Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 294

City of Night by John Rechy is a beloved classic that follows the travels of a young gay man in the 1960s. It is very comparable to the stories of the beatnik generation. It is a stream of consciousness look at the "underworlds" of American society. In many ways the...

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City of Night by John Rechy is a beloved classic that follows the travels of a young gay man in the 1960s. It is very comparable to the stories of the beatnik generation. It is a stream of consciousness look at the "underworlds" of American society. In many ways the story is a tour of gay culture, characters, and locations. We are even taken to Cooper's Do-nuts, the location of a historically significant police riot. The narrator is left unnamed which makes him that much more relatable to the reader. Much like "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac, the reader becomes a part of the journey. We come to meet many different characters with all different backgrounds and agendas. The story tells a controversial tale of masculinity and sexuality as the narrator comes to terms with his life as a sex work. The narrator finds solace in passing as heterosexual and this is preferred by his clients as it adds to their fantasy. However, as he travels deeper into queer life, he meets numerous people who cause him to question himself.

Throughout the novel the narrator is in search of a sense of self. He travels full circle. At first he is running from El Paso and his parent's repressive Catholicism. The novel ends with him returning to his hometown. In addition, he calls several Catholic Churches in search of spiritual guidance. He is denied by all but one. Filled with life and color, the story is still incredibly melancholy. The narrator is never truly able to let his guards down or let in love. He remains nameless to the reader, which starts to make him feel distant. City of Night is a beautiful portrayal of struggle that all too many have been through.

City of Night

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 801

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.

Impact

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, focusing attention on his subject matter rather than on the quality of the writing itself.

City of Night contributed to the growth of the counterculture in the 1960’s and to the gay liberation movement. Rechy’s narrator felt that his innocence had been destroyed by a flawed and uncaring nation. He expressed the restlessness, alienation, and existential despair that became a major theme in the artistic and political life of the 1960’s. The narrator and many other young people shared a need to escape the confines of family and community by entering the anarchy and anonymity of the big cities.

Related Work

In 1983, Rechy published Bodies and Souls, a novel that takes up many of the same concerns and problems of the characters in the earlier work.

Bibliography

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.

Bibliography

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359

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.

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