City of Night

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

The Work

The unnamed narrator of City of Night flees from his stifling home and community in El Paso, Texas, to the sexual skid rows of New York, Los Angeles, and other cities. The book alternates chapters entitled “City of Night”—sociological sketches of the world of gay prostitutes, young drug addicts, old winos—with vignettes of individuals who populate that world.

The narrator becomes a male prostitute. He maintains his sense of heterosexual masculinity by allowing gay men to perform sexual acts on him only in return for money, while he never reciprocates or shows any emotional response to their offers of friendship or love. The narrator is addicted to the anarchy of street life, to the seething shadowy world of New York’s Times Square and similar sex and drug supermarkets.

His vignettes offer portraits of Pete, who teaches the narrator the rules of sexual hustling; Miss Destiny, a beautiful, well-educated drag queen who lives in a fragile world of illusion and shows the narrator that, underneath the exciting aura of anarchic freedom offered by the city of night, its inhabitants are all trapped by their desires and fears; and Jeremy, who offers the narrator love, from which he flees in fear.

The narrator learns hard lessons about himself, about his loneliness, and about his need for the love that he fears acknowledging. He understands that the city of night is partly a product of the darkness of his own soul.


Larry McMurtry, James Baldwin, and other major writers recognized Rechy as an important new voice in American literature, and Rechy’s best-selling book was translated into many other languages and would later be taught in many literature courses. However, the novel, written before the advent of the gay liberation movement, deeply offended many critics. Even friendly critics hurt Rechy’s literary career by labeling him as a gay writer,...

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City of Night Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “In Search of the Honest Outlaw: John Rechy.” Minority Voices 3, no. 1 (1979): 37-45. Draws connections between Nietzsche’s concept of Dionysian and Appolonian consciousness and the narrator of City of Night. Asserts that Rechy creates opposition between lived experience and withdrawn contemplation of it.

Fry, Joan. “An Interview with John Rechy.” Poets and Writers Magazine 20 (May/ June, 1992): 25-36. Concentrates on style and narrative strategy. Rechy declares and wants readers to recognize that he is a Chicano writer. Also talks about his teaching and writers who have influenced him.

Giles, James R. “Religious Alienation and Homosexual Consciousness’ in City of Night and Go Tell It on the Mountain.” College English 36 (1974): 369-380. Analysis of the destructive role of religion in works by Rechy and James Baldwin. Reads both novels as gay fiction. Rechy is seen as the more important gay author because Baldwin emphasizes ethnic over sexual identity.

Moore, Harry T., ed. Contemporary American Novelists. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964.

Ortiz, Ricardo L. “L.A. Women: Jim Morrison with John Rechy.” Literature and Psychology 44 (Fall, 1998): 41-77. Discusses the allusion to Rechy’s City of Night in Morrison’s song “L.A. Woman,” demonstrating Morrison’s rejection of romanticism and presumptive stereotyping. He argues that the allusion heightens the innuendo of homosexuality and hustling in Morrison’s song, highlighting potential homosexuality in male audience admiration.

Ortiz, Ricardo L. “Sexuality Degree Zero: Pleasure and Power in the Novels of John Rechy, Arturo Islas, and Michael Nava.” Journal of Homosexuality 26 (August-September, 1993): 111-125. Ortiz explores common themes and formal strategies in the fiction of Chicano gay writers Rechy, Islas, and Nava. In analyses of Rechy’s use of pornography, Islas’s use of cultural iconography, and Nava’s use of sexual “perversions,” Ortiz argues for the political efficacy of aesthetic choices characteristic to the three authors.

Zamora, Carlos. “Odysseus in John Rechy’s City of Night: The Epistemological Journey.” Minority Voices 3, no. 1 (1979): 53-62. Reads the novel as a Bildungsroman in the tradition of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and James Joyce. Identifies the quest for identity as the book’s central concept. Analyzes the protagonist’s journey as providing structure and unity to the book.