The Narrator hates his life. His sense of self is rooted in his condo, his clothes, and his Ikea furniture; he works a job he hates so he can buy shit he doesn't need (to paraphrase Tyler Durden). Jack is miserable, he can't sleep. His insomnia suggests that his life lacks substance. He says, "With insomnia, nothing is real. Everything is far away. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy."
The setting starts out in offices and the narrator’s condo, pictures of sterile, light colors, juxtaposed to the darkness that the narrator is launched into after his condo blows up. So there are two images of the human condition. The first is one of being imprisoned. The cell is not stark, in fact it’s extremely comfortable and filled with all sorts of things that will bring personal fulfillment. Despite the clean and polished look, the colors here are unnaturally bright, stark, and alienating. There is nothing welcoming here.
The mood is set largely by the narration. His tone and style is cynical and ironic and nonlinear. His thoughts are disjointed and there are flashbacks within flashbacks. He is trying to figure out what happened up until where we first meet him, with a gun in his mouth strapped to a chair. There is a lot of foreshadowing and use of sardonic humor. There is also rage and anger at the world.
Tyler articulates the problem of the film,
" Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damnit, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no great war, or great depression. The great war is a spiritual war. The great depression is our lives. We were raised by television to believe that we'd be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars—but we won't. And we're learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed-off."
Identity is the prime concern of Fight Club. The Narrator describes his childhood as one where his dad leaves and “sets up franchises” with other moms every six years. The dad tells the Narrator to go to college, get a job, and then “I dunno… get married?” This formula leaves the Narrator in a dead end job without a sense of self. To compensate for this lack of identity, the Narrator spends his time wondering “What dinning set best defines me?” He tries to get his sense of self from how he’s told by advertising; namely to define one’s self through brands and material goods. This path is ultimately unsatisfying as he cannot sleep at night.
The Narrator’s job is interesting to note, because it is a soulless one.
He works for an auto company, “a major one”, and investigates auto accidents caused by a malfunction in the car’s design. What he does is officially called a “recall coordinator which apples the formula of “Take the number of vehicles in the field (A), multiply it by the probable rate of failure (B), then multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement (C). A times B times C equals X... If X is less that the cost of a recall, we don't do one.” He justifies this in his mind by saying “On a long enough timeline everyone’s survival rate drops to zero.” The jokes used by the recall coordinators are trying to make light of the horror that they are confronting.
He then becomes addicted to self-help groups where “Every night I died and was born again. Every evening I was resurrected.” This is until Marla Singer comes in and ruins it by joining his “Remaining Men Together, Men with Testicular Cancer” group. “Her lie reflected my lie” and the Narrator can no longer sleep. Marla is completely different from the narrator. She has no regard, stealing clothes from a laundry and pawning them for money. She crosses the street without looking. Her philosophy of life is described that “she might die at any moment. The tragedy, she said, was that she didn't.” When asked why they are “tourists” in these groups, the Narrator and Marla find common ground:
Narrator: When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just...
Marla Singer: Instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?
Marla becomes the basis of Tyler Durden. For all intensive purposes, when introduced to Tyler, he appears to be another character in the story. As the narrative progresses, we learn that the Narrator and Tyler are actually the same person. This is evidence of how fractured the Narrator’s identity is. Tyler is free in all the ways the Narrator wishes he could be. This feedback loop created by the Narrator is similar to what he is rejecting in the culture. The conversation at the bar between the Narrator and Tyler shows how different they are:
Tyler Durden: Do you know what a duvet is?
Narrator: It's a comforter...
Tyler Durden: It's a blanket. Just a blanket. Now why do guys like you and me know what a duvet is? Is this essential to our survival, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word? No. What are we then?
Tyler Durden: Right! We're consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.
Narrator: Martha Stewart.
Tyler Durden: Fuck Martha Stewart. Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic. It's all going down, man. So fuck off with your sofa units and Strinne green stripe patterns. Of course, I could be wrong…
Tyler rejects “the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions.” He states that “You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” He seeks to destroy the idea of “self” and replace it with a more communal model. The old capitalistic model is father and his company is using is sucking the meaning out of life. The self must be destroyed in Tyler’s mind and one must truly let go of all they think they know and think they want out of life. Even going so far as to intentionally get into a car crash. This serves to teach empathy to the Narrator, as that was the first time he has been in a crash. He studied them for a living but now he knows what being in one is like.
Tyler starts off using the system to gain money. He sells soap to department stores for large profits—the ironic thing is that the fat he uses in the soap is stolen from liposuction clinics. In a sense, he is “selling rich women their own fat asses back to them.” This evolves into a bigger vision. “In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.”
Though making the soap and forming Fight Clubs around the nation, Tyler takes it to the next level and creates Project Mayhem. The sole goal of Project Mayhem is to blow up credit card companies and set the record back to zero. It is a biblical jubilee year.