Naked Lunch | Study Guide

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Chapter 16 : The County Clerk | Summary



Lee faces eviction from his house in Interzone and must file an affidavit claiming he has bubonic plague so he can stay. He goes to the Old Court House to appear before the County Clerk. The County Clerk waxes nostalgic about "good old boys" he knows and tells a story about his trip to Doc Parker's drugstore. The County Clerk gossips about his wife's reproductive problems and his affair with a black woman. Then he talks about some friends of his destroying a black man's home and burning him alive, along with other stories of racial brutality. Through all this he ignores Lee's presence. Lee finally says, "I'm approaching you as one Razor Back to another." The Clerk asks Lee what he thinks about Jews, to which Lee replies "all a Jew wants to do is doodle a Christian girl." The Clerk advises his assistants to take good care of Lee because "[h]e's a good ol' boy."


Lee's visit to the County Clerk marks another shift to the narrator writing about himself in the third person. Because Lee adopts a "good ol' boy" persona at the end of the story, it makes sense the narrator would want to distance himself from this exchange. The so-called "good ol' boy" network is an entrenched part of American culture, especially in the South and Midwest. These "good ol' boys" do favors for one another, allowing them to maintain control over their respective domains and to evade the legal consequences for their actions. The corrupt County Clerk is a "good ol' boy," so he uses his power accordingly. He is able to turn a blind eye to racial hostility and to participate in said hostility when the mood strikes him.

Lee plays his "Razor Back card" literally. Razor Back may be a reference to the alumni of the University of Arkansas, where the razorback (wild pig) is the mascot. In the context of this story, it may simply be a generalized indication these men belong to the same club, or Lee has the means to at least pretend he is a member of this club. He proves himself by saying something deeply racist, which the County Clerk accepts as evidence of "goodness," even though there's nothing good about what he says. This is the verbal irony of the phrase "good ol' boys" in general. They tend to be the opposite of good, using the power of their network to inflict their prejudice and hostility on the rest of society.

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