Naked Lunch | Study Guide

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Chapter 3 : The Rube | Summary



The narrator and his traveling companions, including the Rube, are arrested in Philadelphia. The Rube has a "Mark Inside," which makes him a "social liability." They are placed in a cell with five other junkies. The narrator reveals he keeps a "stash" on him at all times by allowing a few drops from each of his shots to absorb into his pockets. He can use a safety pin and dropper to administer these remnants, but he doesn't want to do it in front of the other junkies.

When they are released, the narrator leaves the Rube on a street corner as the rest of the group proceeds to Chicago and St. Louis. On the road the narrator observes "there is no drag like U.S. drag ... and our habits build up with the drag." They stock up on more drugs in Houston and New Orleans, then head for Mexico.

In Mexico they encounter Bradley the Buyer, a narcotics agent who has a "contact habit." He looks and acts like a junkie, but his fix involves rubbing his body against addicts in exchange for giving them drugs. When his District Supervisor (D.S.) calls in the Buyer to talk about his habits, the Buyer begins rubbing against him. Eventually he absorbs the D.S. into his own body. The Buyer is released. Despite the judge's suspicions, they have no solid evidence against him.

The narrator gets cocaine, or C, in Mexico using a fellow junkie's prescription. He relates the story of Jane, a prostitute whose pimp is "one of these vibration and dietary artists" who makes his women follow his beliefs. He smokes marijuana (tea) and is "very puritanical about junk." The narrator smokes with him but quickly freaks out and runs away. A year later, the narrator hears Jane is dead.


The "Mark Inside" the Rube refers to the Rube's essential nature, the craving he can't fool or quell, that makes him dangerous to his traveling companions. The Rube can't keep his composure under questioning and is likely to sell out his companions. His desperation for a fix is off-putting, even to other junkies. All these factors make him a liability. In another demonstration of the absence of loyalty among addicts, the narrator abandons the Rube in an unfamiliar city, despite the Rube's vulnerable state of mind.

The narrator's reference to "U.S. drag" describes the stifling sense of boredom emanating from American culture, especially as they travel through the conservative Midwest. The addicts' habits build as the boredom builds because they feel a strong desire to do anything that might alleviate that boredom.

The repellent story of Bradley the Buyer reveals the hypocrisy of narcotics agents. The Buyer, posing as a dealer, isn't addicted to the substances he investigates, but he becomes addicted to the addicts themselves, to contact with them. His rubbing against them reflects the tendency of officials to abuse their authority and take advantage of the weaknesses of the people they're supposed to investigate. In reality these advantages may include sexual liberties. While the Buyer doesn't have sex with the vulnerable addicts, his rubbing—presented in distinctly grotesque terms—is almost worse. In a way it's more violating because it forces more physical contact and intimacy than the perfunctory sex acts addicts generally trade for drugs. His absorption of his boss acts as a metaphor for an agent's inability to remain integrated in the structure of law enforcement. Undercover work often corrupts the agent.

The pimp the narrator meets in Mexico is into New Age spirituality and considers himself superior to the heroin addicts because he only smokes marijuana. His treatment of his prostitutes, forcing them to adopt his beliefs, reveals he is no more virtuous than anyone else. Jane's death, from unspecified causes, reminds the reader for all his superficial virtue, the pimp finds other people's lives disposable.

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