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Quote from Junky

In his debut novel, William Burroughs presents a brutal and honest account of his life. The author’s personal accounts became a depiction of the lives of drug addicts during the 20th century. His work became an old time classic and one of the most important works from the Beat Literature.

The book discusses every aspect of an addict’s life. From obtaining the drugs, to using them and avoiding authorities. It is very descriptive when it comes to describing the “sickness”, drug possession and imprisonment. Moreover, the life of the junky and the troubles it involves is not missing from account. From prostitution, to small violations and serious crimes, Burroughs checks in all the aspects of the life in addiction.

The story starts with a short introduction of the main character, William Lee, which is the fictional name that the writer uses for himself. After deemed unfit from the army, he goes living in New York, where he is introduced to drugs and falls for an destructive life. Burroughs, saving no details, describes the experiences in essence. He hangs about with low-lives, buglers and other addicts.

William Burroughs

In Junky, Burroughs displays his ability to convey the essence of his characters in a few lines.

“Lonny was pure pimp. He was skinny and nervous. He couldn’t sit still and he couldn’ shut up. As he talked he moved his thin hands, which were covered on the backs with long, greasy, black hairs.

“Gains had a malicious, childlike smile that formed a shocking contrast to his eyes, which were pale blue, lifeless and old.”

He makes no favors to them and tells everything in a simple straight forward way. He describes the drug addiction and debunks myths that people thought to be true. According to Burroughs you can’t hook yourself from the first two or three shots, but it takes time. Once you take the bait however, heroin is always a part of you and that’s it.

The book doesn’t focus only in New York, but travels the reader to other cities and States too. It moves to New Orleans were the police arrests Burroughs and drives him to prison. There his sickness kicks in. As they lock him in a cell and cut his supply of heroin, the sickness kicks in. Writing about his own sickness, he describes the misery of it:

“In my case, the worst thing is lowering of blood pressure with consequent loss of body liquid, and extreme weakness, as in shock. It is a feeling as if the life energy has been shut off so that all the cells in the body are suffocating. As I lay there on the bench I felt like I was subsiding into a pile of bones.”

Moreover, he manages to incorporate the social commentary and political observations of the times. He talks about the Louisiana law which made being a junky illegal and his own views on how marijuana shouldn’t be illegal. In the end, the book ends with a warning against addiction.

“Junk takes everything and gives nothing but insurance against junk sickness. Everyone now and then I took a good look at the deal I was giving myself and decided to take the cure.”

“A Junkie spends half his life waiting.” — W.S. Burroughs

As a whole, the novel is considered a classic of American Literature and is an amazing display of one of the most important Beats.

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