Comparison with Flannery O'Connor

On first glance, the writings of a Southern woman don't seem to have much to do with the darkly glitzy, male-dominated world of Fight Club. However, if you look closer, you'll notice what her world and that of Tyler have in common: the characters are so human, it hurts; every one of them has something bad inside, even if they themselves don't realize it, yet they also have something good as well. Every situation has a slight humor to it, and every story ends with the same twisted morbidity, whether it's the story of a crazy man who blew up a credit card building or a crazy man who preached in the streets and drove a rat-colored car. And of course, there's the kicker: O'Connor makes sure that by the end of her tales, every one of her characters have hit bottom.


Flannery O'Connor

A good parallel to Marla occurs in O'Connor's story "The Comforts of Home." It tells the tale of a young man whose life is disrupted when his mother takes in a homeless nymphomaniac out of charity. The young woman who calls herself Star-- usually referred to by the man, Thomas, as "the little slut"-- is a perfect portrait of Marla. Even their appearances are similiar; Star is described as having "a pointed chin, wide apple cheeks and feline empty eyes." Her build and attire even resemble Marla's. Although the story does not directly explore Star's character, enough glimpses of her are given to build her character. Like Marla, she is a compulsive liar, and she runs off and gets drunk, forcing Thomas and his mother to come to her rescue.

Also, her relationship to Thomas is very like Marla's relationship to the Narrator. Star is obviously attracted to him, and he pushes her away. She is revolting to him because she symbolizes the break-up of his ordered little world. However, his underlying attraction to her can be seen in his obsession with hating her. The ending also parallels that of Fight Club, almost eerily. Thomas accidentally shoots and kills his mother, the only force that held him together with Star, just as the Narrator shoots Tyler, without whom he would have had no further dealings with Marla. At the end of the story, O'Connor writes, "Over her body, the killer and the slut were about to collapse into each other's arms," the way that the Narrator and Marla clasped hands after Tyler's death at the end of the movie.

For those who prefer O'Connor-ized Fight Club sans Marla, there is the excellent novel The Violent Bear It Away. The hero of the novel, young Tarwater, is a boy who tries to escape the shadow of his great-uncle, a self-proclaimed prophet who tried to force the burden on his nephew. His quest for meaning beyond that of ordinary life parallels him closely to the Narrator. Both are searching for an escape from what they are destined to be; the Narrator is somewhat more successful in that his life changes while Tarwater ends up following the path his great-uncle had planned for him. Still, Tarwater will probably be the happier of the two. The quest of both ends only when they both have "hit bottom"-- for the Narrator, this occured when he discovered that he was powerless to undo what he, as Tyler, had done; for Tarwater, it was when he was raped by a stranger who bore a striking resemblance to his own version of Tyler, as we will see in a moment.

The Tyler Durden of Violent is never named-- when he first appears to Tarwater, he is called the "stranger"; later he becomes "the friend." He first appears as Tarwater is beginning to dig his great-uncle's grave, and he continues to stay by the boy's side throughout the story, as does Tyler in Fight Club, or Daffy in The Beach. Like Tyler, the friend becomes Tarwater's partner and co-conspirator, urging him to defy his great-uncle and shirk the duty he's been given. Tarwater even sees "subliminal friends"-- the first is in a stranger at a park where he has temporarily escaped his trials. O'Connor writes, "He was grinning wisely and his eyes held a malevolent promise of unwanted friendship. His voice sounded familiar but his appearance was as unpleasant as a stain." This vision of Tarwater's friend can be countered with his other human incarnation, the man who picks Tarwater up as a hitchhiker, then drugs and rapes him.

This second stranger is "a pale, lean, old-looking young man with deep hollows under his cheekbones... His eyes were the same color as his shirt [lavender] and were ringed with heavy black lashes. A lock of yellow hair fell across his forehead..." Instead of old and ugly, the friend is now young and beautiful, but he is still foreboding. The hat and the eyes are the same as those of the friend in Tarwater's mind. When the friend urges Tarwater to commit murder, O'Connor writes, "The boy looked up into his friend's eyes, bent upon him, and was startled to see that in the peculiar darkness, they were violet-colored, very close and intense, and fixed on him with a peculiar look of hunger and attraction." This description fits both that of the blond stranger and of Tyler Durden.

The friend also shares many of Tyler's views on the world. He coaches Tarwater to get along on his own, without needed the world or anybody in it-- except for him. After the boy's encounter with the first, old stranger, who tells him not to "let no jackasses tell you what to do," the friend says, "You think there's a trap laid all about you by the Lord. There ain't any trap. There ain't anything except what you've laid for yourself. The Lord is not studying about you, don't know you exist, and wouldn't do a thing about it if He did. You're alone in the world, with only yourself to ask or thank or judge; with only yourself. And me. I'll never desert you." These are similiar to Tyler's comments to the Narrator: Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers ditched us, what does that tell you about God? And, finally, just before the Narrator kills him: It's you and me. Friends?

The fate of Tarwater's friend is the final similiarity between him and Tyler. After Tarwater is raped, he finally realizes the futility in trying to escape his destiny. When the friend tells him, "I've stood by you, never left your side, and now we can take it over together, just you and me. You're not ever going to be alone again," Tarwater turns on him and sets the surrounding brush on fire. "He glared through the flames and his spirits rose as he saw that his adversary would soon be consumed in a roaring blaze." Like the Narrator in Fight Club, the boy finds himself and no long needs or wants the shadow figure that has been a part of him for so long.