David Guterson's 2008 novel, The Other, explores the relationship between the narrator, Neil Countryman, a boy from a modest background who aspires to be a literature teacher and writer, and the brilliant, eccentric, wealthy iconoclast, John William Barry. The book includes many literary and philosophical debates between the two, in which John William refers several times to a concept he labels "hamburger world": a place of which he says Neil is a "loyal citizen."
John William Barry has many of the attributes of Henry David Thoreau. He aspires to be a hermit, drops out of college, and moves to the woods, eschewing modern America, which he despises. This is what he means by "hamburger world." When John William is trying to live as a hermit, Neil periodically brings him care packages full of shampoo, toothpaste, corn chips, candy, Playboy and Penthouse magazines, and various other material objects from "hamburger world," the comfortable, unintellectual, materialistic middle America that John William is running away from. John William never refuses these gifts, even though accepting them demonstrates that he too is dependent on "hamburger world." Neil himself is committed to reconciling this element of American culture with his artistic ambitions, which is why he claims to write with a cheeseburger in his hand.