The Representations of Contemporary Western Culture in Ham on Rye, Fight Club and Ghost World

Having read “Ham on Rye”, “Fight Club”, and “Ghost World”, the three books that are representative of modern American culture, or for the most part, modern Western culture, I have noticed that they describe similar common features of what society has come to be. In a conformist-adaptive society, the non-conformist usually rebels against the social norms using force and sex.

These two innate instructions satisfy the need to escape from the world of structure and compliance in order to “fit in”. Therefore, people engaged in such activities are typically stigmatized by society as “bad people”, never able to achieve the American Dream. These three novels depict the pressure that society puts on its members at three different levels. Although each novel is different from the others, they all show a common denominator – some people choose not to conform.

The protagonist in Fight Club is a normal every day guy. He does not appear to be a freak. Yet, he realizes that he is imprisoned by the comodified world that surrounds him. He feels that his material possessions own him. In order, to rebel, he begins a fight club. The members of this club use violence as a means to escape pressure and to build-up the self esteem that society has robbed from them.

The author Chuck Palanuk, exemplifies the need to maintain a balance by inventing a fight club for the novel. However, in the end of the novel, the protagonist ends up in a mental institution. This is the place along with prison where people who are not capable of coping with social norms belong. This shows that niether extreme is good. In order to function in society one must realize the mechanical comodites of life and embrace them (without acting crazy).

In Ham on Rye, we see the need to escape society on another level. The story takes place in a low class society through Henry, a young boy’s perspective of life and the difficulties his father(his society)sets for him. He only knew violence as a means to deal with troubles. He never had a chance to fulfill the American Dream or perhaps, rejected it because that was what his father instilled in him.

For Henry, true accomplishments in life were to be a good fighter and to be tough to get ahead. The novel ends when Henry is still at a young age. However, even at a young impressionable age, he is obssessed with images of sex and actual acts of violence. Henry’s is not an attempt to escape his status. This is probably because his life is the only one he knows. The book is an example of how the American Dream cannot apply to everyone and is sometimes not ever achievable. Henry was imprisoned to his life without any hope to escape it. This was the ideology passed down to him by his father. This is obvious that the way a person is brought up reflects one’s aspirations.

Finally, in Ghost World, there is yet another violence different from the previous two. This violence or abuse is not physical but psychological. The two main characters Becky and Enid believe that society is once again comodified and exchangable lacking sustanance and authenticity. Therefore, they strive to be different by patronizing and belittling others.

In doing this, they feel that they seperate themsevelves from the unauthentic barriers of society. The girls are young developing adults. As they grow, they develop into two different people. Enid resists conformity and confides in her egocentric world. Becky on the other hand begins to conform by entering the workplace and dressing like the rest of society. Enid does not approve of her friend’s decisions and places her on the level of all the other naive people. After a while, Enid realizes that there is no escape from conforming and her only chance of nonconformity would be to leave town.

As all three novels have very distinct and different plots, they all share a general theme. Society instills norms in all its members and these norms are sometimes reasons for intense pressure. Although the desire to not conform may be extensive it is not healty to let it prevail. The American Dream cannot possibly function or be believed in such a non-fuctional society.

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