Naked Lunch | Study Guide

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Chapter 22 : The Algebra of Need | Summary



"Fats" Terminal, who comes from The City Pressure Tanks to the City Plaza, has learned "the Algebra of Need and survived." He is a pathetic creature with raw nerves, but a man gives him a coin. Fats serves the Black Meat and watches the city around him. His expanding consciousness allows him to see agents who reveal themselves to each other "by choice of sex practices." The Gimp rats out someone in the Waldorf Hotel. He sees all kinds of private activity, from boys touching themselves in the school bathrooms to rioters having sex while a black woman burns. The narrator acknowledges the sick feeling that might be the onset of syphilis, connecting it to violent events taking place all over the world.


"Fats" Terminal is introduced in Chapter 6 as an Interzone dealer in Black Meat. "The Algebra of Need" provides Fats's backstory in a way that makes Fats appear to be something other than human. As he grows to understand the world around him, he becomes an omniscient figure, witnessing the activities and betrayals of characters as well as worldwide violence. The only indication of when or where these events take place is Fats witnessing the Gimp ratting out someone in the Waldorf Hotel, in New York. The narrator reveals the Gimp has been killed in Chapter 1, implying these events take place before the narrator flees New York.

The title of this section references the calculations all people—addicts and nonaddicts—make to satisfy their various needs, from the mundane to the depraved. The use of the word algebra implies calculation. Fats sees the world in a transactional way, filled with exchanges and trades, and these transactions enable his survival. These transactions enable everyone's survival.

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