What are some differences in style and context between Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Kerouac's On the Road?

Expert Answers
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Burroughs's Naked Lunch and Kerouac's On the Road are both examples of Beat literature, but Naked Lunch has a far more disjointed, experimental style. While both books are novels that describe their protagonists' wayward travels, Naked Lunch has a disjointed style, while On the Road has a more traditional narrative. 

Sal Paradise, the protagonist of the largely autobiographical On the Road, goes on a series of road trips with his friend Dean Moriarty (representing the real-life Neal Cassady). The trips are chronological in order, and the reader can follow the narrative. In Naked Lunch, on the other hand, the autobiographical, drug-addicted main character (William Lee) goes on a series of travels that are somewhat dreamlike in nature and that do not follow a determined order. Instead, Burroughs's fragmented narrative can be read in any order.

While Kerouac describes the spiritual alienation of the Beats, he does not use obscenity as Burroughs does (in fact, Naked Lunch was originally banned in certain cities, including Boston and Los Angeles). Burroughs's book, which also features extreme violence (unlike Kerouac's book), has been examined for its social commentary on issues such as drugs, while Kerouac's novel, though emblematic of the Beat generation, is not as wide-ranging in what it discusses. 

dmack3434 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Published in September 1957, On the Road tells the story of Jack Kerouac's years traveling around the United States with his friend Neal Cassady. Named Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in the novel, the two wander the country looking for experiences. Written in a spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness style inspired by Kerouac’s love of jazz music, On the Road introduced a new style of American literature. Not only did it make Kerouac famous, but since the time of its publication, it has inspired people to search for their own road adventures.

Naked Lunch was published two years later in 1959, and its publication and success pushed Burroughs, like Kerouac, into more fame as an author. The book was written in a cut-up, non-linear style where there was no beginning nor end. Instead the book was loosely structured and could be read in any order. In the book, the reader follows the narration of a drug addict named William Lee. Like Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, Lee is looking for experiences and travels widely to find himself. And just like in Kerouac’s work, many of the vignettes are derived from Burroughs’ own experiences, especially his experiments with drugs.

psmortimer eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” are quite different in style and context. A lot of people tend to put them in the same category since they are two of the major works produced by the Beat Generation. Kerouac and Burroughs, along with Alan Ginsberg formed the core of the Beat Generation. The main difference in the books is that Kerouac’s “On the Road” is a pure stream of consciousness piece about his experience on the road across the country. Burroughs, on the other hand, was developing his cut and paste method in which he would literally cut words out of magazines and newspapers and adhere them to the page to form his text. Both books were controversial for the time, with Burroughs’ work becoming the center stage of an obscenity trial, the outcome of which altered the guidelines for the publishing industry.