Naked Lunch | Study Guide

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Chapter 7 : Hospital | Summary

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Summary

Willy the Agent is in Hassan's hospital, going through detox. He experiences paranoia and hallucinatory nightmares in which he throws acid on "a slight short Arab." He wanders around the hospital where he sees "horrible-looking Europeans," one of which is there with her whole family as she awaits an operation. He dreams of buying more junk as he wants a fix near the end of his detox, "the critical point of withdrawal."

In a lavatory Dr. Benway performs an unspecified surgery on a woman. He uses unsterilized cleaning instruments, planning to use a toilet plunger to massage her heart. He says, "Soon we'll be operating by remote control on patients we never see," lamenting how the "skill is going out of surgery." The patient dies, and Benway says, "Well, it's all in a day's work" before complaining about his dealer cutting his cocaine with Saniflush.

Then Benway performs surgery in a full auditorium. He says the operation "has absolutely no medical value." He compares himself with a bullfighter. A man jumps from the audience with a scalpel, and the orderlies drag him away. Benway calls him an espontaneo, an audience member at a bullfight who tries to get in on the action in the ring.

Still in recovery, Willy the Agent passes a room that housed a "maternity case" with "bedpans full of blood and Kotex and nameless female substances." He hears patriotic music and imagines a diplomat criticizing different groups in America. Willy shoots doses of Eukodol (dihydro-oxy-codeine) every few hours. He also tries a sleeping pill called Soneryl, which shifts the user "to sleep without transition." He describes the president's junk use and describes the homosexual act used to "recharge him," an "Oblique Habit" that creates agony if the recharges stop.

Analysis

Willy the Agent appears to be a pseudonym for William Lee, better known as the narrator of Naked Lunch. The narration shifts between first and third person through this section. In the opening sentences, the narrator refers to himself under a pseudonym. Then the narration shifts to first person as detox proceeds. Then the scene shifts to Benway's surgical procedures, presented entirely in third person. The narrative briefly returns to first person, but this shift quickly gets lost in the presentation of the diplomat's speech. The text then definitively returns to first person for the "habit notes," in which the narrator resumes some drug use. The shifts in narrative perspective seem to follow the arc of detox, with the narrator sticking to first person consistently when he is first entering treatment and when he is again under the influence of narcotics, which indicates the narrator experiences some removal from his own identity as he attempts to kick his habit. In this sense the addiction makes the narrator feel like himself. The addiction and the identity are one in the same. The narrator makes clear the critical point of withdrawal is not in the early days, as there is too much suffering. When the suffering ends, things get dangerous because the addict is afraid of truly letting go of the addiction. His missing identity is thrown into sharp relief, and it is terrifying to no longer have a sense of one's own self.

The operation Dr. Benway is performing in the bathroom is never specified. However, the clandestine nature of the proceedings and the fact the patient is a woman imply the procedure may be an abortion. Other clues come in the references to the patient's "snatch," a profane slang term for vagina, and the rubbish from the "maternity case." The operation scene seems to criticize the unsanitary, dangerous conditions women faced in clandestinely terminating pregnancies before abortion became legal in the United States. Benway works with improvised instruments and is more concerned with the purity of his cocaine than the patient's death. Benway's laissez-faire attitude toward his patients' lives applies to public surgeries as well. He happily performs unnecessary and useless surgery, with his only concern in this case being the possibility someone might steal the focus of his audience.

The narrator resumes his first-person perspective after the interlude of Dr. Benway's activities. He also reveals ongoing use of a prescription narcotic and a sleep aid. The introduction of these new drugs shows how their use has somehow brought Willy back to his own identity. The narrator no longer feels a need to distance himself from himself. His comments about the president introduce the idea that everyone, even at the highest echelons of power, has an addiction of one kind or another. The public face officials and others put forward can conceal a multitude of behaviors, even the same behaviors those officials may publicly decry as deviant.

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