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Fight Club: a Critical Analysis of Liminality

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Liminality is the transitional period or phase of a rite of passage, during which the participant is in between two stages of life; adulthood and adolescence. Liminal space can be the struggle between a physical and physiological stage in one’s life. In the film Fight Club, the main character Tyler and Robert Paulsen are both occupying a type of liminal space. In Guyland Kimmel explains that liminal space is the area of life where men and boys both can occupy in order to escape the responsibilities that come with the territory of growing up; bills, career, families, Jobs, girlfriends, etc. basically, all of the things that they will eventually have to face at some point in their life they prolong their stay in this liminal space to stray away from. In the movie Bob Paulsen is a male that was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had high estrogen levels causing him to form breasts, therefore putting him in a physical liminal space. Tyler is a man who throughout the story will go through a mental change from passive and unstable to assertive and balanced, therefore putting him in a physcological liminal space. I argue that Tyler represents liminality better that Robert but, Robert represents castration anxiety better than Tyler.

Tyler represents liminal space better than Robert. Liminality can be described as a conflict that a person inhabits while in a transitional stage in their life, it maybe be a physical or mental transition. Michael Kimmel defines Liminal as “undefined time span between adolescence and adulthood” (Kimmel 4). In flight club we can watch as Tyler goes through his mental transition, from, allowing his life to be determined by what others say about him or what people tell him to do without second thought it is evident in the film when:(Fight Club 1999). This event is significant because, it displays the weakness or passive characteristics that Tyler portrays throughout the first half of the movie being; timid, soft spoken and a push-over. Thus Tyler represents Liminal space better than Robert.

Robert does not portray Liminality as well as Tyler. Robert physical liminal space is due to the fact that he is caught in the middle of a gender situation, meaning since he is a Testicular cancer patient and, now has no testicles which, is how men identify themselves as men. He now has nothing to secure his masculinity, in addition to his lack of testicals, he is also experiencing high levels of estrogen which is causing him to grow “bitch tits”. In the Westerfelhaus article “At the Unlikely Confluence of Conservative Religion and Popular Culture: Fight Club as Heteronormative Ritual” he explains, “In the beginning of the film. Jack regularly visits a support group for men coping with testicular cancer. These men reassure themselves that they remain men despite the chemical and surgical castration used to treat their cancer” (Westerfelhaus 312). This is significant because, it shows the reason why bob is in his liminal space which, is because he can no longer reassure himself that he remains a man despite his surgical castration. Another example to explain bobs dilemma or the reason that he is caught in this liminality was explained by Clark, J. Michael in his article “Faludi, Fight Club, and Phallic Masculinity: Exploring the Emasculating Economics of Patriarchy” he states:

Faludi (1999) contends that the dynamics destabilizing American masculinity are primarily economic ones: Consumer culture has emasculated men, pushing them increasingly into ornamental and passive roles traditionally associated with the feminine sphere… Not a steady state of bliss, the so-called good life has accelerated into an “onrush of mass consumerism,” wherein, according to Faludi (1999), male worth has increasingly become “measured only by participation in … consumer culture” (Clark 65).

This is Significant because Robert Paulsen is a victim of the “Consumer culture” and how it “has emasculated men”. Robert Paulson, former bodybuilder and wrestler. Due to his excessive use of steroids, he got testicular cancer. It should be evident that from this information Robert fell victim to consumer culture and social construct, wanting to supersede others in his line of work he used steroids to get ahead because, in doing so also establishing his dominance as a man. Thus Robert does not represent Liminal space better than Tyler.

Robert Paulsen Embodies Castration Anxiety Better than Tyler. Castration anxiety can be defined as fear of emasculation in both the literal and metaphorical sense. In the literal sense castration anxiety is the conscious or unconscious fear of losing all or part of ones organs, in the metaphorical sense castration anxiety refers to the feeling of being insignificant also refers to the fear of being degraded or dominated, there is a need to keep one’s self from being dominated; whether it be socially or in a relationship. In the article written by Robert Westerfelhaus, Westerfelhaus suggests that “Fear of castration, obsession with potency…Concern about

Emasculation—symbolic and literal—is expressed early and often in Fight Club” (Westerfelhaus311). This is significant because within the first 15 minutes of this film Roberts Castration anxiety is made clear in the Support group scene, when Robert was hysterically crying and holding Tyler in a big embracive hug, telling his tragic castration story(Fight Club 1999). This liminal Space in Roberts’s life led him to become a part of the fight club because, although he had already been castrated physically he didn’t want to let on to others that he had been castrated Metaphorically so again, to establish his dominance or reassure his masculinity he turned to violence which is a display of brute force and strength, which due to social construct is the defining factors of a man. Thus Robert represents Castration anxiety better than Tyler

Tyler does not embody Castration anxiety more than Robert Paulsen. In his article, J. Michael Clark states:

The Betrayal of the American Man and the film Fight Club insist that men have been emasculated by consumerism; that the post-war legacy of the so-called good life has shifted men from active, heroic, confrontational roles into the passive, ornamental roles usually assigned to women. (Clark 65)

This quote is significant because it explains the reason why Tyler has not only taken up the “passive ornamental roles usually assigned to women” but, also why Tyler does not portray the severity of castration anxiety that Bob does, yes, through-out the film Tyler has displayed minimal concerns towards castration anxiety but, who would want their balls to be cut off? Tyler’s metaphorical castration is made evident in the film for example how limits his self-worth to the things that he orders from the IKEA catalogue (Fight Club 1999), which is an attribute more related to a feminine role only due to Social Construct. Only when Tyler’s apartment was blown sky high was he forced to then, focus on his masculinity. Thus Tyler does not represent castration anxiety better than Robert

In conclusion it is evident that Tyler embodies liminal space better that Robert because, of the transition in the film from passive and unstable to assertive and stable. Robert “Bob” does not portray liminal space better than Tyler because, of his physical setbacks which only effected his ego most of all. Robert embodies Castration Anxiety better than Tyler because, of his dyer need to state his dominance even though he no longer has balls. Tyler does not embody castration anxiety as much as Robert because, he is so much more focused on his possessions than his masculinity and/or establishing his dominance which puts him in a more ornamental and feminine role.

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Fight Club: A Critical Analysis of Liminality. (2019, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from
“Fight Club: A Critical Analysis of Liminality.” GradesFixer, 10 Apr. 2019,
Fight Club: A Critical Analysis of Liminality. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 May 2022].
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