Fight Club | Study Guide

Chuck Palahniuk

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Fight Club | Chapter 13 | Summary



Marla has a cancer scare. She notices a lump in her breast, and she calls the narrator to come check it out. To ease her mind while he examines her, the narrator tells her a long story about having a wart removed from his penis. During the removal procedure, medical students became very interested in a red blotch on his foot, a birthmark. They took a photograph of the birthmark. The narrator was puzzled by their interest. One student explained they thought at first it was cancer: "There was a new kind of cancer that was getting young men." The students had been excited to think they'd found another case of this "new cancer." The narrator asked for the photo and has kept it ever since. Now when he goes to the beach, he hides his foot from view.

The narrator told his father about the wart. His father called the wart a favor from God and said women would have found it sexually stimulating. On hearing this story, Marla disagrees; she points out the link between the genital wart virus and cervical cancer.

The narrator tells Marla another cancer anecdote, about his grandmother's mastectomy, and yet another anecdote, about the sex life of a mortician's wife. The narrator notices "the scar from Tyler's kiss" on Marla's hand. The chapter ends without any resolution of Marla's cancer scare.


The narrator was in college when he had the wart. Fight Club does not contain very many clues to its time period, but the "new" cancer "getting young men" seems to refer to Kaposi sarcoma. This rare form of cancer is a symptom of AIDS. (AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a disease caused by human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.) In the early 1980s epidemiologists noticed cases of Kaposi sarcoma in homosexual men; this unusual symptom was one of the early clues to the growing AIDS crisis. In the narrator's not quite accurate summary, "The spots don't go away, they spread until they cover you and then you die."

The narrator went to the doctor about a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The medical students thought he had AIDS, which also can be transmitted sexually. When Kaposi sarcoma was seen as a "new" cancer—though in reality it was rare, not new—the "young men" getting this cancer and contracting AIDS were homosexual. The narrator, or Palahniuk, has found a roundabout way to deny he is gay.

But denials tend to boomerang; when the narrator repeats, "It wasn't my fault" in Chapter 12, the opposite is suggested. The narrator looks at the photo of his birthmark each morning to remind himself he "once had cancer for ten minutes, worse than cancer." Every day of his life he repeats the denial that he's gay. At the beach, he hides his foot, afraid that "people will see" and he will "start to die in their minds"—or that he'll appear gay in their minds.

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