Naked Lunch | Study Guide

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Chapter 14 : Ordinary Men and Women | Summary



Members of the Nationalist Party in Interzone have lunch on a balcony. The Party Leader and his Lieutenants talk about the "ordinary men and women going about their ordinary everyday tasks" in the street below. The Party Leader invites a street boy to sit with them. He criticizes the French as "Colonial bastards" exploiting the citizens. The boy resists the Party Leader's tirade against the French. He goes on to comment on his hate for everybody. The Party Leader scolds the boy for consorting with "alien unbelieving pricks." The boy is dismissive.

In a series of vignettes, ordinary people detail their complaints. An American housewife talks about her difficulties operating and maintaining her household appliances and complains of physical ailments such as cold and constipation. She wants the Handy Man at the automat to fix everything. A salesman talks about his gadgets, including an "Octopus Kit" that administers complex spa treatments and an "M.D.'s Can Do Kit" that can perform medical procedures. Sometimes he sells the wrong kit to the wrong person. A male hustler talks about the outrageous requests of his clients.

A County Clerk talks about a gay man, Brad, who comes to New York from Texas to design jewelry. He sells his clients' jewels to pay his gambling debts and replaces the real jewels with fakes. The clients, mostly older wealthy women, figure out the ruse at a gala and call the police. Brad meets Jim in jail, and they move in together. One of his old clients comes back to offer him work, and the two men cook and eat her genitalia.

Drs. Benway and Shafer devise a plan to make the human body more efficient by removing organs and making a single orifice to eat and defecate. Benway relates the story of a man who taught his anus to talk. The anus takes over the man's whole body, which ends up killing the man.

The Huntsmen, organized by "Fats" Terminal, gather for a breakfast at a gay bar. The Huntsmen flirt with the gay men and occasionally throw one to the floor and urinate on him. The Party Leader arrives in a large car.

Dr. Berger hosts a radio program in which he talks with various mental health patients, including a "cured swish" (homosexual). He answers questions blankly and "nods and smiles." He is pulled from the show quickly. The show's technician calls for a cured writer, who can't talk on the air because he "has" Buddhism. Berger speaks of the writer with contempt.

The Party Leader talks to his lieutenants about organizing "the next riot." They are joined by a number of other characters, including the Professor, Clem and Jody, a few gay men, and Benway. A surreal conversation ensues that expresses suspicion and hostility among all parties as riot noises emerge in the distance and the Market clears. The riot ensues, then police come and break it up, and the Market resumes its usual proceedings.


The party the Party Leader leads is never specified, which implies the party he leads is immaterial. The point of the Party Leader's opening tirade against the French and his plans to induce a riot is dissatisfaction with colonial rule. By the 1950s most colonial rule by European countries around the world was coming to an end. But the resentments against centuries of influence remained in regions colonized by Europeans. In this case the resentment is toward the French, but the targets of this resentment are as interchangeable as the political parties of Interzone.

The vignettes that follow give the chapter its title, "Ordinary Men and Women." These are snapshots of the concerns of different people. The American housewife is unhappy and sickly, even though she has a range of material comforts. She is totally dependent on her handyman to help keep her appliances and her body running. The salesman shows how the advances of technology are essentially interchangeable, as his clients can't tell the difference between the gadgets he sells. The concerns of ordinary men and women tend to be superficial. Burroughs presents a sharp contrast with the cultural and existential concerns presented by the Party Leader in the first section of the chapter.

The County Clerk's story about Brad and Jim is perhaps the only story of people sharing a genuine and deep connection to one another in the novel. Brad and Jim are deeply devoted to one another, but the presentation is cynical and tainted by the violence of their revenge on Brad's client. Because the couple feels cast out of mainstream society, they take their revenge where they can get it.

When Dr. Benway and Dr. Shafer get together, it's a foregone conclusion they will propose grim experiments on human bodies. The story of the talking anus adds humor to the proceedings, but it also points out how little difference exists between much human communication and excrement. It doesn't matter which orifice either speech or excrement comes from. At the same time, toying with the natural order of the body, in the name of science or humor, is incompatible with human life.

The Huntsmen's party reveals the paradox of mainstream masculinity. These men enjoy the attention of the gay men in the bar, but they also feel threatened by it. Therefore, they feel the need to occasionally demonstrate their dominance over the same men they flirt with by throwing them down and urinating on them. Urination is a standard practice among animals to assert dominance and mark territory.

Dr. Berger's show reveals the retrograde belief homosexuality is something that can be cured. His other guest, the writer who "has Buddhism," reveals Berger's beliefs about behaviors outside the mainstream. He sees any deviations from social norms as afflictions that can and should be cured, even though he also finds these conditions frustrating.

The final section, returning to the Party Leader, conveys the implication riots are an ordinary and regularly scheduled occurrence in this society. The chaos of the multiple conversations at the end of the chapter mirrors the chaos of a riot. This scene indicates chaos as the general order of life in Interzone.

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