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Fight Club | Motifs

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Body Parts

Fight Club is littered with body parts: bags of body fat in the freezer; severed testicles; images of "giant" penises and vaginas spliced into family-friendly movies. The body parts motif contributes to the theme of the rebellion of rejected parts. The body parts make visible something the characters try to hide. Marla's mother and other women have fat suctioned from their bodies; for them the fat vanishes. But the fat surges back into sight; it splatters on the narrator and Marla. This fat symbolizes excess, an excess these wealthy characters can never purge.

Palahniuk also combines the body parts motif with the literary technique of synecdoche, in which a part stands for a whole. The narrator often refers to "I Am Joe's Body," a series of articles in Reader's Digest magazine during the 1960s. In these articles a body part gives a first-person explanation of its functions: "I Am Joe's Heart," for example. When the narrator hears Marla and Tyler "humping" all night, he says "I am Joe's Prostate" and "I am Jane's Uterus." In telling their own story, the body parts are personified. This is a clue that Tyler is not a separate person but a part of the narrator.

Cigarette Burns

At Tyler's projectionist job he must watch carefully for a circular mark in the corner of the screen. The mark is called a cigarette burn, and it indicates it is time to change the film reel. Thus the cigarette burn is a secret sign that what seems whole (the movie) is actually made of parts (the separate film reels). The cigarette burn motif contributes to the theme of the rebellion of parts. In a way Tyler and the narrator are like two film reels; they are actually parts of the same story. The novel is strewn with "cigarette burns," small signals of the shift between Tyler and the narrator. For example, Tyler is a night person and the narrator a day person. When Tyler burns the narrator's hand with lye, he tells the narrator this burn will hurt "worse than a hundred cigarettes."

The novel is also strewn with cigarette burns as signs of self-harm. These contribute to the theme of degradation. In Chapter 8 the narrator comes home to find Marla "burning the inside of her arm with a clove cigarette." As she does so she refers to herself as degraded; she calls herself a "human butt wipe" and a "diseased festering corruption." The lye burn on the narrator's hand is surrounded by smaller burns caused by the narrator's tears mixing with the lye. The narrator calls them "cigarette burns." Both Marla and the narrator take a bad situation and make it worse; they deliberately choose degradation to protect themselves from other forms of pain.

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