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The Underground Fight Against the System

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The central characters in the film Fight Club and Dostoevsky’s novel Notes from Underground attempt to manage a serious psychological estrangement from society, each with a strategy that ultimately directs outward aggression inward. Fight Club’s nameless narrator suffers a kind of masochistic schizophrenia rooted in his total disdain for society, as it effectively deems him a “nobody”; Dostoevsky’s leading man – also nameless, also mentally afflicted – attacks society within the realm of his own person, taking pleasure in self-inflicted pain. The endless series of parallels between these two works eerily reinforces a shared theme, with each character a “nobody” crouched within an imposing universe of overly-extensive artificiality; the Underground Man must be a copy of the creator of Fight Club, who indeed resents most that he is “a copy of a copy of a copy.”

Interestingly, Fight Club’s narrator oddly resembles Dostoevsky’s typical low-ranking civil servant; his disturbingly dry occupation – until he quits – mirrors the triviality to his obsessive accumulation of material things, none of which make evident anything substantial about his character. Not only does this narrator’s lack of individuality exist as the product of modern society’s structure, but the schizophrenic aggression he suffers is due to what seems to be a hyper-extension of his stifled individuality – screaming and kicking until it results in multiple aggressive “people” within the psyche of the narrator.

It is undeniable that each of these men are utterly alienated, but what is most important is that, against all reason, it is each man that forcefully removes himself from the “reality” of society. The Underground Man spends a life’s length of suffering for anger and fear of the world outside. Similarly, the narrator’s self-imposed aggression in Fight Club can only be attributed to a woeful resentment of society’s values, and thus, a fear of drowning in impenetrable artificiality. This fear that simmers inside each man is not unfounded; Dostoevsky’s novel, together with Fight Club, makes the point that one’s reclusive nature in modern society results directly from the impossibility of integrating individuality into the systematized atmosphere of a metropolis. The parallel characters’ retreats from society represent both a seditious rejection of modern life and a fundamental human need for identity despite an environment run spiritually dry.

If the cities that find each of these narrators can be considered comparable to one another, it can be said that the world depicted by Fight Club is a kind of St. Petersburg plummeted into the future. The Underground Man’s angst in the name of action, for identity, and for meaning is nonetheless timeless, but we find that Tyler Durden’s (and Edward Norton’s, etc.) struggle deals with problems that soar through philosophical dissention and into such concrete and immediate realities as mass consumerism, and, moreover, the nature of compliance imposed on us, and expected from us, by society through the ceaseless advertising of actions and thoughts that promote vast complacency with the baseness of modern living. Tyler Durden lives in the most inner point of the narrator’s intellect; unquestionably, he is an anarchist who’s “got it all figured out.” The idea which he, “Jack,” and the unnamed narrator devise, the perfect system, is one of complete chaos – the exact opposite of today’s organized, pre-packaged, airtight corporate world, for as far as the narrator has found it to be, his hard-earned valuables do nothing to solidify his existence as a person. Because the Underground Man is similarly seeking something above the safety of “the system,” and because his affinity for lofty ideals outweighs his need to live in accordance with day-to-day rigors, the shared theme of Notes from Underground and Fight Club actualizes the disturbance that the modern age causes in a human soul. The Underground Man and all the associates of “Jack” recognize modernity’s rhythmic threat on the vitality of the human spirit.

Neither of these intensely psychological plots means to deal with violence or aggression per se, but rather focuses on resentment for society’s imminent threat on the person. This arguably suggests that modern egocentricism itself aggravates the desperation of a lost soul. The compulsive need to be what Dostoevsky calls a “man of action” shines forth in the monotonous motion of the urban, scheduled life. From birth, we are told that violence is wrong and fighting is not the way to solve problems. Fight Club and Notes from Underground are rare examinations of the truth of human nature: violence serves not as a means of solving problems, but as an aggressive method of “mayhem” for verifying one’s own existence. The works dare to portray violence not as life’s completely horrible or ugly reality, but as something that strangely purifies the soul of human subsistence.

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The Underground Fight against the System. (2018, May 17). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from
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