Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson





Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson

Generally, the aspect of literature acts as a reflection of the society on a metaphorical basis. The collection of content within various literary compositions tends to arise from the surrounding environment within which the author or composer is positioned. In this respect, the author or composer will utilize the various aspects and components of these surroundings in order to disseminate his or her personal views concerning the society and simultaneously, provide information that he deems pertinent to the members of the community. The novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson is an effective illustration of this literary process. Accordingly, Thompson utilized his creativity, which became popularly known as gonzo journalism, in order to exhibit a rational yet controversial reflection of 1960s American society via the locale of Las Vegas as a significant point of reference. Through his gonzo writing style, Thompson integrated aspects of his personal life and his nihilistic perspective of the American society in order to develop the book’s main thematic subjects, which involve drugs, hypocrisy, and the American Dream.

One of the themes that Thompson focuses on in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas involves the presence and application of psychoactive drugs and substances. Interestingly, the respective subject is integrated into the narrative as a non-issue due to the author’s inclination towards the gonzo writing style. As such, Thompson utilizes the respective style of literature as a way of developing the thematic subject significantly across the novel. An interesting aspect of the author’s implementation of the gonzo literary style involves the ability to integrate one’s character into the derivative work. Simply, with the approach in question, the author is capable of establishing an archetypical character that possess his or her attributes within a narrative fueled by real-world situations and circumstances. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the main character, Raoul Duke, is the epitome of Thompson’s drug-addled character. According to Rothman (629), Thompson is the archetype of the novel in question and subsequently uses Las-Vegas as a canvas for establishing or living out his drug-muddled fantasies within the respective composition.

Using gonzo journalism, Thompson is capable of developing the theme of drugs under the pseudonym of the aforementioned protagonist and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo (the pseudonym for Thompson’s actual Samoan attorney, Oscar Zeta Acosta) (Rodriguez 43). The ironic aspect of the writing style that the author embraces involves the lack of objectiveness while reporting on the drawbacks of the American society. In this respect, the application of psychoactive drugs assumes a considerable role in enabling the journalistic intent declared by Thompson under the literary impression of the protagonist, Raoul Duke. Together with his lawyer, the respective characters engage in the heavy utilization of all forms of drugs despite a significant predisposition towards psychedelic substances such as mescaline and LSD. These substances succeed in the distortion of the characters’ reality by allowing them to escape from the clutches of a troubling and convoluted society. This is evidenced by their consistent escape from debt, aversion of hotel bills, and a significant attitude against the regulations of the land based on their drug-filled suitcase (Rodriguez 44).

The application of psychoactive substances is a further representation of the author’s stance against the generic rules and regulations of the society he occupies. Fascinatingly, Thompson is capable of capturing his drug-fueled opposing stance against the society due to the traits of the gonzo literary style. The gonzo mechanism of writing is a complete deviation from normal approaches towards the creation and development of rational and impartial literature. This is based on its rejection of the components that define journalism, particularly objectivity. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the writing style employed by Thompson in respect to gonzo journalism allows him (as Raoul Duke) to express his opinions regarding the rules present in the American society while under the influence of drug-based fantasies and hallucinations (Keil 2). For the author, the content that is present in his respective hallucinations is actually significant and pertinent to the society around him despite his hallucinogenic, anti-establishment sensibility, which was capable of being translated into images of creative and rational expression (Stossel 108).

Another theme that Thompson integrates in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas involves the presence of hypocrisy in the American society. As asserted, the author, while under the influence of psychoactive substances as established by his novel’s pseudonym, was a significant critic of the American society, especially in respect to the rules it emphasized on the consumption of drugs. Using the gonzo form of journalism, Thompson was capable of vilifying 1960s America as a hypocritical community while rebuffing its conventions on the consumption of psychoactive substances. This is evidenced significantly by the protagonist’s attendance of the National District Attorney’s Conference on Narcotics. Despite being in a considerable state of drug-induced state at the Conference, the officers as well as the attorneys in attendance are incapable of noticing this (Thompson 109). The irony evidenced in the respective situation provides Thompson with the capability of commenting on hypocrisy within the American society by simply showing the way through which the law enforcement agencies are incapable of noticing them despite attending a conference on the abuse of narcotics.

Additionally, the aspect of hypocrisy is represented by the possession of the respective aspect in nearly every character within the book. Based on the gonzo style of writing, Thompson is capable of asserting his convictions regarding the society as well as the people that occupy it. In this sense, the author believes that the hypocrisy exhibited by the members of the American society is a questionable yet inevitable component of the human psyche. Even though the protagonist commonly supports the movements present in the 1960s, he does not exhibit significant regard towards the common person over the novel’s course. This is particularly evidenced by his harassment of a hitchhiker together with Dr. Gonzo as they head towards Las Vegas (Thompson 56). Duke’s attorney also exhibits significant illustrations of hypocrisy within the novel. Despite being a public servant, Dr. Gonzo engages in the harassment of strangers in the Strip as well as casinos. Furthermore, Thompson, via the pseudonym of Duke, points out the moral hypocrisy of the mainstream American culture, which embodies apparently moralistic conventions while imposing suffering on marginalized populaces and individuals abroad.

The identification of the theme of hypocrisy in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is illustrated by other images that the author establishes regarding members of the society. Through Duke, Thompson is capable of capturing the hypocritical aspect of individuals by focusing on the various characters that he comes across as he heads towards Las Vegas. In the novel, Duke identifies the presence of hypocrisy within the persons around him. An interesting evidence of the respective component is based on the interactions that occur between the police officer from Georgia and a youthful waiter (Thompson 101). On one hand, the police officer exhibits a significant bout of concern towards the young female waiter in the narrative asserted by the respective protagonist, Raoul Duke. Despite this, he eventually concurs with Duke as well as his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo, when they sarcastically advocate that the act of beheading be imposed on petty criminals as well. The use of the police officer as an image allows Thompson to illustrate the moralistic hypocrisy of the American society further in respect to its wavering law enforcement agency.

In relation to the theme of the American Dream, Thompson utilizes the motif of Las Vegas in order to criticize the validity of the respective concept. Based on the perception of Las Vegas as the amoral Mecca of the United States, Thompson ultimately perceives it as the locale of the American Dream due to the fleeting desires and dangers it possesses (Rothman 631). As an outcome of these perceptions, Thompson’s pseudonym takes part in a journey to Las Vegas in order to capture the American Dream. As Ireland notes, the journey that is undertaken in ‘road’ genre narratives represents a microcosm of the United States as a whole. Accordingly, the respective trips, as noted in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, are connected to the pursuit of the aforementioned concept despite facing obstacles that represent the fundamental problems facing the American society on a genetic level (Rodriguez 42). However, the concealed aim of the journey that Duke and Dr. Gonzo take involves the discovery of Las Vegas as more of an illusionary utopian society for the mass populaces that pretends to represent the existence and liberty of the American Dream.  

Ultimately, the use of Las Vegas as a motif allows Thompson to criticize the falsehood of the American Dream. Based on the various points that the author establishes in the novel, Thompson clearly illustrates the corruption and perversion of the Dream via the context of gonzo journalism. Indeed, the author saw Las Vegas as an area that was full of contradictions. In respect to his thoughts regarding the place, Las Vegas was an area filled with gambling, sex, as well as other vices that were known to humankind. Despite this, the respective area was a representation of a place blessed with tight order, merciless justice, and stern regulations and laws. Contemplating its early start as a toy locale established by the Mafia, the city of Las Vegas had developed significantly. In fact, the author perceived Las Vegas of the 1960s and the 1970s as a form of America’s microcosm (Rodriguez 42). Simply, the hopes, struggles, failures, and dreams of America’s masses were there.

Even though the author, through Duke, significantly captures vices such as meticulous classes of quantities and arrays of substances consumed, generally unacceptable behavior, and the overt use of crude lingo, it is evident that such instances constitute a complicated condemnation and vilification of the drug culture present in the 1960s and 1970s. Accordingly, the respective culture of the Las Vegas environment had succeeded in the corruption of the American Dream by attracting tourists towards a life of hedonism that solely resulted in bankruptcy and the realization that the Dream is more of a marketing gimmick than an actual thing. With the general motif of Las Vegas and other sub-motifs such as Richard Nixon and the occurrence of the Vietnam War, Thompson employed a significant criticism of the supposed American Dream by terming it as a waste of effort, time, and energy (Thompson 133). Despite looking for the elusive concept in Las Vegas, the character, Duke, returns disappointed because the American Dream was non-existent and fake.

To this end, Hunter S. Thompson was the first writer responsible for the development of the gonzo form of journalism. Despite marred with marital issues and drug-addled events, Thompson was capable of establishing a satirical analysis of the American society as identified in the novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Even though the novel leans towards controversial aspects such as sex and heavy use of psychoactive substances, it manages to provide a rational look into aspects such as the American Dream and the presence of hypocrisy in the American society. With the motif of Las Vegas as the main aspect of the novel, Thompson shows that America has succeeded in selling a false dream to numerous civilians while maintaining a morally pretentious standpoint.

Works Cited

Keil, Richard. “Still Gonzo After All These Years.” American Journalism Review 18.3 (1996): 1-8. Print.

Rodriguez, Fernando J. “The Outcast, the Expatriate, and the Outlaw: Thoreau, Pound, and Thompson’s America.” ATENEA 32.1-2 (2012): 31-47. Print.

Rothman, Hal K. “Las Vegas and the American Psyche, Past and Present.” Pacific Historical Review 70.4 (2001): 627-640. Print.

Stossel, Scott. “Son of Gonzo: Living in the Aftermath of Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll.” Rev. of Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson, aut. Juan F. Thompson. The American Scholar Apr. 2016: 108-109. Print.

Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. New York: Vintage Books, 1998. Print.

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