The homosexual drug addict William Lee journeys through Tangier and the surrealist land of Interzone having sordid encounters with sadists, drug abusers and other secretive homosexuals. Naked Lunch is told from the first person point of view of the homosexual drug addict William Lee. Lee escapes the puritanical culture of America to come to terms with his homosexuality and feed his drug addiction in Tangier, Morocco. The narrative is non-linear and told through a series of loosely connected vignettes, intended by the author to be read in any order.
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Lee's drug addiction has run him afoul of the law in the United States. He escapes imprisonment and escapes to Mexico where he has his first encounter with the nefarious Dr. Benway. Benway serves a sort of antagonist, appearing in several vignettes throughout the story.
In a dreamlike marketplace, Lee tracks down an illicit drug called Black Meat, which is used as both a metaphor for homosexual intercourse and heroin. Lee returns from the Market to Dr. Benway's hospital where he is subjected to various forms of psychosexual torture, including anal rape.
The setting shifts in the next vignette to the surrealist land known as Interzone, often placed in or around the city of Tangier, Morocco. There, Lee joins in a Caligulan orgy in the "rumpus room" of an Arabic noblemen named Hassan. Hassan is described a "liquefactionist" and he eventually expels Lee from his orgy, calling him a factualist bitch.
In an unrelated vignette, a father is depicted taking his son to a prostitute so that the son can lose his virginity. The father sends the son into a brothel with the commandment to go get a piece of ass. The son takes the father's advice very literally and returns with a bloody hunk of flesh. He actually sliced off a piece of his prostitute's ass.
After a few more descriptive orgy scenes in Interzone, the story shifts back to a setting more closely approximating the real world. The police officers who were chasing Lee in the first Vignette are given names: Hauser and O'Brien. The two narcotics officers corner Lee in an alley and Lee lashes out, killing both of them. When he calls the police station later to ask for officers Hauser and O'Brien by name, the cop on the other end of the line hasn't heard of either of them. This suggests that perhaps both men were simply figments of Lee's drug induced insanity.
Best part of story, including ending:
The story itself is very difficult to follow, but the shocking depictions of drug abuse and homosexual intercourse implore the reader to think critically about how we view people on the margins of society.
Best scene in story:
A father sends his young son to a prostitute to get a piece of ass and the son returns holding a mound of bleeding flesh, having literally cut off a piece of the prostitute's ass.
Opinion about the main character:
William Lee is less a fully formed character and more a window into the marginal worlds of drug use and homosexuality in the 1950s.