In 1922, Hermann Hesse set the youth of Germany free with the glorious peace of Siddhartha. Nearly a century later, Chuck Palahniuk opened the eyes of countless Americans with his nihilistic masterpiece, Fight Club. These two novels were written in different times, in different cultures, for different readers, and for different purposes. One is the poster child for love of self and nature; the other focuses on the destruction of both man and culture, yet the two hold a startling similarity in their underlying meaning, that in a darkening world of sin and distraction, letting go is the only true path to freedom, peace, and happiness. Though vastly different, Fight Club and Siddhartha both essentially tell the same story of man's search for personal meaning.
Siddhartha is the story of a young man who leaves established society to find and create for himself a true doctrine for bliss. Raised and trained as a Brahman in a well-established religious family, Siddhartha feels vain and incomplete. He departs from his people and their lore, peacefully searching for his own dogma, what Hesse refers to as "The Self". "Siddhartha embarks on a journey of self-discovery that takes him through a period of asceticism and self denial followed by one of sensual indulgence ("Siddhartha" 255)." Siddhartha soon finds, however, that nirvana is not so easily attained. Hesse follows Siddhartha through his lifelong journey of mental confusion, emotional turmoil, physical pain and pleasure, and, ultimately, spiritual unity between himself and the world. In short, it is "Hesse's attempt to restore his faith in mankind, to regain his lost peace of mind, and to find again a harmonious relationship with his world ("Siddhartha" 262)."
Fight Club also is a tale of a man leaving society seeking his own form of erudition, but, unlike Siddhartha, the unnamed narrator or Fight Club follows a journey that proves to be anything but peaceful. Utterly bored and trapped in a job and society that cares nothing for him, he unknowingly creates for himself a schizophrenic double, Tyler Durden, who, in the words of Jayne Margetts, "enjoys pushing life to the limit and walking a line between Russian roulette and the excitement of animal fear." Together, they create Fight Club, a place where men come together to knock away their problems by beating each other senseless. St. Clair Carr of New Improved Head comments, "Fight Club is ostensibly about how two young men organize brawls to overcome the pointlessness of their feminized lives and end up developing their fight clubs into a violent nihilistic movement whose goal is the destruction of civilization." But, underneath the blood swathed faces and the bruises of torn flesh lies a deeper man on a path of exploration, acceptance, brotherhood, and peace.
Palahniuk and Hesse are, conclusively, very different writers. Referring to his novels as, "biographies of the soul ("Siddhartha" 255)," Hermann Hesse writes for the sole purpose of...