“Two sides? You’re Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Jackass.”
-Marla Singer, Fight Club
It is nearly impossible to read about the narrator and his alter persona, Tyler Durden, in Chuck Palahniuk’s critically acclaimed novella, Fight Club, without thinking about another well-known twosome, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Fight club follows a personage known as The Narrator, who suffers from insomnia and has lost all faith in his life. He attends numerous support groups to release his inner feelings. His life takes an unanticipated turn as he encounters Tyler, his alter persona, and commences fight club. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is apropos of a renowned doctor, Dr. Jekyll, who skirmishes with parting his good from his evil. As a result of his experimentations, he formulates a potion that allows him to metamorphose into Mr. Hyde. Despite sharing the theme of human duality, Fight Club and its Victorian age parallel, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde take different paths when it comes to portraying the idea of dual personalities and dissociative identity disorder.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) “is a mental disorder characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately show in a person’s behavior”. This particularly significant dysfunctionality is at the center of many classic and modern works as authors try to propose the possibility of a “dichotomous system of consciousness within each of us.” With reference to the two works, the question arises, how are dual personalities portrayed in the controversial cult classic, Fight Club and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
As both novels are canonized in English literature, many studies of scholarly nature have separately analyzed duality in each work, with rare and slight allusions to the other work. There are few studies that have anatomized the works in relation to one another with depth and detail in every aspect. Kirsten Stirling’s writings in the book “Refracting the Canon in Contemporary British Literature and Film” and Heike Schwarz’s “Beware of the Other Side(s): Multiple Personality Disorder and DID in American fiction” are illustrious examples of such research. Consequently, this essay has been written with the purpose of contributing something important to the previous scholarly studies, by not only considering the slightest partings and overlaps in the path of the two narratives but also by comparing them and discovering how they affect the course of each novel, whether similarly or differently.
In order to answer the research question, I will analyze both works in terms of the following similarities and differences. Both narratives revolve around characters who represent manifestations of evil, which can be explained using the psychoanalytic concept. The narratives are also linked by the analogous themes of devolution, isolation, and the fundamental conflict between man and himself. Yet, it is undeniable that the works diverge their paths when considering the narrative perspective, and the various aspects of each character’s duality, such as inner confrontation.
To begin with, both alter personas are of brutal and ferocious nature as they manifest disturbing evil intentions. Tyler Durden vandalizes property, craves annihilation, obliterates his own apartment, has full knowledge about all varieties of homemade explosives, and is brave enough to cause all kinds of chaos. Most prominently, Tyler, a follower of nihilism, founds “fight club”, a place for men to fight each other, feel alive, and ignite their inner rage. He expresses his nihilistic point of view in the following line: “It’s easy to cry when you realize that everyone you love will reject you or die. On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.”
Hyde, a detestable man in appearance, tramples a young girl on the street, and is responsible for the terrifying murder of Danvers Carew. Hyde was described by a maid to be “stamping with his foot, brandishing the cane, and carrying on like a madman” at the murder scene. Even more terrifying is the satisfaction he feels for his violent actions, that Jekyll later confesses to. Furthermore, the various characters that encounter Hyde are said to feel a deep personal hatred for him. Many dark adjectives, such as “evil” and “detestable”, are repeatedly used to describe him.
As the story progresses, both Jekyll and The Narrator realize that what their alter egos aim to achieve is not what they desire. This belated sense of realization comes when Hyde commits a murder and Jekyll progressively comes to the conclusion that he is beginning to transform into Hyde, involuntarily, without the potion. However, The Narrator’s realization comes at the end of the novel when he discovers that Tyler is his own alter ego, that takes over in his sleep.
Additionally, he realizes that fight club members are accountable for all the buildings that are being wrecked and all the people that are being killed with Tyler’s orders. The narrator tries cleaning up after Tyler, however Jekyll does not try to right Hyde’s mistakes. The Narrator tries defusing a bomb and preventing the chaos caused by Tyler’s orders by convincing the fight club members to stop. However, his plan ultimately fails as the members are previously ordered by Tyler to not answer any questions or let anyone stop them.
At this point, both characters lose control over their mind and body and have to liberate themselves from their demonic alters. In order to achieve that, The Narrator asks Marla to help him stay awake, which is not a permanent solution. Jekyll forages for a specific type of chemical, that he requires to make his potion and get rid of Hyde. However, he fails to obtain this ingredient. By the end, both Jekyll and The Narrator opt to commit suicide to end their life and by extension the lives of Hyde and Tyler. The Narrator states that “To god, this looks like one man alone, holding a gun in his own mouth…I’m not killing myself, I yell. I’m killing Tyler.” This destructive violence could be ideally explained through the lens of psychoanalytic approach.
The portrayal of duality and the disturbing violence of the alters, in both works, can be approached with the psychoanalytic concept, and the structural theory of the mind promulgated by Freud. This is because both characters manifest the different sides of the structural theory of the mind. Based on Freud’s theory there are three subtypes of the self that go hand in hand to build our personality. “The id is the primitive, instinctive component of personality that operates according to the pleasure principle.” The superego is the self that operates according to moral principles. Ego, a required moderator, negotiates with the id and superego in order to satisfy the desires of both in a manner that is socially acceptable. If these three aspects of an individual from the whole self, the result is DID.
This takes place in both storylines, as Tyler and Hyde embody the “aggressive tendencies” of the id. Both main characters, that superficially exist as single entities, bring the reader to question the notion that good cannot exist without evil. The Narrator in Fight club characterizes the ego in the psyche, which mediates the impulsive and sexual self of the id with the social norms of the world. He eventually fails to find a compromise between the two, and chooses to identify with the superego. Consequently, unconscious impulses form a discrete entity that is Tyler Durden. The id is manifested in Tyler’s need for primal violence, and high sex drive. He claims that, “self-improvement isn’t the answer, maybe self-destruction is the answer”. Eventually, The Narrator finds himself in the center of “organized chaos”, and has lost all power over his id.
Similarly, Dr. Jekyll represents the ego, dominated by social norms. Jekyll says “It was on the moral side, …, that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man”. He has a strenuous time juggling between the requirements of his aggressive instinct and his rational self. Consequently, he gives in to his impulses and decides to separate the two, and bring Mr. Hyde into being. He claims that “man is not truly one, but truly two.” Mr. Hyde, like Tyler Durden has no social or moral principles, and seeks “instant gratification”. By the end, Jekyll, “represented by the proclaimed and implicit morals of the Victorian society”, loses control of Hyde. The pleasure the alters take in brutality and aggression, ultimately leads to their own destruction by suicide.
Aside from the similarities in the personalities and behaviors of the characters, Stevenson and Palahniuk choose many comparable themes and symbolisms to help them portray dual personalities in their work, such as the prominent theme of isolation, devolution, as well as the motif of sleep, and the nocturnal city. Fight Club and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are further linked by the continually prevalent themes of isolation and devolution. The theme of devolution and atavism is reinforced by several factors in both works. Just as humans have the tendency to evolve, they also have the ability to devolve and become more primitive, especially as society forces us to repress such animalistic tendencies. Tyler and Mr. Hyde both return to their primitive and more animalistic state of being as the restrictions placed by society pushes them to their breaking point. This is evident as both characters have a more violent and destructive nature than The Narrator and Dr. Jekyll. Isolation is also significant in developing the theme of devolution. The Narrator and Jekyll both live isolated lives, with Jekyll insisting that he wants to lead “a life of extreme seclusion”. Both characters live their lives devoid of friends or family to communicate with. Jekyll isolates himself from his old friends and spends his days in his lab, while Hyde sneaks in and out of the house. Similarly, The Narrator moves to an abandoned house with no one to communicate with. The theme of isolation helps the alters “manipulate and absorb the bodies of the main characters for whatever purposes they so desire.” This helps them satisfy their needs for violence and destruction.
Moreover, both works illustrate the dark properties of the nocturnal cities in which they are narrated using extremely grotesque settings, which reflect the dark corners of each characters’ psyche. Main events in both works occur at night, when the alters take over. Therefore, sleep is a crucial element in both works, since it is the portrayed as the channel for transformation at night. The murder scene in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde occurs in a narrow street lit by the light of the full moon with no citizens to witness the event. Similarly, the key events of Fight Club all occur at night in car parks, basements or other deserted locations. The use of these grotesque settings is extended throughout both novels, as the house of Jekyll and the Narrator are described as old and dark. Both houses symbolize the characters’ true personalities. Jekyll’s house is divided into two parts, symbolizing his duality. The dissecting room is used by Hyde, and the rest of the house is used by Jekyll. The Narrator’s house, with its torn apart walls, is a symbol of his own chaotic self. Despite similarities, two novels exhibit a plethora of differences in the two portrayals of duality.
Careful analysis reveals that the two works diverge their paths when it comes to use of narrative perspective. In both novels, the narrator plays an undeniably critical role, since he acts as an intermediary between the author and the reader. The point of view of the narrator determines how the dual personalities are depicted and when they are revealed to the readers. Narration in Stevenson’s novel, usually read as a mystery story, is of crucial significance in revealing the truth to the readers. The shift in narration from one person to another generates a sense of mystery which reinforces the reader’s feeling of suspense. The novella commences with a third person limited point of view that follows Mr. Utterson on his journey to discover the truth about Jekyll’s shadowy friend, Hyde. This choice of narration keeps us in the dark along with Mr. Utterson himself. However, this narrative is augmented with four other narrations: Dr. Jekyll’s confession, Dr. Lanyon’s story, Mr. Enfield’s story of the trampled child, and the maid’s account of the Carew murder. Dr. Jekyll’s confession takes the form of a confessional narrative and is the most convincing. Furthermore, Stevenson employs a delaying tactic, which triggers suspense, to the beginning of the story as we are not introduced to the main character, Dr. Jekyll, right away.
In contrast, Fight club is told from the first-person point of view. This appears to be the only suitable choice, as The Narrator is the only person who is not aware of his own duality, unlike Jekyll, who is the only one aware of his duality. This usage of an unreliable narrator, who is as in the dark about what is really going on as the audience, sets the reader in the center of excitement. At some instances, The Narrator speaks directly to the reader, “You wake up at O’Hare. You wake up at LaGuardia.”, this pulls the reader right into the story, and displays the narrator’s detachment from reality, as he is the one waking up in the afore mentioned locations. Palahniuk’s work has a certain, poetic stream of consciousness flow, since it is entirely from The Narrator’s point of view as we follow his thoughts throughout the story. This prompts the reader to observe The Narrator’s confusion, and helps evoke feelings of aggravation and restlessness. The narration is also replete with juxtapositions, that create suspense, and paradoxes. The most eye-catching example of a paradox, is the fact that although the aim of fight club is to break social order, it has its own set of rules. However, the focus of the narrations in both works is also a critical difference.
Another significant difference between the two works is the focus of the author’s narrations and the attitude with which they look at the stories. Stevenson’s approach is a large scale and symbolic one. His narration tackles the issue of dual personalities in terms of the concepts of good and evil, as it presents the two personalities of the main character as polar opposites, one representing good and the other evil. He also incorporates the dangers of manipulating and disturbing nature into his portrayal of duality. This is visible as Jekyll eventually loses all his friends, completely ruins his reputation, and by the end commits suicide, after the creation of the potion which he had created to manipulate his own nature.
Palahniuk’s view, however, is focused on the complexities of the modern world and of human relationships. A major part of Palahniuk’s novel is focused on the relationship between The Narrator and Marla singer. His narration covers their relationship from the moment they meet, as they struggle to understand each other, up to the very end when they are in love and Marla gathers members of their support group to the Parker-Morris building, where The Narrator commits suicide. Palahniuk also covers the intricacies of the modern world and consumerism in his portrayal of duality. He pushes the readers and The Narrator to reconsider their whole lives and its mundanity, caused by materialism and capitalism. In fact, The Narrator’s desire to overcome these issues is the force that pushes him to create “fight club” in order to examine the oppressive nature of the modern world. Next, we must move on to the differences concerning how the author reveals and foreshadows the character’s duality to the readers through the narrations.
Foreshadowing is an important literary device used in both works, as it acts as a herald of the characters’ duality. This evidently aids in portraying the alter egos. It adds to the suspense in the story and builds up anticipation. There are a few hints indicating that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are truly one person. The similarities between Jekyll and Hyde’s handwritings and signatures (“I gave in the cheque myself, and said I had every reason to believe it was a forgery. Not a bit of it. The cheque was genuine.”), in addition to Jekyll’s unusual will, tickles the reader’s curiosity.
However, there are more than just a few foreshadowings in Fight Club. The reader detects many lines in The Narrator’s flow of thoughts that hint duality. At the start of the story, as the narrator gives his account of his own suicide, claiming that Tyler is holding a gun to his head, he calls it “Tyler’s whole murder-suicide thing”. The Narrator also claims that Tyler only works night jobs because of his nature and that he doesn’t “know how long Tyler had been working on all those nights I couldn’t sleep”. The Narrator also states that he knows the things he knows because Tyler knows them, and that he never sees Tyler and Marla in the same room. Clearly, Palahniuk gives the reader numerous hints unlike Stevenson. Furthermore, The Narrator’s duality is revealed to the reader in chapter 20, while Jekyll’s duality is not completely exposed until the very last chapter, which is Jekyll’s own confession. A fourth difference, which this essay will aim to elucidate, is how the appearance and transformations of the alter egos is portrayed in both narrations.
Differences in the way the appearance of each characters’ alter ego and the process of their transformation is described is undeniably significant and aids us in answering the research question. This is because such differences are some of the most important aspects of each character’s persona and because they significantly change the course of the story. The Narrator’s transformation occurs at night, as a consequence of his insomnia that keeps him up. The Narrator repeatedly mentions that his condition makes him see everything as “a copy of a copy of a copy”, and that it distances him from his surroundings. Moreover, he is not aware of his own duality until the very end of the story, as he discovers that he transforms into Tyler when he slips into sleep. On the other hand, Jekyll transforms into Hyde deliberately by taking his elixir, and Hyde is the absolutely intended ramification of Jekyll’s own experimentations. As previously mentioned, there exists many differences in the physical appearance of the alters.
The Narrator’s transformation results in no apparent physical change, in fact he even mentions that himself and Tyler “were looking more and more like identical twins”. However, physical appearance is an important factor that emphasizes the difference between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While Dr. Jekyll is an older, prestigious, taller man, Mr. Hyde is a smaller, more crooked, and shorter man. He is described to look like “something displeasing, something downright detestable”. As a result, while Tyler’s presence is more notable as a mental presence that coexists along with The Narrator himself, Hyde’s presence plays a more notable part as a physical presence that constantly interchanges with Dr. Jekyll. Yet it is undeniable that one of the most prominent differences between the two works is how and why the alters have been created.
Last but definitely not least, the most significant and eye-catching difference between the works is how the alter persona has come to be and how the characters confront and embrace their alters. In fact, this distinction is most useful when laying the chosen research question to rest, because it informs us about the dynamics that have triggered the duality. Both alters are born, as vessels to freedom, out of dark pasts and a lack of ability to cope with the reality surrounding the main characters. Jekyll and The Narrator have lived widely different pasts. While it is hinted that The Narrator is born into a neglectful childhood without the presence of a father, it is improbable that Jekyll, a prestigious and successful surgeon, is born into such a family. Likewise, they come from very different social classes. While classic literature, in the case of Dr. Jekyll, focuses on aristocrats and people who are socially and economically uplifted, modern literature, in the case of the Narrator, is circled around people from the middle class.
Both alters are exact depictions of what The Narrator and Jekyll want to be, in order to free themselves from the “shackles of cultural civility”. The Narrator’s dissatisfaction with life, the sensation that his existence is filled with materialism, mundane choices and no great cause to fight for, coupled along with his insomnia places him on a path to enlightenment that unleashes Tyler into the real world. Consequently, he creates fight club as a way to battle materialism, capitalism and social order. (” You’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”) The following quote gives the reader further insight into the Narrator’s philosophy of life: “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.”
Jekyll, already possessing an evil side, formulates a potion that allows him to transform into Hyde and fulfill his evil needs without any sensation of guilt and without consequences damaging his reputation. This is also perceptible in the name Dr. Jekyll has chosen for his alter, “Hyde”. This play on words reveals that Mr. Hyde is only a disguise or mask that Jekyll wears in order to “hide” while fulfilling his evil urges. Moreover, the fact that Hyde breaks laws can be seen as an allegorical representation of how he breaks himself free of the shackles of society and civilization. In his confession, Jekyll even states that he believes “man is not truly one, but truly two”, and that is the reason why he made his potion in order to part his good from his evil.
Conclusively, it is safe to say that, in countless ways, Fight Club can be considered the twentieth century American urban rewrite of the gothic topic of duality, found in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Narrator and Dr. Jekyll have both helped shape how the public has viewed dual personalities throughout the many years. In order to answer the question, “how are dual personalities portrayed in the controversial cult classic, Fight Club and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?”, both the similarities and differences were analyzed. It conclusively became clear that both authors make use of characters that struggle with liberating themselves from duals, that are born as vessels to freedom out of dark pasts and that represent manifestations of disturbing evil intentions. This tactic is employed in order to bring the reader to question the notion that good cannot exist without evil, which illustrates how both authors had comparable points of view concerning how they wanted to depict dual personalities in their respective novels. However, it is worthy to note that while Stevenson incorporates the dangers of manipulating and disturbing nature into his portrayal of duality, Palahniuk’s view is focused on the complexities of the modern world and of human relationships. Additionally, we notice that the isolation and devolution of each character leads to further down the path of deprivation from human communication and finally results in the formation of duality. The different narrations, coupled along with the different aspects of each character’s duality, such as transformation, appearance, and creation, are some main factors that completely part the two portrayals of duality apart from one another. Clearly, both authors had similar mindsets regarding the underlying elements of their works, however the portrayals of duality are more different than alike on the surface. Such elements make each novel a distinctive work, worthy of praise and detailed study, which is why both works have become critically acclaimed and infamously illustrious throughout the years.