Fight Club Characters: Analysis of the Shadow Archetype and Its Impact on the Protagonist in Fight Club

Myths are creations which constituted in order to generate a meaning for people’s lives and the happenings around them which they can’t apprehend in a basic manner. People who created myths reflected their thought process, their interpretation of human nature and their culture within those myths. Thus, by analyzing myths, connection between the people of the past and the people of the present can be established in order to understand the reasons behind the inexplicable aspects of human psyche. This is the main reason behind Joseph Campbell’s research on myths as in his own words; “In myths, symbolic expression is given to the unconscious desires, fears, and tensions that underlie the conscious patterns of human behavior.”(qtd. in Morong 1). By analyzing the resemblance between myths, Campbell created the Character Arc, which defines a pattern for the personality development of the main character that can be seen in most stories. Regarding the Character Arc, hero’s psychic evolution can be resolved into simple steps which will be used in this paper to state the condition of the hero at a given time. These “symbolic expressions” as stated by Campbell need to be analyzed in dept in order to understand what these symbols actually represent. Jung also emphasizes its significance by saying “Myths are first and foremost manifestations of the psyche” (Psychological Reflections 15). The Archetypes formed by Carl Jung are concepts created to reach out to the meaning behind those symbols. They have correspondence in general human psyche and can be applied to every person regarding that all human beings share a mutual source which is called “the collective unconscious”. As Jung states; “collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents” (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious 43). Since the main character’s story revolves around the clash between the narrator’s ego and shadow, furthermore the effects of this clash on his relationship with his feminine counterpart who represents anima, these three primary Jungian archetypes mentioned are the concepts that will be used generously throughout the paper.

As the way of communication changed from the past to the modern times we live in, myths’ duty of conveying a message to the collective unconscious are passed on to the movies. Some movies function as modern myths regarding their structure and content, one of which is Fight Club. Considering that, characters portrayed in Fight Club can be interpreted with Jungian concepts and psychoanalysis, also the development of the main character’s personality can be categorized into simple steps with respect to Campbell’s Character Arc. What makes the main character develop his personality is his interaction with the character in the movie called Tyler Durden. Tyler, who is seen as a friend of the narrator at the beginning of the movie, is suitable for the concept of shadow archetype in Jungian perspective. By becoming close to Tyler, the narrator lets his shadow take control of his psyche, which makes him go beyond the limitations of his mind by separating him from his artificial reality which oppresses his primitive side and instincts. By eliminating the pressure on his primitive side, he is able to overcome his fears and create a bond with his feminine side, Anima. Thus he is able to venture into his unconscious world in order to take further steps to complete his character cycle, which is crucial for reaching individuation. At the end, the narrator is able to acknowledge his unconscious side and reach wholeness by sacrificing his ego with the help of his shadow and by dismissing corrupted sides of his shadow, thus he manages to destroy the barriers between his ego and his shadow.

At the beginning, the main character is at the limited awareness stage. At this stage of the Character Arc, the person has no idea about the cause of his existence and he is merely adapted to the conditions of his life. It is seen that the narrator’s life is shaped by the outside factors rather than his own ideals, which is the reason behind nonexistence of his identity. He becomes one of the mainstream and gets to live comfortably; however, to manage this, he neglects to question the ontological purpose of his existence. One of the indications proving this is that the main character’s name is unknown for the audience. This is a crucial indication of his personality being absent. As Jung stated about individuation, “It is a process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual.” (Collected Works 448). This means that he needs to be separated from the society and the mainstream to create a personality for himself. Another significant indication of his lack of differentiation is his lifestyle. He is a persistent member of consumerism. His expenses are beyond his needs and he seeks fulfillment in possession of materials, which is a signature move of the western communities ruled by the capitalist movement. He is conformed into the boundaries fixed by the materialistic society he lives in. Jung refers to this situation as he says; “With Western man, the value of the Self sinks to zero” (Psychological Reflections 256). Conforming to the western society causes destruction of the self, the very right to be an individual since in order to fit in; people always need to be grounded and rational, which leads them to pressure anything coming from their unconscious. When the narrator says “At the time, my life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves”, he starts to realize the situation he is in (David Fincher, Fight Club). The quality of his life and the materials he possess are merely a distraction. He lives in an illusion of reality, which Jung describes this situation as “This task (conforming to the society) is so exacting and its fulfillment so advantageous, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being. In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively replace reality” (The Undiscovered Self 93). The task that makes the person create an illusion of reality as Jung mentions can be defined as the effort of keeping up with the society, trying to reach the standard constituted by it. In order to prevent being an outcast in the western society, the person is deemed to act only with his conscious and make rational decisions while refusing his desires originated from the unconscious side of his psyche; therefore, causing the repression of the unconscious. The more repressed the unconscious is, the more powerful the shadow gets (Jung, Psychological Reflections 214). Since Shadow is the reflection of the person’s unknown entities in his psyche, it gets darker and bigger while more and more notions gets untouched in the unconscious of a person. As it is mentioned, the narrator is in a situation of limited awareness caused by his dependence of the outside factors. To reach individuation; he must differentiate himself from the society by relinquishing his possessions and paying attention to the unconscious side of his psyche.

The most significant condition that leads the narrator to realize the lack of purpose in his life and his reality being an illusion is his sleep disorder called insomnia which he describes as not being able to sleep nor wake up. At this stage, the narrator is in the increased awareness stage in the Character Cycle. From a Jungian Perspective, sleeping is a way of connecting to the unconscious side of psyche. Lack of sleep, which represents lack of knowledge of the self and his unconscious in that sense, forces him to look for a solution, which is the motivation behind the creation of the embodiment of his shadow; Tyler Durden. To elaborate it more; the narrator is not at peace when he is not able to sleep, meaning that he can’t feel as a free individual since he can’t understand his unconscious, as Jung states; the more we know our both sides, the less problems arise from the self (Two Essays on Analytical Psychology 187). The times when he is able to sleep are the times when he feels like an individual, an actual person. Since he feels his sleep is stabilized after becoming together with Tyler, he is inclined to keep going with it. Therefore, it can be claimed that this is one of the causes behind his perseverance in letting his shadow take over his former personality and create a new one cleansed of the belief and thoughts he had before. While he is seeking for a cure he realizes that he is able to sleep only when he is out of his regular life. He joins support groups full of hopeless people outcasted from the regular rush of living in western society and by interacting with them, he finds himself relieved. In modern western civilization, dreams have lost its importance, however from Jungian Perspective, dreams are the reflection of the unconscious and they need to be analyzed regarding this fact (Stein 9). Since the narrator can’t fall asleep, therefore not able to reach to the reflections of his unconscious, he starts to question his state. He found the cure by leaving the mundanity of his life and rationality which is oppressed by his former conditions. He randomly starts a fight with Tyler and after that he realizes that the primitive, irrational act of fighting, which will be discussed deeply later, helps him sleep, therefore he can see the reflections of the unconscious aspect of his psyche (Jung, Psychology and Religion 26). At the end of the movie, it is revealed that Tyler, who is the embodiment of shadow aspect of the narrator, acts on behalf of the narrator when the narrator thinks he is asleep. Also at some point the narrator states that Tyler only works at night. It is a clear indication that a person’s shadow sometimes reveals himself during the sleeping times. As Jung claims; “Since the dream is elaborate and consistent it suggests a certain logic and a certain intention, that is, it is preceded by a motivation in the unconscious which finds direct expression in the dream content.” (Psychology and Religion 31) Jung’s opinion can be applied to this situation since Tyler has a purpose, and he is consistent. His aim is to make the narrator recognize his self by leaving his former thought system behind and listening to unexplored sides of his psyche, which will be discussed in the next paragraph. To sum this argument up; his lack of sleep symbolizes his instability in terms of the balance between his unconscious( shadow) and conscious(ego) world; and the narrator is closer to reinstate the balance by listening to his shadow more often, which is a motivation for him to keep interacting with his shadow.

Now we are at the stage where the narrator commits to change and starts to prepare for the major change. At this moment, the hero is making progress and getting ready for his final task. By interacting with his shadow, the narrator is able sacrifice his belongings in his ordinary world which represents his ego, thus he is able to leave his former life shaped by the community he lives in and takes a step further in creating a self shaped via listening to his shadow. This is an important step in order to become closer to wholeness, the state of transcending the duality of the psyche. The narrator needs to leave his comfort zone and make sacrifices to create the harmony for the duality, unconscious and the conscious. The first important sacrifice is the explosion of the narrator’s condo. It is clear that Tyler did this in order to separate the narrator from his dependence of the society and its impositions. Later he states that “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything” (David Fincher, Fight Club). This can be related to Jung’s statement; “when an act of sacrifice takes place, a process of transformation is going on in the unconscious whose dynamism, whose contents and whose subjects are themselves unknown but become visible indirectly to the conscious mind.” (The Collected Works 430). The transformation Jung talks about is happening in the mind of the narrator when he sacrifices his possessions. In order to establish the balance between the sides of his psyche, he needs to sacrifice his ego. This sacrifice is a symbolization of abandoning the egoist nature of the pragmatist, westernized attitude for the sake of a better self. This condition is also the reason behind him quitting his job. In a modern society, your job basically defines who you are. By leaving his job, he announces that he will not fit into those molds, he will create a self. “I can be sure that in giving up my egoistic claim I shall challenge my ego personality to revolt. I can also be sure that the power that suppresses this claim, and thus suppresses me, must be the self. Hence it is the self that causes me to make the sacrifice; nay more, it compels me to make it. The self is the sacrificer, and I am the sacrificed gift, the human sacrifice.” (Jung, Psychology and religion: west and east 261). Ego’s possessions conflicts with the interest of the self. In order to make the self prevail, the narrator must reduce the effects of his ego on his personality. He needs to control his egoistic desires in order to reach the wholeness within the self.

At this stage, the main character is going through his major change. This major change is consisted of acceptance of the shadow aspect and returning back to his original, primitive state of psyche. By only recognizing his shadow he can understand what his primitive form looks like and what its desires are, which helps him to reach out to the collective unconscious. The modern world the narrator lives in consists of people continuously suppressing their primitive instincts and desires. This prevents them from understanding the human nature. They are restricted to make so-called pragmatist decisions to survive. In order to “Know thyself”, the narrator needs to let his shadow have a balanced effect on himself and show him his most unconscious form to get to know himself. Considering these facts; the underground club they founded is all about returning to the original nature of man. In this club, members engage in a fight when their turn come. Fighting is regarded as an uncivilized act in the modern society, thus it is associated with leaving the rationality. In The Undiscovered Self, Jung states: “Separation from his instinctual nature inevitably plunges civilized man into the conflict between conscious and unconscious, spirit and nature, knowledge and faith.” (58). In order to prevent these contradictions from happening, the narrator should not ignore his primal feelings. The club founded by his shadow, Tyler, is expanding its influence on people by reaching out to their primitive form and provoking it, which is usually neglected by the civilized societies. Also people have the tendency to manifest the dark side of theirs when they are acting as a group rather than in solitude (Psychology and Religion 15). The fight club that turned into Project Mayhem is indeed useful at understanding the shadow aspect by revealing the primitive feelings and instinctual desires. By doing that, they are closer to understand and feel the common things that exist within every person, which leads us to the collective unconscious. At the point when the narrator says “While fighting, you are the god of that moment”, he is actually referring to establishing a connection to the collective unconscious (David Fincher, Fight Club). With the contributions of the fight club and the Project Mayhem, which are founded by the narrator himself considering his shadow is actually a part of himself, he is able to leave his modernity and turn into his primitive form to understand the concept of wholeness and connect to the collective unconscious.

One of the other significant tasks the narrator accomplishes by interacting with his shadow is creating a connection with the feminine side of his psyche which is anima archetype in Jungian Perspective. The importance of this comes from the very definition of individuation. In order to reach individuation, one must recognize that there is both feminine and masculine aspect of his character, and only by managing that, he is able to transcend beyond them and become a whole, unity (Jung, Psychological Reflections 100). In the movie, the narrator’s denial of his feminine aspect is presented as his hatred towards Marla fed by her existence in the support groups causing a disturbance in his psychological state thus retriggering his insomnia. At first; his ego doesn’t let him admit his affection towards her and he prefers to oppress his feelings because of the fact that she is not able to match the requirements of his persona shaped due to his former condition he lives in, as he states “I can’t get married, I am a thirty year old boy” (David Fincher, Fight Club). Basically, he is not able to get to know himself truly and become a mature person since he refuses any kind of commitment to a counterpart. His relationship with Marla is able to be founded by Tyler acting in behalf of the narrator. At the beginning, this relationship is primitive since it is solely motivated by primal desires; however, in order to create a balanced bond with the other gender, a pre-existing primal connection is necessity. This connection happens when his shadow starts to interact with Marla’s shadow and manages to relieve the pressure on his feelings towards her, which is a crucial step in uniting the two gender aspects of his psyche. Jung claims “this primordial pair of opposites, man and woman united, symbolizes every pair of opposites that may occur” (Psychological Reflections 94). By saying that, Jung emphasizes the importance of unifying the two genders regarding the fact that it clears the path on overcoming the division of other dualities, most importantly; Ego and Shadow. This fluctuating and unstable primitive unification led solely by sexual desires included in the shadow of the narrator and Marla turns into a stable relationship when the narrator is able to take the final challenge which will be elaborated at the upcoming paragraph. It is seen at the end of the movie that the completion of the narrator’s character cycle is symbolized through unification of him and Marla at both emotional and rational level.

The narrator’s reliance on his shadow backfires at some point considering that he starts to lose control of his actions. Since the narrator gives too much credit to his shadow, it starts to dominate his personality, which prevents him from reaching complete balance. In order to reestablish the balance, He needs to take control of his Shadow by making a one last sacrifice. This is the final challenge he needs to face to complete his Character Cycle. He needs to acknowledge his shadow, and assimilate it at the same time in order to establish the balance between his unconscious and conscious. One of the indications of this newly shaped, imbalanced psychological state of the narrator is the Project Mayhem. While his dependence on the social and environmental boundaries decreases and the effect of his shadow on his psyche increases, it is seen that the narrator’s shadow starts to transform his all unconscious aspects into his reality. This is a delicate matter considering that it can lead the narrator to understand and manipulate other people’s shadow, therefore causes the person to be less individual and the person ends up creating a new subgroup that conforms others (Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology 157). This means his uncontrolled shadow starts to harm his individuation process by trying to change others before actually completing his cycle of discovering his self. When a shadow suppressed for a long time gains a vast influence in a psyche of a person, the outcome has the potential to be catastrophic (Jung, Psychological Reflections 208). In Project Mayhem, the people who are far from individuation and the state of balance are easily manipulated by the narrator led by his strong shadow since he can identify their deepest fears and desires residing in their shadow. Because he can understand their inner situation, he can easily use their weakness against them for a power play, thus leading him to be able to form an uncontrolled but powerful, effective and destructive group. The narrator starts to realize this situation when the project causes an innocent man to die, furthermore it starts to threaten the life of Marla, his female counterpart. In order to restate the balance, the narrator acknowledges the destruction caused by his shadow and takes responsibility for it. This is a move that makes the narrator’s weak ego gain leverage on his strong shadow. By accepting it is actually himself that caused the destruction, he starts to be able gain control on his shadow, as symbolized at the gun vanishing in Tyler’s hand and appearing in the narrator’s hand scene. Then, he shots himself to assimilate his shadow, thinking that he is already a part of himself. He manages to do it with one last sacrifice, this time to eliminate his shadow. “Conscious and the unconscious are not necessarily in opposition to one another, but complement one another to form a totality, which is the self” (Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology 186). As it is mentioned; conscious forms the ego while unconscious forms the shadow. Individuation, the balanced self can only be reached with the harmony of them. This is the stage that the narrator manages to reach after assimilating his shadow, represented at the last scene since he is unified with his female counterpart. “You met me at a very strange time in my life” he says to her, meaning that the strange time is over, transformation is complete. At the end; their relationship is stabilized, symbolizing every other dualities are also balanced.

In conclusion; there is a shadow aspect of every human’s psyche. As people living in the modern societies, we tend to suppress our unconscious feelings, desires, thoughts etc. which basically forms our shadow. We have tendency to get stuck in our conscious world formed by materialistic and pragmatic concepts. In Fight Club; by listening to his shadow, the narrator manages to get out of the system and eliminate the pressure on his unconscious. Therefore, he can get to know himself, “the self”. He starts to understand both sides of his psyche. His individuation process, just like his personality development regarding the Character arc, is only possible by reaching the wholeness. By recognizing, confronting and assimilating his shadow, the narrator manages to reach the wholeness. The movie, Fight Club, goes beyond being just a connected plot or a scenario. It is very much about the struggles of a human living in the modern times. The topics discussed throughout the movie are a portrayal of the present conditions we are in. Conflict between the material and the spiritual is essential to understand the world’s current situation such in cultural, political conflicts and wars. Jungian approach claims that the existence of both spiritual and rational sides is vital to have a healthy state of mind. The balance between the dualities is essential.

Works Cited

Corbett, Lionel, and Murray Stein. “The White Snake.” Psyche’s Stories, Vol. 3: Modern Jungian Interpretations of Fairy Tales. Vol. 3. Illinois: Chiron Publications, 1995. Print.

Fincher David, dir. Fight Club. 20th Century Fox Film Corp, 1999. Film.

Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. New York: Pantheon, 1959. Print.

Jung, C. G. Psychology and Religion. New Haven: Yale UP;, 1938. Print.

Jung, C. G. Psychology and Religion: West and East. 2d ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1969. Print.

Jung, C. G. Psychological Reflections; an Anthology of the Writings of C.G. Jung. 1st ed. New York:Pantheon, 1961. Print.

Jung, C. G. The Undiscovered Self. 3rd ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1958. Print.

Jung, C. G. Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. New York: Meridian, 1956. Print.

Jung, C. G., and Herbert Read. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. New York: Pantheon, 1953. Print.

Morong, Cyril. “Mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the socioeconomic conflict.”The Journal of Socio -Economics 23.4 (1994). Print.


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