Naked Lunch | Study Guide

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Chapter 4 : Benway | Summary



The narrator is "assigned" to work with Dr. Benway of Islam Inc. Benway is "an expert on all phases of interrogation, brainwashing and control." He has been sent away from Annexia, because he claims to "abhor brutality." However, Benway's idea of the use of torture is broad. He thinks torture can work well "when the subject is just far enough along with treatment to accept punishment as deserved."

As the narrator tours Benway's facility, the Reconditioning Center or R.C. in Freeland, he discovers these "treatments" are a kind of torture in themselves. He administers experimental and hallucinogenic drugs to the subjects, inducing conditions such as catatonia, schizophrenia, and depression. He uses psychoanalysis to cause subjects to forget their own identities. Benway performs sloppy and unnecessary surgeries. Benway also lures his subjects to take part in various sexual activities as he studies homosexual behavior.

Near the end of the tour, Benway discovers "the electronic brain" controlling the facility "went berserk" and released all the inmates. Benway and the narrator escape in a helicopter. The narrator describes the chaos he sees on the ground below, including gang rapes and other violence. Freeland's tourists demand asylum from the anarchy. Meanwhile, the chamber of commerce urges calm, claiming the violence stems from "only a few crazies who have from the crazy place outbroken."


Annexia is portrayed as a totalitarian state in which citizens are subject to spontaneous searches and must keep track of ever-changing documents. The cities are made into barren, inhospitable places after benches and park spaces are destroyed. Benway runs afoul of the authorities in Annexia by abolishing "concentration camps, mass arrest and, except under certain limited and special circumstances, torture." However, Benway is a sadistic hypocrite hiding behind the guise of science.

Benway's Reconditioning Center is presented as little more than a torture chamber. Reconditioning is a term that implies something akin to rehabilitation. The patients in this center are not being "reconditioned" for any meaningful purpose. Instead they are being broken down into little more than desperate animals, bags of human flesh driven solely by their basest desires. Benway clearly enjoys his experiments and the control he has over his subjects as he makes them suffer.

When a computer malfunction releases the inmates and chaos ensues, they pose a clear danger to the tourists who come to Freeland. In a sense the kinds of people who would come to a place like the Reconditioning Center for tourism may deserve what happens to them. The passage criticizes the human desire to witness the suffering of others and regard it as entertainment. However, the government of Freeland does have an obligation to protect visitors and citizens. The government's minimizing of the crisis reflects the way governments are more concerned with their image than with the welfare of the people. The escaped inmates need protection from themselves, and the public needs protection from the chaos. But to handle the situation in a productive way would include the indignity of the government admitting the problem exists in the first place.

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