The young men sacrifice themselves and seek to self-destruct, hoping to create a new identity. The underlying idea for Project Mayhem in Fight Club focuses on “the amazing miracle of death” and how one can change from a living person to a mere object in a second (Fight 146). Both the narrator and Tyler believe that exposure to mortality demonstrates the vulnerability of humans and will serve as the ultimate motivation to search for a new identity. Fight club, a place that provided as an asylum to young men, “posits a self-sufficient universe in which control and force are achieved through self-destruction” (Suglia). By physically sacrificing themselves by fighting, the members of fight club seek to self-destruct and become a new person. Near the end of the novel, the narrator reveals Tyler’s true identity, and explains to readers that Tyler represented everything he wanted to be. The narrator’s attempt to create a new identity was Tyler; to take on a new identity, the narrator sought to ruin his life because “[his] life just seemed too complete”, and he sought “to break everything to make something better out of [himself” (Fight 52). He wanted “to free himself from the superficiality of a capitalist world” and find his true identity by self-destruction that “grants him a real and intense sense of life” (Suglia). Similarly in Choke, Victor seeks to destroy his own miserable life by denying his physical addiction to sex. Although sex addiction might seem to not be life-threatening or self-destructive, Victor’s reluctance to recover from his addiction and “attempt to make himself whole” represents a disease where he finds his identity only and during sex (Alan Davis). Mendieta explains how “there is a disease that ravages the body and desolates the mind that unhinges our identities”, which resembles the self-destruction in Fight Club, and then there is “the disease of the imposed dependencyâ€¦based on a social and culture pathology”. Victor first uses sex as a way to escape the hyperrealistic society. He sought real feelings from what he physically felt through sex. However, he later begins to seek identity as an addict and attempts to cling on to his addiction to maintain his new identity. He graphically explains how he now thinks of gruesome images to keep from climaxing; “stuffing dick, stuffing feelings. When you’re a sexaholic, it’s for sure the same thing” (Choke 210). He identifies himself as “a dirty, filthy, helpless sexaholic” and he claims that “[he] can’t change, can’t stop, and [a sexaholic] is all [he]’ll ever be” (Choke 156). Because he is attempting to create a new identity as a sexaholic by self-destruction (submitting to addiction), he is trying to avoid enlightenment that sex “offers no real satisfaction and throws the pleasure-seeker into an endless cycle of repetition, forever desiring an authentic, real world foundation” (Blazer 148).
By challenging death and seeking self-destruction, the young men recognize the importance of life, motivating the protagonists to live without regrets. Both novels portray protagonists “exposing [themselves] to the mortality of others, [as] every moment of [their] life become more valuable”; this is seen not only in the examples mentioned above, but in other scenes as well (Suglia). In Fight Club, Project Mayhem members attempt to “show men and women freedom by enslaving them, and show them courage by frightening them” (Fight 149). The space monkeys threaten random people to death to forcefully encourage them to appreciate life and live without regrets. As an active participant in Project Mayhem’s disastrous missions, the narrator recognizes that life is dispensable and “the lower you fall, the higher you’ll fly” (Fight 141). He comes to understand why Tyler, despite his extreme measures, wanted the narrator to “run from self-improvement andâ€¦run toward disaster” (Fight 70). In the Project Mayhem mission where the narrator threatens a man that he would “rather kill [the man] than see [the man] working a shit job for just enough money to buy cheese and watch television”, the narrator concludes that an individual can only fully understand the importance of life and one’s full potential by facing death (Fight 155). In contrast, Victor recognizes the importance of life and is motivated to live without regrets by saving himself from self-destruction. He suddenly sees the stupidity of sex-addiction from realizing that his life is centered on women. When he was spending time with his best friend Denny at a strip club, Victor points out how “all women have to do is get naked, and we give them all our money” and declares that he’s “not giving any more ground” and “going on strike” (Choke 204). He notes that he doesn’t need women because “there are plenty other things in the world to have sex with”, and finally realizes that sex does not lead to an identity because a genuine relationship is lacking between his multiple partners and himself (Choke 204). Sexual addiction represented Victor’s method of self-destruction, “just another way to find peace [and] escape what [he] know[s]”, and by refusing to submit to the rehab centers he numerously visited, Victor is able to recognize his full potential on his own (Choke 150).
Understanding that life is too precious to be wasted, both the narrator and Victor gain empowerment. They achieve the ability to control their own addictions and seek self-actualization from genuine affection and relationships with humans. Palahniuk’s most important message is illustrated in the protagonists’ transformation from seeking self-destruction to finding authenticity in something in such a hyperrealistic society. By taking risks that change their outlook on life, the protagonists realize that they need affection to escape the oppressing society.
The protagonists recognize that the sacrifices they made were to ultimately belong to a community. Throughout Fight Club, the narrator strives to follow Tyler’s orders, so much that “Tyler’s words [were] coming out of [his] mouth”, and becomes Tyler’s obedient pet (Fight 114). The narrator repeatedly says the phrase, “I know this because Tyler knows this”, suggesting Tyler’s ownership over the narrator and the narrator’s lack of self-dependency (Fight 12). This quote appears every time the narrator explains the bizarre events in his life, from the explosion of his condo to the death of his boss; events that were all done by the narrator hypnotized by Tyler. Despite the narrator’s claims that Project Mayhem was slowly turning into Tyler’s cult, he continually takes part in the cult activities. He’s becoming “Tyler’s mouth” and “Tyler’s hands” because “everybody in Project Mayhem is part of Tyler Durden” (Fight 155). Again, the narrator sacrifices himself and exposes himself to death during the Project Mayhem missions because “[he is] useless to [Tyler] until [he] knows that someday [he] will die” (Fight 76). The narrator takes part in these missions and seeks to self-destruct to be useful and liked by Tyler. Victor similarly makes sacrifices for human affection. Related to his addiction of seeking attention by choking, Victor also seeks attention from his crazy hospitalized mother, Ida. Contextually, Victor is sacrificing literally everything for his mother by working a horrible job and choking in public for money. He, however, is also sacrificing his identity and contentment to support his mother. He states how “women are always bossing [him] aroundâ€¦for themselves”, which is especially relevant with his mother (Choke 204). Ever since childhood, not only has Ida “kidnapped him from various foster homes when he was a child”, but also has trapped him into “a helpless believer of [her] delusional conspiracy theories” (Blazer 146). Teaching him “to create [his] own reality” and to never “just accept the world as it’s given”, Ida gave him a false sense of empowerment as a child, which is why Victor faces identity issues in a hyperrealistic society (Choke 284). He struggles to understand “the authenticity of emotion” because he “is severed from his own authentic identity and subsists in fantasy” (Blazer 146). On top of these sacrifices, Victor also becomes “the sacrificial lamb that his senile mother and her demented friends can blame” at the hospital (Blazer 153). Because Ida and other patients at the hospital are mentally ill, they do not recognize Victor and see his body as somebody else they know. Victor takes on multiple identities given to him by these crazy patients, seeking attention from them. Just like his logic behind choking, he thinks that by being conveniently weak, he can receive the attention he seeks. Blazer states that “Victor puts himself on idealistic yet counterfeit display in an effort to gain compassionate recognition from the good Samaritan and the delusional and dying mother whose love that he craves” (153).