William S. Burroughs did not begin writing seriously until 1950, although he had unsuccessfully submitted a story titled “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” to Esquire in 1938. His first novelistic effort, Queer, which deals with homosexuality, was not published until 1985. Allen Ginsberg finally persuaded Ace Books to publish Burroughs’s first novel, Junkie, which originally appeared under the pseudonym William Lee as half of an Ace double paperback; it was bound with Maurice Helbront’s Narcotic Agent. While strictly conventional in style, Junkie is a luridly hyperbolic, quasi-autobiographical first-person account of the horrors of drug addiction. Of little literary merit in itself, this first novel is interesting in that it introduces not only the main character, Lee, but also several of the major motifs that appear in Burroughs’s subsequent works: the central metaphor of drug addiction, the related image of man reduced to a subhuman form (usually an insectlike creature) by his drug and other lusts, and the suggestion of concomitant and pervasive sexual aberration.
In Naked Lunch and its three less celebrated sequels, The Soft Machine, Nova Express, and The Ticket That Exploded, Burroughs weaves an intricate and horrible allegory of human greed, corruption, and debasement. Like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Nineteen...
(The entire section is 3374 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of William S. Burroughs Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!