Naked Lunch

William Burroughs

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Naked Lunch | Character Analysis



The narrator serves as an alter ego for William Burroughs; hence he appears under a number of different names in different stories. In a few chapters of Naked Lunch, he seems to write about himself in the third person. The narrator flees narcotics agents in New York and travels extensively through the United States, Mexico, and an alternate version of this world. He samples drugs, attempts to go through rehab, and goes to work for a shadowy organization called Islam Inc. He documents the exploits of his fellow Islam Inc. agents, as well as the locals of the places he visits. These people have little connection to one another, and the narrator seems disconnected from all of them, meeting many people but isolated from them all.

Dr. Benway

Dr. Benway is put in charge of a Reconditioning Center in Freeland, where he conducts torturous experiments on his patients in the guise of scientific study and "treatment." He considers himself highly skilled as a surgeon, but he seems more interested in inflicting pain and harm on the people he encounters. He works with the narrator but seems to have little interest in the narrator's addictions or sexual behavior, though he is highly interested in these habits in others.


A.J.'s long list of pranks includes inducing an orgy at a U.S. Embassy function and opening a boys' school with a homoerotic statue in the front entrance. He appears harmless as a jokester, but his real purpose seems to involve disrupting the status quo wherever he goes—an agenda that seems politically motivated given his associations with Islam Inc. However, it is unclear what he means to accomplish, precisely. A.J. hosts an annual party that seems a debauched occasion. One of these parties features entertainment in the form of a blue (pornographic) movie that features the performers alternately copulating with and killing each other.


Hassan begins his career as The Shoe Store Kid, exchanging sexual favors with foot fetishists for drugs. He makes a fortune trading in "slunks," the afterbirths of cows. He expands his interests to include other drugs and opens a sex shop in Yokohama. He is also described as a "notorious Liquefactionist." He belongs to the Liquefactionist party in Interzone, a group that hopes to control citizens by absorbing them into the party. Otherwise, they are "given to every form of perversion, especially sado-masochistic practices." Hassan's perversions come to the fore at an orgy he hosts in his "rumpus room," which includes a vast range of sexual behavior and violence.

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