The concepts of consumerism, materialism and conformity factor heavily into the overall theme of the novel with the following phrase being an apt summary of such aspects: “then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own; now they own you” (Schultz, 583-605).
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What you have to understand is that Palahniuk portrays materialism and consumerism as adverse controlling influences within people’s lives in modern day society. This can be seen in the current pop culture obsession over getting the new iPhone 5, wearing branded clothes, having a particular hair style or driving a certain type of car.
For Palahniuk, such aspects of behavior can be considered a form of irrational exuberance which is defined as: “the act of people basing their behavior on the actions of other people” (Schultz, 583-605). This can be seen in the thought process of the main character wherein his subsequent depression over the state of his life is actually based on a comparison between what he currently possesses and what society dictates he must possess (Schultz, 583-605).
A similar way of thinking can be seen within many of the other members of the fight club, especially in the case of project mayhem, wherein their adverse and apathetic views towards society as a whole is in part influenced by their frustration over the need to conform to a materialistic consumerist oriented society.
It is based on this that one way of interpreting this particular theme of the novel is to consider that, in an individual’s quest to conform to what is expected of them within society whether it is material gain or social status, they tend to lose the freedom to be who they want to be.
This was exemplified in the previous line taken from the novel revolving around the concept of “things owning you”. What you have to understand is that in the pursuit of social conformity people within the novel as well as in real life tend to take on more than they should.
This comes in the form of excess credit card debt, home loans, car loans and all other forms of debt accumulated to conform to the expectations of society regarding the correlation between material possessions and having a place within society as a whole. Unfortunately, this way of thinking often results in people having to take on burdens to pay for things they do not need, in order to impress people they do not know or like and, as a result, they become stuck in a cycle wherein what they own defines who they are.
In essence, this is what Palahniuk refers to as “things owning people” since once something defines who you are it in effect owns you with the end result of you losing your freedom. It is due to this situation that the author creates a parallel theme involving the desire to be free from this state of irrational exuberance.
This can be seen in the following phrase by the narrator when he describes Tyler Durden “Tyler is capable and free, and I am not (Schultz, 583-605)”. Such a statement, when coupled with the sheer amount of people that became members of the fight club, can be considered indicative of a deep seated desire to be free from the shackles of conformity within society with the only way of doing so is through a distinctly nonconformist type of behavior (Schultz, 583-605).
Schultz, Robert T. “White Guys Who Prefer Not To: From Passive Resistance (‘Bartleby’) To Terrorist Acts (Fight Club).” Journal Of Popular Culture 44.3 (2011): 583-605. Literary Reference Center. Web.