I wrote this for Gothic Literature. Based on comparisions of FIGHT CLUB the film and JEKYL AND HYDE the book, discussing the use of buildings as representative of character psyche.
So I just thought I'd put it up for you all. Sorry if it didn't format properly. Feel free to delete it if it seems to pretentious.
Tyler and Hyde: A Room of Their Own
Reading Space as the Psyche in Fight Club and Jekyll and Hyde.
6. The Gothic has lasted as it has because its symbolic mechanisms, particularly its haunting and frightening specters, have permitted us to cast many anomalies in our modern conditions, even as these change, over onto antiquated or at least haunted spaces and highly anomalous figures. This way our contradictions can be confronted by, yet removed from us into, the seemingly unreal, alien the ancient and the grotesque. (Hogle 6).
The internalization of the doppelganger within a character shows us the compartmentalization of the human psyche and is rendered symbolically through the division of space in both Jekyll and Hyde and Fight Club. The anomalous figures of Tyler and Hyde, alter egos of more mundane characters, show us our repressed and destructive desires. Both these sub-characters come to exist in their own physical spaces, Hyde in his apartment and Tyler in his decaying Paper Street mansion. Aspects of their use of these urban habitats, in relation to that of their host characters, signify the complex mental interactions of these split personalities.
The Gothic does not always permit us the grace of traditional haunted spaces and anomalous figures. In the works of Urban Gothic our modern conditions remain at the forefront of the narrative. There are no spooky castles, graveyards, crypts or subterraneous caverns (except when occupied by penguins in the minds eye of guided meditation.) It is a genre made chilling by its immediacy to our own lifestyles and the familiarity of the spaces portrayed, the city, the slums and the less than savoury industrial areas. Its characters are not radically divergent from us, they are not the animated composite dead, not bloodsucking others or even helmet dropping giants. The figures that haunt the Urban Gothic are the respectable boys next door and their primary anomalies are those of their mental states. In this essay the symbolism of divided psyche will be explored through the division of spatial utilization by the internal doppelganger characters in relation to their respectable alter egos in the definitive Urban Gothic, Jekyll and Hyde, and the postmodern classic Fight Club.
The Gothic is awash with rich symbolism and social commentary, which allow it to be embraced by a diversity of readers with divergent interpretations of its texts. But its underlying basis is so often drawn from the world of psychoanalysis, “…perhaps what is most central to the Gothic – be it classical or contemporary – is the very process of psychic life that for Freud defines the human condition.” (Bruhm 261.) This holds true in both Jekyll and Hyde and Fight Club where the central characters of the tales are possessed by alter egos, self-doppelgangers from within their own fragmented psyches. Both stories rely on the revelation of the duality of their characters as a closing twist in the story, meaning they cannot use description of “cross over” between the personalities throughout the narrative. Instead, both rely on physical space to define the alternate characters as separate from the stable (or mentally unstable) figures. In Stevenson’s tale the dwelling places are used to demonstrate the spiritual conditions of the characters that use them (Egan 28). In Fincher’s film, and in Gothic film in general, “…one character that is crucial to the pattern of plot and theme is that of the house.” (Kavka 219). This leads to the examination of the spatial dependence of the characters as an expository of their psychological states.
The sheer dimensions of the spaces used in these two stories gives clues as to the relative importance and psychoactive abilities of the characters and their relationship to society as a whole. In Fight Club, the “unnamed first person narrator” (who we will refer to as “Jack” for short) lives in an apartment. He occupies a small portion of a much larger physical construction. Tyler, on the other hand, lives in a huge house. Here the illustrative properties of their properties lead to the interpretation that Jack is a small and incomplete personality confined to his part of society, while Tyler is the larger and more independent identity. After the explosion at the apartment, Jack finds there is more than enough space for him to live at Tyler’s house – as he comes to take over Tyler’s physical space, so he is taken over by the Tyler personality. In Jekyll and Hyde, the respectable Doctor Jekyll occupies an entire house while his degenerate alter ego Hyde lets only a few small rooms. In this way Hyde is shown to be only fractional when compared to Jekyll, at least in the beginning. When Hyde eventually takes over, the physical character is confined to Jekyll’s room in the laboratory out the back of his house. This re-inters that Hyde was always a part of Jekyll, just one hidden in the back recesses of his mind. The doppelgangers from within are separated from their characters by alternate physical spaces that can be seen to define the relative relationships of the power of these personalities.
The Gothic can be defined as “the interplay of psychological and social forces.” (Veeder 54). Within the urban boundaries of society codes of class and respectability are written on the buildings and localities and within them by their decor. Within the two texts in question, descriptions of the characters primary dwellings give codified clues as to their position in the social schema and their relationship to society. In both it is the original characters who occupy positions of some social standing and subsequently, have their living quarters located in the more stylish areas of their cities. The secondary double characters live in shadowy liminal spaces, outside of societies comfort zones in areas of disuse or ill reputation.
When Jack returns to his apartment he describes it as “Home was a condo on the fifteenth floor of a filing cabinet for widows and young professionals….” (Fincher 1999). His description of his home as part of a “filling cabinet” shows us the distasteful way in which he sees his small part in society. He feels an insignificant part of a much larger societal machinery, part of a system within which an individual can only make choices of identity from within a predetermined range (Ikea, naturally). “I’d flip through catalogues and wonder, ‘What kind of dining set *defines* me as a person?” (Fincher 1999). Despite his surroundings speaking of the wealth and opulence of having “made it,” the shot of his destroyed fridge is a representative microcosm for the consumerist hollowness he sees in his apartment. “How embarrassing. A house full of condiments and no food.” (Fincher 1999). The condiments are the added extras to add spice and flavour to the food, just as his Ikea furniture adds visual and tactile stimulus to his apartment. The irony within this is that just as his fridge has no food, his apartment has no soul, no true existence of a home. Neither wholegrain English mustard nor coffee tables in the shape of a ying-yang can sustain the well being of a person. While he fits nicely within the norm of society, Jack can see that his existence is lacking in wider spiritual nourishment.
Tyler Durden lives in a decaying mansion on Paper Street. Jack’s initial encounter of the house “I don't know how Tyler found the house. He said he’d been there for a year. It looked like it was waiting to be torn down.… Nothing worked. The rusty plumbing leaked. Turning on a light meant that another light in the house went out. The stairs were ready to collapse. I didn’t know if he owned it or if he was squatting. Neither would have surprised me.” (Fincher 1999). Everything described here is the complete opposite of what Jack has come to expect should be livable. The skepticism as to whether Tyler owns it or is squatting shows that both are equally viable options, and equally distasteful in a success driven society. Nothing functions as it should do in modern life, with the basic necessities of electricity at the mercy of the weather and running water irregular in supply and brown in colour. This shows Tyler’s disdain for such conveniences of the civilized world. Paper Street’s location in the industrial precinct removes the boundaries of the assumption that certain areas are for living and others for creating. “There were no neighbours.”
“At night Tyler and I were alone for half a mile in every direction.” (Fincher 1999). Living at the Paper Street house shows Tyler’s distance from society. He has effectively segregated himself from the norm, not only by the physical conditions of his dwelling, but also by its location outside the zones for living. He doesn’t need to comfort himself with the closeness of people.
Dr Jekyll is also a man of some repute. His house is described in much detail in the novel. “Round the corner from the by-street, there was a square of ancient, handsome houses, now for the most part decayed from their high estate and let in flats and chambers to all sorts and conditions of men: map-engravers, architects, shady lawyers and the agents of obscure enterprises.” (Stevenson 19) Here the area is which he lives is described as a remnant of a nobler time now entering a period of disarray as the population of the city swells and space becomes limiting. The other men live in “flats and chambers,” parts of houses that suggests the creeping societal trend towards the “filling cabinet” housing mentality seen in Fight Club. This is not the case with Jekyll:
“One house, however, second from the corner, was still occupied entire; and at the door of this, which wore a great air of wealth and comfort… A well dressed elderly servant opened the door. …into a large, low-roofed, comfortable hall, paved with flags, warmed (after the fashion of a country house) by a bright, open fire, and furnished with costly cabinets of oak.” (Stevenson 19). Jekyll is a wealthy and reputable man who has not succumbed to the more lowly forms of living edging into his street. He continues to maintain an entire house as he feels a man of his standing should.
Hyde has separate quarters from Jekyll and these are in: “The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, … like a district of some city in a nightmare. … As the cab drew up before the address indicated, the fog lifted a little and showed him a dingy street, a gin palace, a low French eating house, a shop for the retail of penny numbers and twopenny salads, many ragged children huddled in the doorways, and many women of many different nationalities passing out, key in hand, to have a morning glass; …” (Stevenson 27). The description of the slums in Soho stands in contrast to the square of Jekyll’s house. It is an all around disreputable area filled with shady characters and dodgy dealings. Despite this, Hyde’s rooms contradict the surroundings of squalor and speak of an air of respectability, perhaps derived from Jekyll. “In the whole extent of the house, which but for the old woman remained otherwise empty, Mr Hyde had only used a couple of rooms; but these were furnished with luxury and good taste. A closet was filled with wine; the plate was of silver, the napery elegant; a good picture hung upon the walls, a gift (as Utterson supposed) from Henry Jekyll, who was much of a connoisseur; and the carpets were of many piles and agreeable in colour.” (Stevenson 28). Hyde is as such removed from respectable society only by location; inside his rooms he maintains the dignity of a well-furnished living space. This serves to reinforce his position as a part of Jekyll, not one completely at odds with the luxury of his double.
In the symbolism of dwelling places as doubled psyches, no aspect can be as important as that of doors. These provide the pivotal moments when the characters cross from one state to the other and represent ways to keep their doubles out or welcome them into the new comfort zones. The complicated symbolism of the red baize door in Jekyll and Hyde has previously been discussed in much detail with respect to the final spiritual dissolution of its character (Egan 31). However several important aspects of other portals in the novel are left unmentioned and Fight Club shows several key (pardon the pun) uses of doors to symbolize the interactions of its dual personalities.
In Fight Club the first door of importance is the door to Jack’s apartment. While the initial explanation of the explosion leans towards an accidental ignition of a gas leak, subsequent investigations show that someone entered the apartment and master minded the blast. The Inspector tells Jack over the phone “ We have some new information about the incident at your former condo. I don’t know if you’re aware, but it seems as if someone sprayed freon into the lock to freeze it. Then, they tapped it with a chisel to shatter the cylinder.” (Fincher 1999). This represents Tyler’s growing power in forcing entry into Jack’s mind. The use of the coolant Freon for this purpose is a powerful wordplay, for this is the chemical that metaphorically sets Tyler “Free-On” Jack’s identity and allows him to destroy not only the apartments furnishings, but also Jack’s grip on consumerist ideals and the “condo life.” When Jack goes to live at Paper Street, the door is mentioned: “There was no lock on the front door from when the police or whoever kicked it in.” (Fincher 1999). The inability of the door to securely close or lock shows us the growing inability for Jack to control the Tyler personality. Now that Jack is in his house, becoming more a guest of his psyche, Tyler is free to come and go as he pleases. The closeness developed by the characters is also hinted at the night that Tyler brings Marla home. “Tyler's door was closed. I'd been living here for two months, and Tyler's door never closed.” (Fincher 1999). This shows us that Jack has come to depend on the constant accessibility of Tyler in his life, and to an extent he resents this sudden withdrawal of his “imaginary friend,” separated from him by a closed door.
In Jekyll and Hyde the symbolism of the red baize door has already been well covered. But less has been devoted to the back door to Jekyll’s laboratory, the door through which Hyde gains access to his house. “The door, which was equipped with neither bell no knocker, was blistered and distained.” (Stevenson 8). There are none of the usual niceties through which a visitor could announce his arrival, no bell, no knocker, which in itself suggests that those who come through it must have permission to enter without forewarning. The blistering of the door shows lack of care is given to this entrance. When Utterson follows Hyde one night “…he made straight for the door, crossing the roadway to save time; and as he came, he drew a key from his pocket like one approaching home.” (Stevenson 18). Possession of the key shows Hyde is welcomed in this backdoor by Jekyll. Later, Enfield and Utterson reveal that “Black Mail House” (Stevenson 11) was the back entrance to Jekyll’s house all the time: “And by the way what an ass you must have thought me, not to know that this was a back way to Dr Jekyll’s!” (Stevenson 39). Where in Fight Club the doppelganger sets his double “free,” in Jekyll and Hyde it is the main character that seeks to prevent the occurrence of his “evil twin” through confinement. ”Hyde was thenceforth impossible; whether I would or not, I was now confined to the better part of my existence; and O, how I rejoiced to think it! with what willing humility, I embraced anew the restrictions of natural life! with what sincere renunciation, I locked the door by which I had so often gone and come, and ground the key under my heel.” (Stevenson 70). Here Jekyll takes the steps that will prevent Hyde from crossing in and out of his spaces, he locks the door and destroys the key in a conscious decision to prevent further adventures as the double. Here the door is the line drawn in Jekyll’s psyche that will prevent Hyde’s entry. However, as we later discover, Hyde lurks within Jekyll to deeply for the door (or transgressive medicine) to prevent him and eventually he takes over regardless, behind the cheap red soundproof baize of the Doctors own room. Many doors feature in Jekyll and Hyde but the backdoor’s importance is cemented by Enfield when he says “Did you ever remark upon that door?’ he asked; and when his companion had replied in the affirmative, ‘It is connected in my mind,’ added he, ‘with a very odd story.” (Stevenson 9). Symbolically, this door is the connection in the mind that leads to the very odd story of Jekyll and Hyde.
When the Gothic ventures into the very arena that mirrors our modern conditions its symbolism doesn’t venture into the realms of the extraordinary. It becomes confined to its domestic setting and seeks to portray deeper visions through the urban habitats of its characters. The anomalies of these characters do not serve to remove them from our world of physicality, but rather, their divergence from our norm is written in the Freudian (and Sullian) splitting of their psyches. In order to combine these “haunted spaces and highly anomalous figures” (Hogle 6) the two texts we have examined use the physical spaces of their characters to symbolize their mental deviations. We, the audience, crave this voyeuristic glimpse at these boys next door (particularly when played by Brad Pitt) as they go bad in the supposed sanity of our city limits. We crave their actions to exorcise our own urban demons. We feel their internal chaos, and see their psychic housing as they play their doppelganging games within familiar streets, and all too often we invite them into our own homes after they enter us through the doorways of our minds. For here, in the rooms of Tyler and Hyde, the symbolism of the Gothic allows us to look beyond mere buildings and to feel the fear of the most haunted of all spaces, the human mind, in the most anomalous of all characters, ourselves.
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(But that proved next to useless.)
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