The Narrator's Personal Hygiene
by Theresa Rose

Throughout the first half of the movie, The Narrator is seen with engaged in various activities related to his personal hygiene. His first activity upon moving in with Tyler, is attempting to take a shower (albeit with rusty water). He says he doesn't mind the fart smell, the stale refrigerator, etc., yet he tells us when he came home from work and was upset just a few weeks earlier, he cleaned his condo or polished his Scandinavian furniture while he should have been looking for a new condo. Clearly, The Narrator is struggling with finding a balance between "letting go" and having a "conventional lifestyle." While The Narrator describes Tyler's house as a "shit hole," and even refers to Marla's place as "her crumby apartment," after Project Mayhem kicks in and the Space Monkeys move in, the first thing he (and Tyler) has them do is clean the house and plant a garden. He tells us "Fight Club became the reason to cut your hair short and trim your fingernails," yet it is Tyler and not The Narrator we see clipping his nails and shaving his head.

In several scenes, we see The Narrator forcefully brushing his teeth. The first time we see him doing this, Tyler stands nearby filing his nails. During the same scene, The Narrator is mildly concerned over his lost tooth but after Tyler reminds him "even the Mona Lisa is falling apart," he wistfully throws it down the drain. Again, clearly struggling with "sliding" vs. controlling. This struggle is again seen as The Narrator constantly tends to his wounds (at work, in the bathroom as Tyler bathes and smokes) while Tyler does not. He sports bandages on many of his injuries whereas Tyler is never seen with any.

But perhaps the most interesting theme regarding personal hygiene in the film is The Narrator's relationship with his toothbrush. The second time we see The Narrator with his toothbrush is after Tyler flings the door open during a sex session with Marla. The Narrator vigorously brushes his teeth while listening to them "sport fuck" and refers to himself as "the calm little center of the world" and "the Zen master" (he also refers to himself in similar terms regarding being the only healthy person at his support groups) even though it is obvious that he is not yet enlightened.

After his boss reprimands him for his appearance telling him to take the rest of the day off, get some clean cloths and get himself together, he returns to Tyler's house describing it as "dilapidated" only to hear Tyler and Marla fucking again. The following morning, The Narrator begins a ritual: He uses his toothbrush to scrub out bloodstains. This is reminiscent of Shakespeare's play Macbeth in which the character Lady Mac Beth tries, in vein, to wash blood/guilt off of her.

When Marla comes downstairs after The Narrator takes a phone call that same morning, he returns to the act of blood scrubbing. When she approaches him seductively talking about her dress, he tries to ignore her suggestions and we see a close-up of him scrubbing even harder.

This, however, is the last we see of The Narrator concerned with his appearance as he nears "hitting bottom" and foregoes some of the worldly activities he once considered so important. He takes up smoking. He shows his bloody teeth to a co-worker. He refuses to wear a tie and begins challenging his boss yet still reminisces of his old self during their altercation as he thinks, "I used to be such a nice guy." He threatens the Project Mayhem cops with a "lead salad" if they try to follow him. He walks in front of a bus and repeatedly yells, "SHUT UP!" at a passing motorist. Near the end of the movie, Tyler chastises him for running around in his underwear like "a crazy person."

In the final scene of the movie, as The Narrator nears achieving the balance between hitting bottom and being uptight, he reveals that "for a moment" he is concerned with the cleanliness of the gun. The Narrator, like so many of us, is still struggling with finding the balance between taking responsibility yet not wanting too much of it; between "letting that which does not matter truly slide" and operating under the assumption that he is in control of his life; between doing what he knows is right but fearing how society will respond to his actions.

"You met me at a really strange time in my life," he tells Marla. Then again, life itself IS strange.