Places: Naked Lunch

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1959

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Subway

*Subway. Naked LunchNew York City’s subway system is a dirty underground environment where criminals and drug addicts mix with the citizenry. The stairs, turnstiles, platforms, and closing doors of trains afford opportunities for criminals to elude police. One can emerge from the subway in one place and quickly descend into another, catching a train in another direction. In the subway system, especially late at night, hustlers and thieves take advantage of drunks, robbing them after they have passed out; however, in some stations, such as Queens Plaza, a station with various levels, the police cleverly conceal themselves and make criminal activity risky for the criminals. Burroughs makes the subway stand as a metaphor for the wretchedness and corruption of society.

Freeland Republic

Freeland Republic and Annexia. Dr. Benway arrives from Annexia, a quagmire of bureaucratic requirements, where people are constantly stopped and made to validate themselves by presenting documents. Now Benway is an adviser to the Freeland Republic, a place devoted to free love. In Freeland, Benway takes William Lee, the narrator, on a tour of the Reconditioning Center. In Drag Alley, Benway shows Lee victims of Irreversible Neural Damage. One patient has no apparent awareness but does, as a reflex, bark like a dog and salivate when taunted with chocolate. In the next ward, Benway shows Lee drug addicts waiting for their fixes. An iron shutter opens, and responding to a hog call, the addicts receiving their narcotics make the noises of pigs. Next, Benway reveals the ward housing the mild deviants and criminals. Calling homosexuality a political crime rather than deviancy, Benway remarks that his homosexual patients showed strong unconscious heterosexual drives, while his heterosexual patients showed strong unconscious homosexual drives. Later, as Lee and Benway have lunch, Benway gets a phone message that all the ward subjects have been erroneously released. A horrible general madness occurs, and tourists rush to escape Freeland.

Hassan’s rumpus room

Hassan’s rumpus room. This surreal environment combines promiscuity, perversion, excretion, orgasm, torture, and execution. On one hand, the environment seems elegant and luxurious, with people dressed in evening wear. However, a Mugwump sexually abuses and executes a boy. The scene, according to some critics, is a satire of the death penalty.


Interzone. Sometimes simply called “the Zone,” the Interzone is a nightmare world. At Interzone University, the classroom is disrupted by animals and carts between the lecture platform and the students, who sit on makeshift seats, consume narcotics, and read comics. The professor arrives on a bicycle and declares that he has severe back pain caused by a sexual attack. The lecture apparently focuses on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), but the students draw knives and attack. A train roars through, and the professor appeases the class by filling a trough with pearls and allowing pigs to feed. The political parties of the Interzone include the Divisionists, who produce replicas of themselves and aim at world domination through self-replication. The Liquefactionists, in contrast, seek the eventual merging of everyone into one person. The Senders engage in obligatory outgoing telepathy until exhaustion, followed by conversion into centipedes. Factualists oppose all the groups named above, especially the Senders. The narrator reveals that the Zone is one vast building. Whether drunk or not, people regularly fall unconscious. People are forced through walls from one bed to another; all business is conducted in bed. Opposite the Zone is the Island, which is under British military control. In the Zone, peddlers sell most of the merchandise, but transactions become mired in paperwork. The Zone is Burroughs’s most complex satire of politics and business.

BibliographyGoodman, Michael Barry. Contemporary Literary Censorship: The Case History of Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch.” Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1981. A narrative history of the writing, publication, critical reception, and censorship of Naked Lunch in the United States. Well documented, it includes much previously unpublished material.Miles, Barry. William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible. London: Virgin Books, 1992. An entertaining overview of Burroughs’ literary and artistic output. Includes chapters devoted specifically to Tangier and to Naked Lunch. Offers a personal portrait of Burroughs the man and artist.Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs. New York: Henry Holt, 1988. A detailed biography of William Burroughs which discusses Naked Lunch, its style, themes, and organization. Includes interesting photographs of Burroughs taken throughout his life.Mottram, Eric. William Burroughs: The Algebra of Need. Critical Appraisal Series. London: Marion Boyars, 1977. A study of Burroughs’ work as a radical critique of Western power structures and the myths that support them. Mottram analyzes Naked Lunch and other works of Burroughs’ fiction in comparison with other radical thinkers.Skerl, Jennie. William S. Burroughs. Boston: Twayne, 1985. A very good introduction to Burroughs’ life and work until 1981 and the publication of The Cities of the Red Night. Provides insight into the creation, themes, and techniques of Naked Lunch.
Categories: Places