Chuck Palahniuk – The Great Modern Satirist An Author Study completed by Mr. M English 10/10B - - Mr. Middleswart 5/27/07
The Life of Chuck P. – The Man Behind the “Pen”
Chuck Palahniuk was born Charles Michael Palahniuk on February 21 st , 1962 in Pasco, Washington. He lived with his parents and 3 siblings until his parents were divorced, upon which he and his siblings moved in with their grandparents, living on a cattle ranch in eastern Washington state.
Chuck attended college at the University of Oregon, where he graduated in 1986 with a degree in journalism. He put this degree to use for awhile, working as a freelance journalist at a local newspaper in Oregon. To supplement this meager income, he also worked as a diesel mechanic, writing manuals for fixing trucks on the side. During this time, Chuck also volunteered at homeless shelters and helped work as a driver for terminally ill patients.
However, after attending various writing workshops in his mid-thirties, Chuck began writing fiction in earnest. His first full-length book was not published, but a short story written in 1995 was expanded to become the hugely popular novel Fight Club. Although Chuck did not think that the book would be successful, it thrust him immediately into the national spotlight, while also winning the Oregon Best Novel award in 1997.
Chuck followed up Fight Club with the novel Invisible Monsters , which, while not as successful as the previous book, nonetheless was a hit for Palahniuk. Other books have followed, including New York Times bestsellers Choke, Haunted, Lullaby, Survivor, and Diary , among others.
Many of Chuck’s life experiences show up in his writing. For instance, he is involved heavily in the Cacophony Society in Oregon, a group that commits pranks and causes mayhem for the fun of it. This group was the main inspiration for Project Mayhem in Fight Club. His volunteer work also has played a part in his books, as the homeless characters in Haunted , and the terminally ill in both Fight Club and Haunted, show direct experience with these demographics. In addition, the premise for Haunted , that of a writer’s workshop gone awry, draws strong influences from the many workshops that Chuck himself attended.
As with many writers, it seems as though Palahniuk writes his books for people that largely resemble himself. Therefore, the main audience is males, ranging in age from teens to 40-somethings, who share a suspicion that society is not always right in all it does.
Nearly all of Chuck’s books contain male protagonists who are roughly 30 years of age and who all are on the fringes of society. That is, the characters are not popular do-gooders that we might aspire to be. Instead, they are essentially self-proclaimed “losers” with nothing to, well, lose. This attitude makes them able to risk it all for change, something many of his readers would like to be able to do but, most likely, cannot. This “loser” character also relates to the intended audience, as many readers feel they are alone in the world. Chuck’s books create loners that realize they can change the world around them, thus appealing to all those readers looking for that change in their own lives.
Chuck’s books are also written for those that like dark humor and aren’t afraid of squirmy, disturbing situations. Again, the targeted age and gender group mentioned above seems to fit this profile nicely.
Lastly, the mature language and subject matter of his books shows that while some teens might be able to handle the reading, the books are clearly geared towards adults.
All of Palanhiuk’s books fit into a combination of two genres – realistic fiction and satire.
Books like Fight Club, Haunted, and Invisible Monsters, while all containing abnormal main characters, are still believable in every aspect. In Fight Club , “Tyler Durden” (and the narrator) is a normal, nameless guy who works in an office, lives in a one bedroom condo, and spends his life buying products that society tells him will make him happy. Tyler is millions of males in America. His actions throughout the book are a bit extreme, but real nonetheless. The same holds true throughout all of Palahniuk’s books; the characters are normal people living fairly normal lives. They do not like these normal lives, as most people don’t, and they do something about this. While not everyone has the guts to make this change in real life, they could if they wanted to. Palahniuk’s characters simply DO make these changes.
All of his books are also satirical. They poke fun at powerful issues we face in our lives in a way that gets the reader to think long and hard about those issues. The main theme that runs throughout his books, that society leads people astray, is a vehicle for possible change. Tyler Durden decides to blow up buildings and cause havoc so that the members of Project Mayhem will cease being the cardboard cut-out “individual” citizens that society produces, but instead a cohesive group of men living for the common good. These actions show that Palahniuk wants the reader to think about the messages society gives us, and what we might be able to do in regards to stopping or ignoring these messages.
His satirical style is effective, for it causes the reader to truly think about the world we live in and how we might change it, all with the typical humor and wit that makes a piece a satire.
The main character of the book is an unnamed narrator who works for a car company as a recall analyst; that is, he decides if a car should be recalled due to safety issues or not. He hates his mindless job, and, although he thinks he likes living in a one bedroom condo full of materialistic products he has purchased to make his life seem complete, he discovers that, deep down, he is unhappy.
This discovery comes about in an odd, chaotic, brilliant way. In the rising action, the narrator’s apartment is blown up, and he is forced to seek shelter with a guy he met on his most recent plane ride, a man named Tyler Durden. Tyler and the narrator end up living in the same shabby house, but only after Tyler involves the narrator in a bloody fight. This fight, which happens for no purpose other than to fight, grows into what comes to be known as “Fight Club,” an underground society, run by Tyler and the narrator, that gives nameless, lifeless men an opportunity to feel alive.
Tyler, the ringleader of the club, eventually expands it to include something called “Project Mayhem,” a society that recruits members in order to promote anti-consumerism messages throughout society. The narrator discovers this and is horrified by the potential destruction the group could cause and, trying to put a stop to it, discovers the book’s climax - that Tyler is, in fact, himself. While he is asleep, Tyler takes over as the dominant personality, setting up fight clubs across the country and organizing Project Mayhem, while during the day, the narrator lives his normal, boring life.
In the falling action, the narrator struggles with finding a way to rid himself of Tyler’s polluting personality. Because mere talking and reasoning won’t work, in the end, the narrator successfully rids himself of Tyler by literally putting a bullet through Tyler (himself). Although destruction did occur at the hands of Project Mayhem, the narrator discovers that the changes Tyler brought about, while a bit alarming in nature, were certainly needed.
Haunted is a book with a unique style; it covers the story of 17 characters who attend a writing workshop that goes horribly wrong. Each character is an aspiring writer that wants to hit it big but has yet to, and each of the 17 has their own unique, bizarre story to tell. Over the course of the book, the reader learns of murders, adultery, conspiracies, theft, brutality, and other horrific tales that each of the characters has lived through.
The rising action occurs when the characters, locked in an old theater until the workshop is over (a 3 month span), are slowly killing each other off in the hopes of writing the story of what happened to each of those they kill. Therefore, with each gruesome killing of another character, the story the survivors might live to tell becomes even better. They come to believe that this will be their meal ticket, the book that will make them famous, and the greed and ambition grows steadily until only a few remain.
In the climax, the characters discover that they were recruited for the writer’s workshop due to their bizarre stories, and that the workshop’s facilitator, whom they thought they had killed, created the rouse as a way to record their stories into a best-seller of his own. Therefore, only the facilitator, a man named Whittier, achieves his goal of finding a story worth selling.
The resolution occurs with this realization, as the remaining few characters are left to deal with the fact they were used as characters in a book they wanted to author, but did not get the chance to.
Choke starts by telling the reader of the unique way in which the main character, Victor Mancini, makes a living. Although he started out as a medical student, Victor was forced to quit school in order to get money to support his mother, who lives a mindless life as a near invalid in a nursing home. To get money, Victor frequently stages an elaborate con – pretending to choke in a restaurant and having someone save his life. These people, he has discovered, often feel a soft spot for Victor, and will send him money on his birthday and holidays, for they feel somehow responsible for the person that they saved from death.
Throughout the book’s rising action, Victor battles with the scarred existence that his chaotic upbringing caused. His mother, a drug addict, often shoveled him into foster homes for a brief period, then would come and kidnap him back, bringing him along on brief, wild, drug-filled jaunts through the seedy backstreets of various cities. She also fed him many lies, the main one being that he was born through immaculate conception.
In the book’s climactic scene, Victor discovers that he is not, in fact, a miracle baby – he has a father. This discovery causes the falling action, as Victor questions all the things that his mother has told him over the years.
This questioning leads to the resolution, when Victor is finally able to rid himself of not only his mother’s venomous influence, but also of the disabling affect his uncertainty has had on the various relationships he has been involved in.
Diary starts by introducing the reader to Misty Wilmot, a woman whose husband, Peter, lies in a coma in the hospital. While the cause of the coma is unknown, what is known is that Peter, a painter and house remodeler before the coma, created rooms filled with seemingly random, insane scrawlings in the houses he worked on.
During the rising action, the reader learns that Misty, a former art student who dreamt of hitting it big but married before she did, has started painting again in order to deal with the traumatic events surrounding her. The results are extraordinary, and she becomes almost a painting machine, churning out priceless pieces of art.
However, Misty soon discovers a terrible secret, which serves as the book’s climax – she is merely a pawn. The island she lives on has a horrific tradition, that every 4 generations a sort of prophecy is fulfilled – a man from the island marries a painter, brings her back to the island, and has a child. Then, the husband goes into a coma, the woman paints brilliantly due to the trauma, and the island sells her paintings for enough money to survive on for the next 4 generations.
In the falling action, Misty works to reverse the recent happenings and end the prophecy. Eventually, despite her husband’s warnings (the scrawls in the remodeled houses), she fails, and the island succeeds in surviving until the next prophecy needs to be fulfilled.
The book starts by providing background information for Daisy St. Patience, an assumed name for the narrator. Daisy was a supermodel who thought only about her looks; however, she grew tired of the materialistic lifestyle and, deciding to change how she lived her life, put a gun to her head and literally blew away her modeling career. She lives through the act, ending up as a disfigured former supermodel.
Throughout the course of the rising action, Daisy meets Brandy Alexander, a transsexual trying to become a female supermodel. She takes a road trip with Brandy and Daisy’s ex-fiancé, Manus, and along the way tries to cope with her new identity, all the while helping Brandy and Manus achieve their own.
In a flurry of action and twisting conundrums, the book’s climax occurs with a fatal shooting/house fire. The true identities of the main characters, previously hidden from each other, come to light – Manus realizes the deformed woman he has been traveling with is his ex-fiancé, while his current lover, Brandy, is Daisy’s brother – something Daisy is surprised to find as well.
In the falling action, the characters come to grips with their new identities, although Daisy is the only one who truly succeeds at the new person she has become. In the end, through Brandy’s attempts at making her/himself become a stunning supermodel Daisy learns that she is happy being characterized by her personality instead of the looks that dominated her life prior to her life-changing event.
Palahniuk does a masterful job of incorporating various themes throughout each of his books. While there is a common theme threaded throughout each book, there are also individual themes that add much to each book.
Fight Club contains a strong anti-society theme, focused mainly on the idea that consumerism is a negative influence on people’s lives. This theme is at the core of Project Mayhem, whose main goal is to destroy credit card companies records so that people will “all be at equal – no debt.” This destruction would lead to anarchy in terms of credit and money, which Tyler Durden believes would cause people to see the absurdity of money, thus ending the consumer driven culture that we currently are mired in. Throughout the book, Tyler preaches about the negative affects that consumerism has on the narrator, and on people in general, and he often revisits the fact that “buying things will not make your life better.”
While consumerism certainly has its benefits, overall it does have a negative influence on people’s lives. Christmas time has now become not a time for family and quality time, but instead a time for presents and overspending. Parents work inordinate amounts of hours in order to buy new cars, houses, boats, and toys to make their children happy, yet do not have enough time to see the fruition of these purchases due to their extended hours. If people stopped worrying so much about what new thing to spend their money on and instead worried about the people surrounding them, much of the problems that are inherent in society might be better solved.
In Haunted, the idea that people’s ambition and greed has no limits is the predominant theme. The 17 characters in the book all are at the writer’s workshop in the hopes of hitting it big and becoming rich and famous. And, they will stop at nothing to reach this goal. The murders of nearly all of the participants of the workshop, by the writers’ fellow attendants, no less, shows that the greed and ambition that drives these people causes them to do anything to reach their goals.
While I believe there should be severe limits to a person’s own ambition and the consequential actions they will take to succeed, I have seen this theme time and time again in my experiences. People will sell out their friends for a better grade; they will sell out themselves for a better job; they will even sell out their family and loved ones for a better bank account. My own uncle proved this theme is true when he short-changed myself and my sister in an inheritance issue, claiming a much larger portion of the estate than he was entitled to. I myself can deal with having less money than I should have, but my sister, who was 10 at the time, put the money into her college account for her future. Greed and ambition showed no limits, robbing a young girl of help with her education.
In Choke, the underlying theme that lies can ruin a life is shown often. The main character, Victor, has been lied to his entire life by his mother. These lies create a corrupt foundation that Victor builds his life around. His relationships fail because he cannot trust women; his self-identity is in question because he is unsure of his true father; in essence, his entire life is built on a foundation of lies. This foundation often falters, leaving him to deal with the shattered remains.
Often, people believe that telling lies can help to better their lives. However, the opposite if often the case – those lies become so big, so all-encompassing, that people cannot keep up with them and crumble beneath their weight.
In Diary , the prevalent theme is essentially the same as that found in Haunted – people’s greed and ambition will cause them to do almost anything. In the book, Misty finds that the people she thought were her family are actually using her for their own monetary gains.
Again, this ambition and greed is shown often in life. CEO’s blatantly ignore the well-being of their employees for their own benefit, proving that their ambition and greed overruns any underlying values and morals they might have.
In Invisible Monsters , the main theme focuses on the idea that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty. Daisy, the main character, once believed that outer beauty was all that was important in life. However, after her disfigurement, she learns that it is the person underneath the supermodel exterior that is who she truly is, and she learns to be happy with that notion.
This idea is one that is contradicted nearly every day in the media. Magazines and commercials show people who they think they should look like and push the importance of external appearance. However, the celebrities and models that grace televisions and print across the country represent an enormous minority in our culture, and thus, people are trying to live up to expectations of beauty that only a few will ever be able to achieve. Instead, the inner beauty is what should be sought, not the near impossible outer shell.
While each book has individual themes found throughout, the common theme threaded throughout Palahniuk’s books show a man who is conscious of societal issues and who wants to make his readers aware of the ability they have to change the lives they are living.
The common theme found throughout Palahniuk’s books is this, then - that people have the ability to change the lives they are living. He gets this theme across by creating protagonists that live on the fringes of society; that is, each of his main characters is a loner and/or “loser” that does not fit well into the constructs that society has created. Each of these characters – Tyler Durden, Misty, Daisy, Victor, and any of the Haunted cast – decides to do something about the fact that they do not fit the societal norm. What is interesting about each book is that while each character certainly changes something about themselves, in most cases, it is, at first glance, a seemingly negative change. Tyler Durden decides to become an anarchist leader; Daisy blows off her lower jaw; Victor preys on those around him. However, it is through these changes that each realizes the fact that they have the ability to change their entire life, not just one facet of it.
This theme is one that should be widespread knowledge, but is not. Too many people suffer through their unhappiness because of the belief that they can do nothing to change it. However, Palahniuk has created characters that show his readers that each person has the ability to make drastic changes, both within themselves and also to the society that surrounds them.