap is made from the fat - i.e., the excess - of the bourgoise. In turn Tyler/the narrator is selling the fat back to those from whom the fat has been sucked. The bourgoise in this aspect is reabsorbing their own excess and practicing excess at the same time, by paying twenty dollars for soap. Despite the fact that Marla accuses the narrator/Tyler of being a "two-faced capitalist suck-ass bastard" (Palahniuk 94), he is not, because he uses the money to fund what is essentially a Marxist revolution: Project Mayhem.
In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx declares that "[Communists] declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win" (Marx 46). The similarities between Marx's call for a communist revolution and Tyler's call for a revolution via Project Mayhem are striking, and obvious once examined:

It's Project Mayhem that's going to save the world. . . .
Project Mayhem will break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world.
"Imagine," Tyler said, "stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life and you'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower." . . .
This was the goal of Project Mayhem, Tyler said, the complete and right away destruction of civilization (Palahniuk 125).

Like Marx, Tyler believes that his project will save the world. As Marx says, the proletarians "have a world to win." The way to win the world is to "overthrow . . . all existing social conditions," especially the ruling class - the bourgoise. Tyler expresses the same sentiments by describing his utopia, in which the material manifestations of a capitalist, ruling-class bourgoise would be overthrown: there will be no need for department stores or material excess because "you'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life." The powerful corporations which once were the ruling class of society will be overtaken by the proletariat, and presumably by nature, as the Sears Tower - once a symbol of great power and corporate might - is now rendered useless as "wrist-thick kudzu vines" now grow on it. The objective of Project Mayhem is to destroy civilization as it is currently known; and civilization as it is currently known is a capitalist civilization.
The political overtones of Fight Club are striking, and to be frank, I am surprised not more literary and film critics have picked up on them. Although there is an extraordinary psychological story behind Fight Club, even the psychology of the novel is based in Marxist theory. The psychological motive of the narrator to form another entity of himself is based on the hatred of his current existence, which includes a job which expresses immoral capitalism at its peak. The narrator's job is to recall cars, a practice that values the dollar more than the very human life it claims to care about:

If a new car built by my company leaves Chicago traveling west at 60 miles per hour, and the rear differential locks up, and the car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside, does my company initiate a recall?
You take the population of vehicles in the field (A) and multiply it by the probable rate of failure (B), then multiply the result by the average cost of an out-of-court settlement (C).
A times B times C equals X. . . . If X is greater than the cost of a recall, we recall the cars and no one gets hurt.
If X is less than the cost of a recall, then we don't recall (Palahniuk, 30).

It is the narrator's moral dilemma with his job and the psychological torment of being an immoral member of the bourgoise which produces Tyler, who, ironically, seems to be the narrator's moral (and therefore proletarian) side. Tyler Durden instigates a revolution whose main ideals are obviously parallel to that of Marx's call for revolution. Tyler's projects, Project Mayhem and the Paper Street Soap Company, are manifestations of the proletariat class' revolt against ruling class bourgoise excess.

Works Cited

Ebert, Roger. "Fight Club." Chicago Sun Times Online. 20 March 2002 <>

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Ed. Samuel H. Beer. Wheeling: Harlan Davidson, 1955.

Maslin, Janet. "'Fight Club': Such a Very Long Way From Duvets to Danger." New York Times 15 October 1999.

Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1996.