Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

William Lee

William Lee, the picaro narrator, a streetwise addict who also narrated Junkie (1951), the author’s first novel. Lee escapes arrest at the end by killing Hauser and O’Brien, twenty-year veterans of the Narcotics Squad.

The Buyer

The Buyer, a narcotics agent known for his ability to pass as...

(The entire section contains 1034 words.)

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William Lee

William Lee, the picaro narrator, a streetwise addict who also narrated Junkie (1951), the author’s first novel. Lee escapes arrest at the end by killing Hauser and O’Brien, twenty-year veterans of the Narcotics Squad.

The Buyer

The Buyer, a narcotics agent known for his ability to pass as a junkie. He has his own insidious habit, however: physical contact with junkies, who are absorbed and digested through some obscure metabolic process. He is caught absorbing the Narcotics Commissioner and destroyed with a flamethrower.

Dr. Benway

Dr. Benway, an adviser to the Freeland Republic. “A manipulator and coordinator of symbol systems,” Benway is an expert on interrogation and mind control, though he avoids the use of torture. He supervises the Reconditioning Center until its computer inadvertently releases all patients.

Mugwumps

Mugwumps, creatures without livers. They eat only sweets, and they murder young boys, whom they sexually violate at the time of death. Inhabitants of Interzone, they secrete an addictive fluid (addicts to it are called “Reptiles”) that prolongs life by slowing metabolism.

Ali Hassan

Ali Hassan, a wealthy man with a fake Texas accent. He owns the Rumpus Room, where the Mugwumps hang boys. Hassan is known as a “notorious Liquefactionist.”

The Liquefactionists

The Liquefactionists, a political party whose program involves the eventual merging of everyone into One Man. They reduce their victims by protein cleavage and liquefaction, to be absorbed into their own protoplasm.

The Senders

The Senders, a group compelled to “send all the time” without any contact with other human beings, symptoms of “The Human Virus,” the need to control.

The Divisionists

The Divisionists, who literally divide into replicas of themselves; Interzone is filled with replica cultures that wage war on one another.

A. J.

A. J., a bizarre person known for winning paternity suits by not using his own sperm to impregnate women. His conversation often refers to future events, and it is unknown which side he is on (Liquefactionist or Factualist). His cover story is that of an international playboy and practical joker; in one episode, he destroys Chez Robert, a restaurant specializing in haute cuisine and snobbery, by releasing one hundred famished hogs.

The Factualists

The Factualists, a group that rejects all the other parties in Interzone. They oppose atomic war and anything that can be used to control or exploit individuals.

Carl Peterson

Carl Peterson, who is summoned for an examination by Dr. Benway in the Ministry of Mental Hygiene and Prophylaxis of Interzone.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 621

Just as Jennie Skerl has observed that the subject of Naked Lunch "is a state of mind" and the "action is the flow of consciousness" in the author's mind, the "characters" are not traditionally developed recognizable personages as much as manifestations of William. Burroughs's own psyche. As he himself makes clear, in an utterance repeated to various extents in other novels, "Sooner or later The Vigilante, The Rube, Lee the Agent, Clem and Jody the Ergot Twins, Hassan O'Leary the Afterbirth Tycoon, The Sailor, The Exterminator, Andrew Keif, 'Fats' Terminal, Doc Benway, 'Fingers' Schafer are subject to say the same thing in the same words ..." This pronouncement is delivered by the authorial consciousness in the "Atrophied Preface," where he proclaims as William Seward, "Now I will unlock my word horde," using Burroughs's middle name to establish a reflective, deliberative mode which he departs from frequently in plunges into the action of the novel. Not all of the "characters" are of equal importance, and there are many manifestations of the outside world (like the vice-cops Hauser and O'Brien) albeit presented usually as a vivid surface or an extravagant parody which permits Burroughs to use one of his most effective devices in constructing voices for the often bizarre characterizations he has construed. The most notable "characters," though, are aspects of the way in which Burroughs has drawn on his imaginative conception of himself, the most prominent among these the notorious Dr. Benway who some critics have regarded as a villain but who has his origins in Burroughs's early collaboration with Kells Elvins "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (1938; 1989), where he emerges as forerunner of the wild maverick prankster of Naked Lunch.

Benway is a sort of erudite imp of disorder, the anarchic impulse in the almost compulsively decorous demeanor Burroughs generally presents to the public. He has the coolness of the natural hipster, the self-composure of the most confident manipulator and the sardonic view of the world that operates as an outlet for many of Burroughs's dry, laconic observations, the key to his deadpan comic delivery. As Burroughs's free-wheeling ego-projection, he can burlesque many versions of the official tone of authority, undercutting by reducing to absurdity the pomposity of most agencies of control. At the opposite end of a spectrum of personality, the character called "Carl" is a patient/addict who represents Burroughs as a victim losing a grip on his mind. Carl's semiconscious drifting is conveyed in a poetic chain of image-clusters, the mind unhinged and unable to differentiate "reality" from other forms of information input. The character "Lee" is also an addict, but is generally shown between incidents of ingestion of junk, a figure in search of a fix on the edges of events, hidden and shadowy. His manic energy suggests desperation and his furtive motion recalls Burroughs's nickname "El Hombre Invisible," acquired in Tangier. The characters "Clem" and "Joey" are American hipsters amok in the third world, kin to "Leif the Unlucky," who stands for a nationless sort of hustler/operator exploiting weakness and greed.

Even though these "characters" lack a past or a life beyond the immediate moment of their appearance, they are impressive in the vividness of their presentation, primarily because of Burroughs's extremely inventive use of dialogue to establish a form of personality. The control of tone differentiates and identifies characters so proficiently that many pages are written without any nomenclature, but this does not make it difficult to know who is speaking. In this, as in other aspects of characterization, Burroughs's techniques are so innovative that they are practically without precedent, recalling to some extent the flow of consciousness designed by James Joyce in his groundbreaking novels, but infrequently employed and hardly advanced since Joyce's work in the 1920s.

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