Both the movie and the book are told from the perspective of the protagonist main character, called The Narrator in the movie script. The Narrator is meant to represent the average "Everyman" of modern society.
When the story begins, the Narrator is a recall coordinator for a major car company (shown to be named "Federated Motor Corporation" in the film). He starts out suffering from chronic insomnia, causing him to slog through life in a flat, half-asleep state of depression. He finds temporary relief by attending various support groups under false pretenses; but when this stops working (thanks to Marla Singer) his insomnia returns with a vengeance. It's shortly after this when he "meets" his split personality in the form of Tyler Durden, and his average, boring life is turned upside down.
Throughout the story, the Narrator is subject to Tyler Durden's attempts to force him to hit bottom, and therefore reach a state of enlightenment. However, the Narrator is slow to grasp Tyler's lessons. At one point he convinces himself that he has indeed become "enlightened," only to be frustrated by Tyler telling him that he is self-deluded and isn't even trying to hit bottom. It eventually becomes apparent that his feelings for Marla are what keeps him from progressing further. He doesn't want to embrace Tyler's goals or destroy society; he just wants Marla. After Tyler disappears, the Narrator becomes more and more unsettled about Project Mayhem. This comes to a head when Bob winds up killed. The Narrator decides to find Tyler, hoping to convince him to shut the whole thing down. He then learns that not only is Tyler his own split personality, but he plans to "take over," replacing the Narrator completely. He also discovers Tyler's plan to blow up major credit card buildings. All of this sends him into a panic, and he frantically tries to stop Tyler's plans from succeeding.
At the end of the story, Tyler makes it clear to the Narrator that he plans to kill Marla, on the grounds that she stands in the way of the Narrator's freedom. This is the final straw for the Narrator, who opts to kill himself and destroy Tyler in the process. Tyler (apparently) dies, but the Narrator survives because the bullet merely goes through his cheek. Marla then arrives (in the book she came with members of a support group to save the Narrator; in the film she was brought there by members of Project Mayhem under orders from Tyler). The movie version of the story ends with Marla and the Narrator hand in hand, silently watching buildings explode as Tyler's plan takes effect. This is in sharp contrast to the end of the novel. In that version of the story, the building explosions fail. The Narrator then shoots himself right in front of Marla. He subsequently winds up locked in a mental ward, wrongly assuming that the gunshot killed him and he's in Heaven.
The Narrator's real name is never revealed. Throughout the film, he refers to himself several times as Jack (in the novel and the screenplay it's Joe). He does this as a nod to a series of articles he read that were written about the first person perspective of a body part. Edward Norton himself refers to the character as "Jack" because of this. In the screenplay, he is referred to as Jack. Due to copyright, they weren't allowed to use the name Joe, so they changed it and chose Jack, because that was his name in the screenplay.
- "I am Jack's Raging Bile Duct"
- "I am Jack's Cold Sweat"
- "I am Jack's Complete Lack of Surprise"
- "I am Jack's Inflamed Sense of Rejection"
- "I am Jack's Broken Heart"
- "I am Jack's Smirking Revenge"
It's also possible, if not probable, that his real name is in fact Tyler Durden, although this is most likely another alias considering he associated the name with his alter ego, although it's also possible he's so mentally damaged he forgot his own name was in fact Tyler.
Support Group Aliases
In the film, The Narrator uses several false names when he participates in the support groups.
Partial list of aliases:
- Cornelius - used in the testicular cancer group where he met Bob.
- Rupert - used in the cancer group frequented by Chloe.
- Mr. Taylor - used when confronted by Marla Singer.
In a July 2013 interview about the upcoming Fight Club 2 graphic novel, Chuck Palahniuk specifially referred to The Narrator as "Jack":
"Nowadays, Tyler is telling the story, lurking inside Jack, and ready to launch a comeback. Jack is oblivious. Marla is bored. Their marriage has run aground on the rocky coastline of middle-aged suburban boredom. It's only when their little boy disappears, kidnapped by Tyler, that Jack is dragged back into the world of Mayhem."
The Narrator is also directly called "Jack" in some places (but not others) on Palahniuk's official website. However, in a February 2014 Hustler interview, Palahniuk stated:
"The sequel will be told from the-- at first-- submerged perspective of Tyler Durden as he observes the day-to-day tedium of the narrator's life. Because 20th Century-Fox created the convention of calling the protagonist Jack, I'm calling him Cornelius."
In the first issue of the Fight Club 2 comic, the Narrator now refers to himself as Sebastian, which is the current canonical name for the character.
There appear to be homosexual undertones in the novel which manifest as the Narrator feeling a desire for Tyler Durden. It's unclear whether this indicates actual homosexual tendencies in the Narrator (or bisexual, considering his feelings for Marla). The feelings may simply be a manifestation of the Narrator's desire to unify his split personalities back into one. Since the Narrator spends most of the story unaware of Tyler's imaginary nature, a desire to unify might bubble to the surface as a homosexual longing for Tyler. In dreams, especially sexual intercourse dreams or things pertaining to that nature, are symbolic of merging an aspect with another or accepting something or someone with another. A couple of minor scenes also suggest that he is slightly jealous of Marla and Tyler's relationship, such as when he's standing outside the bedroom, though this could also be jealousy for Marla, as given the ending it's very possible that he was burying his feelings for her earlier on. This could also be in reference to the author, Chuck Palahniuk, who is gay. However, his constant arguing and fighting with Tyler, including before he found out the truth (such as the car scene), does seem to contradict the notion of him having feelings for him, and although it is very possible, it's also likely that the narrator wants to simply share the partnership of being the ones who made fight club and the minds in charge of project mayhem, and his perceived homosexuality is simply him being afraid of his importance being taken, but as it has yet to be (and most likely will never be) confirmed for sure, it's mostly up to audience interpretation.
- "This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time."
- "On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."
- "Tyler sold his soap to department stores at $20 a bar. Lord knows what they charged. It was beautiful. We were selling rich women their own fat asses back to them."
- (to Tyler, while looking at a Gucci ad on the bus) "Is that what a man looks like?"
- (while being embraced by Bob at the testicular cancer therapy session) "Strangers with this kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one."
- "A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood."
- "I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more."
- "If you wake up at a different time in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?"
- "And then, something happened. I let go. Lost in oblivion. Dark and silent and complete. I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom."
- Some copies of the film have subtitles which refer to the Narrator as "Rupert."
- In January 2014, a collection of props from the film were sold at online auction (the ended auction is still viewable here). Among the props were two Federated Motor Company paychecks issued to "Jack Moore."