Soap

Erika writes: When the narrator first meets Tyler, Tyler declares that he is a soap salesman, although Tyler has various other occupations including a night-time movie projectionist and a waiter. Tyler, however, most identifies himself with the job of selling soap, thus lending weight to the symbolic importance played by soap in the movie. Tyler calls soap "the foundation of civilization" and tells the narrator that "the first soap was made from the ashes of heroes". He also uses lye, a chemical ingredient of soap, to introduce the narrator to the pain of "premature enlightenment." In this role, soap is a symbol of purification and cleanliness, of a culture lacking the hypocrisy and fraudulence of contemporary culture. However, in that Tyler makes soap by stealing fat from the liposuction clinic dumpsters and then sells these soaps "to department stores for $20 a bar", soap also represents a too highly refined culture, a culture where all traces of natural humanity are suppressed, effaced, washed off. Rather than being made from the "ashes of heroes", soap is made from "selling rich women their own fat asses." The fact that Tyler is a salesman for this product represents Jack's subservience to this culture. Fight Club is founded as a way for men to regain their primitive instinct that culture tries to wash off. In that soap represents both the purifying and effacing tendencies of civilization, its symbolic function resembles that of ice in The Mosquito Coast where Allie Fox, a man obsessed with the fact that American civilization has become effete, perfects an ice machine believing ice to be the foundation of civilization. Interestingly enough, Fox deplores that one is forced to buy ice in America, making ice the symbol of all that is wrong about civilization as well as all that is right.

Freezon points out "Tyler didn't say that soap is "the foundation of civilization" as quoted in the "soap" section of the site, he actually said that soap is the "yardstick of civilization"..."

Tyler's method isn't the only way to make soap. Consider the following instructions, from the 1832 advice manual The American Frugal Housewife, by Lydia Maria Child.

SOAP.

In the city, I believe, it is better to exchange ashes and grease for soap; but in the country, I am certain, it is good economy to make one's own soap. If you burn wood, you can make your own lye; but the ashes of coal is not worth much. Bore small holes in the bottom of a barrel, place four bricks around, and fill the barrel with ashes. Wet the ashes well, but not enough to drop; let it soak thus three or four days; then pour a gallon of water in every hour or two, for a day or more, and let it drop into a pail or tub beneath. Keep it dripping till the color of the lye shows the strength is exhausted. If your lye is not strong enough, you must fill your barrel with fresh ashes, and let the lye run through it. Some people take a barrel without any bottom, and lay sticks and straw across to prevent the ashes from falling through. To make a barrel of soap, it will require about five or six bushels of ashes, with at least four quarts of unslacked stone lime; if slacked, double the quantity.

When you have drawn off a part of the lye, put the lime (whether slack or not) into two or three pails of boiling water, and add it to the ashes, and let it drain through.

It is the practice of some people, in making soap, to put the lime near the bottom of the ashes when they first set it up; but the lime becomes like mortar, and the lye does not run through, so as to get the strength of it, which is very important in making soap, as it contracts the nitrous salts which collect in ashes, and prevents the soap from coming, (as the saying is.) Old ashes are very apt to be impregnated with it.

Three pounds of grease should be put into a pailful of lye. The great difficulty in making soap 'come' originates in want of judgment about the strength of the lye. One rule may be safely trusted-- If your lye will bear up an egg, or a potato, so that you can see a piece of the surface as big as ninepence, it is just strong enough. If it sink below the top of the lye, it is too weak, and will never make soap; if it is buoyed up half way, the lye is too strong; and that is just as bad. A bit of quick-lime, thrown in while the lye and grease are boiling together, is of service. When the soap becomes thick and ropy, carry it down cellar in pails and empty it into a barrel.

Cold soap is less trouble, because it does not need to boil; the sun does the work of fire. The lye must be prepared and tried in the usual way. The grease must be tried out, and strained from the scraps. Two pounds of grease (instead of three) must be used to a pailful; unless the weather is very sultry, the lye should be hot when put to the grease. It should stand in the sun, and be stirred every day. If it does not begin to look like soap in the course of five or six days, add a little hot lye to it; if this does not help it, try whether it be grease that it wants. Perhaps you will think cold soap wasteful, because the grease must be strained; but if the scraps are boiled thoroughly in strong lye, the grease will all float upon the surface, and nothing be lost.