Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, much like its immediate predecessor Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, picks up a sort of master narrative of the futile attempts of the proverbial underdog striving for and achieving the American Dream, only to be crushed at the end by the general milieu of the postmodern world. The hero that Thompson utilizes in this autobiography of his coverage of the 1971-1972 presidential race is George McGovern, the idealistic Democratic candidate whom Thompson characterizes as the great underdog of the election versus entrenched Republican incumbent President Nixon.
Two points require immediate articulation. First, Thompson again writes a veritable diary of his position (both ideological and logistical as Rolling Stone’s political correspondent) as a chronological and cartographical narrative of what he believed to be the cultural moment. Writing in the shadows of McCarthyism and the debacle of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, he paints Richard Nixon as this narrative’s villain and an entrenched evil permeating America. From Thompson’s perspective, McGovern does, to a fault, represent the furthest left agenda, perhaps to a naïve degree, as he endorses extreme policies such as full amnesty for draft evaders of the Vietnam War and total unilateral withdrawal from the conflict itself. In effect, the gonzo journalist finds a gonzo candidate. Second, given his strong polemical...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Standing posthumously somewhere behind Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the figure of Horatio Alger, Jr. A nineteenth century author of rags-to-riches fairy tales, Alger wrote stories describing how the littlest guy, through nothing more than hard work and determination, could succeed and achieve the American Dream. The conclusions to which Thompson takes that initial premise in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas probably go well beyond anything Alger ever possibly conceived.
The plot itself is simple. Thompson and his lawyer, operating under the absurd pseudonyms Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, respectively, are sent out to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400, a motorcycle race across the desert. Upon receiving the assignment, both Duke and Gonzo come upon the notion that the assignment itself is really only subordinate, and is treated as such, to a much greater project: the quest for the American Dream. While Thompson often invokes Alger’s thoughts and occasionally his words, to reiterate his quest, never in the narrative are any causal connections established between his assignment (proper) and his quest (conceived and undertaken).
To accomplish this more self-styled gonzo project, Duke and Gonzo formulate a plan to infiltrate the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas under the influence of a cornucopia of drugs and alcohol. What follows from here is little more than a travelogue of Duke and Gonzo’s adventures over the course of a few days through Las Vegas’s hotels, bars, and drug scene as they revel in their own indulgence to an unfathomable degree....
(The entire section is 648 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Raoul Duke is behind the wheel of a convertible, realizing that the drugs he took earlier have just kicked in. Sitting beside him is his three-hundred-pound traveling companion Dr. Gonzo, an attorney. The two have just left Los Angeles and are headed for Las Vegas. Duke, who is a journalist, is set to cover a desert motorcycle race called the Mint 400 for a sports publication on the East Coast. He had been in Los Angeles at the time of the assignment and did not ask questions about the job. He had decided to take the job and go.
Once in Las Vegas, Duke and Dr. Gonzo check in to their hotel but find it difficult to do so because they are so high on drugs. They soon meet the photographer who is assigned to accompany Duke at the Mint 400. However, the journalists do not spend much time at the race. Turns out that Duke and Dr. Gonzo would rather visit casinos and drive their rented Cadillac about town. Still high on drugs, Duke begins to reflect both on the city of Las Vegas and what he hopes is the American Dream.
Dr. Gonzo leaves Las Vegas for an appointment, and Duke is left to escape from the hotel room the two of them destroyed. They also tallied a massive room-service bill. As Duke begins to leave the hotel, he receives a telegram and hurriedly reads it. He finally leaves Las Vegas, heads back to California, and encounters a police officer. He then stops in the small town of Baker—where he calls Dr. Gonzo, who reminds him that he needs to...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary
As Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas opens, Hunter S. Thompson and his traveling companion, a Samoan called only “my attorney” throughout the book, are careening down a highway. Their exact location is not identified. All Thompson knows is that they are in the desert “somewhere around Barstow.” Both Thompson and his attorney are heavily under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Thompson realizes that he cannot drive any longer and asks his friend to take the wheel. Thompson stops mid-sentence, however, because he becomes aware that he is screaming. He is also hallucinating that enormous bats are dive-bombing the car. Unfazed, the attorney busily removes his own shirt and douses himself with beer to “facilitate the tanning process.” Thompson decides to keep the bat-sightings to himself.
It is very hot under the desert sun, and they still have at least one hundred miles to go. They are heading toward Las Vegas and the “Mint 400,” a racing event that Thompson has been hired to cover for a sports magazine in New York. The unnamed magazine has also made reservations at a hotel and provided a rental car, an enormous red Chevrolet convertible.
Along with the room and car, Thompson has been given $300 in cash, most of which, he admits, has already been spent on “extremely dangerous drugs”—marijuana, mescaline, acid, cocaine, and ether. It is the ether, Thompson confesses, that worries him the most. People on ether become “depraved." He knows that soon they will start using it.
The attorney eventually takes the wheel and begins singing along with the radio. Thompson is in the passenger seat and listening to a song, “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, on a tape recorder. Both men notice a hitchhiker—a teenaged boy—on the side of the road. The tired hitchhiker gratefully climbs in the car when they pull over.
After a few minutes, Thompson worries that he and his attorney will not be able to stop rambling about their various hallucinations. He wonders if the boy will think they are associated with the Manson family. And if so, will the boy freak out? And if he freaks out, will Thompson have to kill him?
The boy looks frightened and agrees with everything Thompson says, obviously hoping to placate Thompson. Trying to speak more reasonably, Thompson tells the hitchhiker that he and his attorney are going “to Las Vegas to find the American Dream.”
Thompson begins to describe how they started their journey. Thompson received a phone call while staying at a Beverly Hills hotel. He was told to meet a man in Las Vegas named Lacerda, a photographer. Thompson has been commissioned to write a story about the “Mint 400,” a race for motorcycles and dune buggies. Lacerda will photograph it. Thompson’s attorney advised him to get more money from his publisher.
Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary
In Chapter 2, Thompson continues describing how their journey to Las Vegas began.
At his publisher’s Los Angeles office, Thompson was given $300, although he wanted much more money. His attorney was disheartened with the amount offered. Thompson chastised the big “Samoan” by saying that “this is the American Dream in action”: a telephone call that had come out of the blue for an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas.
As he further reflects on the call, Thompson realizes that he does not know what kind of “story” he has been commissioned to write for the magazine. He supposes he will just have to decide for himself. This, Thompson emphatically declares, is “pure Gonzo journalism.”
Thompson thinks about what they had done to get the necessary supplies for their journey. A particular type of tape recorder was needed, and the two men did not take a store’s “Closed” sign as the final word. They bashed on the store’s glass doors until the clerk inside let them in and sold them the equipment. Even though they got what they wanted, the attorney was angry at what he considered their ill-treatment. He yelled that they would return to bomb the store. He raged that he knew the clerk’s name, would find out where he lived, and burn down his home.
There was more “trouble,” Thompson recalls, getting the rental car. Thompson remembers how he had terrified the lot attendant, driving in reverse at high speeds and nearly knocking over a gas pump. He thinks, too, about how the attendant had fretted that Thompson would be drinking and driving, a logical assumption since he watched Thompson load cases of alcohol into the shiny red convertible. Thompson assured the clerk that he would not be driving: they are “responsible people.” Thompson and his attorney sped away irresponsibly.
As they merged into traffic, Thompson thought of something else he would like to have for their trip: priest’s robes. The idea was ultimately abandoned because it would take too much time to find such robes. Plus, a lot of cops are Catholic, they reason. If they were pulled over, high on drugs and wearing vestments, the cops might get upset.
Part 1, Chapter 3 Summary
In Chapter 3, the narrative returns to the present. Thompson is upset that their passenger, the hitchhiker, has never been in a convertible. Thompson is briefly tempted to have his attorney legally give the boy the car, but he eventually decides against doing so. Thompson thinks that he might need the car in case anyone is foolish enough to challenge him to a drag race. He loves the thought of dying in a car. The notion seems to him very "American."
Thompson considers their journey to be the embodiment of the American dream. It is, he reasons, “a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character.” He thinks, with some amazement, of the “fantastic possibilities” for people who...
(The entire section is 597 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 4 Summary
Thompson and his attorney settle into their hotel suite. It is getting dark. Thompson, still in the hallucinogenic grip of acid, is disturbed by a neon sign visible from his window. He cautiously tells his roommate that there is “some kind of electric snake...coming straight at us.” He declines to kill it, however. Instead, he says he will “study it.”
The attorney wants him to calm down. He tells Thompson how out-of-control he had been at the registration table, yelling about sea creatures and blood. The police were almost called, the attorney says.
Thompson wants to leave and get down to the race track before dark. Unfortunately, they have lost the valet ticket for the car. Thompson calls downstairs...
(The entire section is 413 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary
At dawn, Thompson and his attorney are back at the Mint Gun Club, awaiting the start of the famed race, which will not begin for three more hours. There is a bar, but it does not open until seven. After much grumbling by the race patrons, however, the bar opens early. Everyone in attendance is eager for the race to begin. For some, Thompson explains, this race is the biggest thing to happen in sports all year, "bigger, even, than the Super Bowl."
Three hours, however, is a long time to wait. A great deal of alcohol is consumed, and a reporter from Life magazine gets especially intoxicated. Thompson claims to be horrified by the spectacle the man is making of himself. They are, after all, the “cream of the...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 6 Summary
It is Saturday night, and Thompson and his attorney are back on the Strip. He reflects that in Las Vegas there are only winners and losers: no one is in the middle. He recalls a story about a friend who once had a streak of excellent luck in Reno. For three consecutive weeks, the man won a lot of money. On the fourth week, he decided to skip the casinos and share his new fortune with some friends. The casino noticed his absence and called him, asking him to return and promising him top-of-the-line amenities. The man took the bait. He promptly lost every cent he had won and then some. The casino’s “collection agency” pursued him for every dollar he owed.
Thompson also reflects on Las Vegas’s seemingly arbitrary...
(The entire section is 567 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 7 Summary
The men arrive at the Mint Hotel and Casino, parking properly this time so as not to attract unwanted attention. As they go up to their room and try to unlock the door, Thompson sees that he has two different room keys. One, his attorney explains, is to Lacerda’s room. He thought they might need it at some point, so he stole it. An argument ensues. The attorney is certain Lacerda has been trying to steal his "girlfriend." Thompson knows the attorney is delusional. He remembers that the attorney had outright insulted the girl when they were all on an elevator together. She certainly has no interest in the attorney.
No matter how ridiculous the argument is, no matter how misplaced the anger, Thompson knows not to...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 8 Summary
Chapter 8 begins with Thompson reminiscing about the first time he ingested LSD. He remembers trying to talk to a doctor who was famous for experimenting with the drug. Before his own first experience with LSD, Thompson wanted to ask the doctor some questions about what to expect. Thompson goes to the doctor’s home and finds the man out in his garden, humming. Despite Thompson’s repeated attempts to get the doctor’s attention, the man continues to hum, deliberately ignoring Thompson. The doctor’s inability, or lack of desire, to communicate disturbs Thompson so much that he does not try LSD for another six months.
His first LSD “trip” takes place at the “The Fillmore Auditorium” in San Francisco....
(The entire section is 460 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 9 Summary
Thompson and his lawyer have decided to flee from their hotel, which will be expecting payment. Thompson knows that he cannot pay the enormous bill. He also knows that the magazine is ultimately responsible for his hotel debt.
Thompson suddenly realizes that he is alone. The attorney must have “sensed trouble” and flown back to Los Angeles. Not for the first time, Thompson wonders how Horatio Alger, the writer who penned dozens of rags-to-riches novels, would handle such a situation.
Thompson finds himself giving into panic. He is alone with the Great Red Shark, a very expensive car that is not his. He is high on drugs. His attorney has left him alone with a...
(The entire section is 398 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 10 Summary
Thompson becomes increasingly nervous as he continues to wait for the valet to bring The Shark around. Finally he hears a voice calling, “MISTER DUKE!” (the pseudonym under which he had taken his room at the hotel). He hears the voice again but thinks he is hallucinating. Again he hears, “MISTER DUKE! Wait!”
Thompson thinks he has been discovered sneaking out of the hotel and believes he will be arrested. He wonders what it will be like to write a novel behind bars. A lot of people have done so successfully, he reasons. He remembers visiting the prison in Carson City, Nevada, on assignment for a story. He interviewed a lot of people there, both cops and cons. All were eager to see their story in print, to have...
(The entire section is 627 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 11 Summary
It is now 9 a.m. on Tuesday. Thompson has almost left the Las Vegas city limits but has stopped at a tavern. In another few hours, he will be driving into Los Angeles, where he and his car will be completely inconspicuous. But until then the red Cadillac is like a shout disrupting the calm and quiet Nevada highway. There is no way to make himself any less visible. It seems that even the sun has turned against him; the day has turned grey and menacing.
As he sips a beer at the restaurant, Thompson suddenly finds himself “in the grip of a serious fear.” A plane takes off and Thompson wonders if Larceda is aboard, headed home after the race. It occurs to Thompson that he does not even know who won the Mint 400, which...
(The entire section is 486 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 12 Summary
Some three and a half hours after leaving the tavern, Thompson has driven as far as Baker, California. He has not slept in at least three days, perhaps four. He is still high but knows “the crash is coming.” He knows there is no sympathy for him, nor should there be. “Buy the ticket, take the ride” is Thompson’s motto.
He thinks about two very bad experiences and close calls he just endured. The first incident involved the California Highway Patrol and the second involved a “phantom hitchhiker.” Thompson says a squad car came up behind him on the highway. Rather than do what most people would do, Thompson leads the cop on a high-speed chase. Finally he pulls over abruptly, causing the speeding police car...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary
Thompson is just twenty miles east of Baker, California. It is hot. He says he feels like killing something—anything—maybe one of those big desert lizards. He honks his horn several times trying to attract an iguana or two. He is startled when he almost falls down, knocked off his balance by three loud shots. He is even more startled to realize he is the one who fired them. It would be a difficult thing to explain to a passing police officer. Quickly, he pitches the gun into the front seat. He concocts a story in his head to offer a cop should one happen to stop and inquire about the gunshots. He thinks he will say the gun has a hair-trigger. Furthermore, he will tell the cop he only intended to fire a single shot and, what’s...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 2 Summary
Thompson decides it is time to ditch the Great Red Shark. The convertible is far too conspicuous. The best place to get rid of it, he reasons, is in the airport’s parking lot. He finds a spot between two enormous Air Force buses and walks to the terminal, which is a good distance on foot. By the time he arrives, his clothes are soaked in sweat. He used to worry about how much he sweated until he went to his doctor and told him how many, and how many different kinds, of drugs he regularly ingested. The stunned physician told Thompson that given his history, he should begin worrying if he stops sweating. This would mean his organs had ceased trying to flush out the poison in his system.
“In Vegas, they kill...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 3 Summary
Thompson goes up to his room at the Flamingo after checking in downstairs. He tells the bellboy to bring up several bottles of booze. He is looking forward to a few hours of quiet for reflection. Covering this conference, he knows, will be a much different experience from reporting on the Mint 400. At the race, no one seemed to notice or care about his behavior or appearance. Additionally, covering the race had been an “observer gig.” The conference will require “participation.”
It is such an irony, he thinks, that he has been sent to write a story about people who would gladly put him and all others like him behind bars. He feels a bit of pride at the thought of being among this group of straights and standing...
(The entire section is 594 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary
Thompson and his attorney sneak up to their room in the Flamingo via the back entrance of the hotel. A flashing red message light on the phone greets the pair as they enter. Thompson calls down to the front desk to find out who has called. Once again, Thompson has registered under the pseudonym Raoul Duke. The clerk, with some hesitation, tells him that one call was from the conference organizers to welcome him to the event; the other, he stammers, was from someone named Lucy, who says to call her “at the Americana, Room 1600.”
Thompson is taken aback. This is most unwelcome news. He goes to tell the attorney, who has already submerged himself in the bathtub. “I feel like Othello,” Thompson says, because...
(The entire section is 448 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 5 Summary
Thompson is hastily packing his bags, about to make good on his promise to leave. He wants none of the trouble Lucy might bring to them both. His attorney, however, stops him. He calls Lucy and tells the still-hallucinating girl that he has beaten up Thompson, who is no longer a threat to anyone; he is not dead, the lawyer assures her, but he is seriously hurt. Then the lawyer tells her he is about to leave the hotel. He claims Thompson has written the Flamingo a bad check and that she needs to be careful because Thompson had listed her as a reference. As such, he warns, the police will be looking for her to recover the hotel’s money. The attorney also cautions Lucy to not call the Flamingo or their room again because the line is...
(The entire section is 497 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 6 Summary
Thompson and his attorney head down at noon for the opening of the National District Attorneys’ Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Low-fidelity speakers dot the conference hall. The sound system leaves much to be desired. Black, upright speakers are everywhere, blocking the view for many people. Those around the speakers tend to look at the speakers rather than the person delivering the address on the stage. It gives the entire assembly an odd feel, “depersonalizing” the space in an odd way and also giving off an air that is both “ominous and authoritarian.” Thompson thinks the whole setup seems very antiquated, something of which Ulysses S. Grant might have approved.
The equipment is...
(The entire section is 445 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 7 Summary
The day of speeches at the conference wears interminably on. Thompson has not learned a single thing. Although the program invites anyone who is in the “know” to “teach,” he thinks wiser of the suggestion. He does not think his version of teaching would go over well. He feels bored and wishes he could make the hours more tolerable by getting high on mescaline but decides that, too, is not a smart idea. The effect of mescaline, he explains, is to “exaggerate” reality, not completely alter it. He does not want to envision the conference attendees enhanced in any way. A fat couple kissing while sober is almost more than he can bear.
Instead, Thompson listens to the speakers drone on. He becomes increasingly...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 8 Summary
It is now midnight of the evening following the first day of the conference. Thompson’s attorney has insisted they go out for coffee. He gets sick in the car and vomits all over the side of it at a stoplight. Another car pulls up next to them. The couples in the vehicle are overweight and look like they are probably in town for the conference. The attorney does not take kindly to their ignoring the situation. To shock them, he yells an offer to sell them heroin. The couples do not respond. They keep their eyes off of him entirely, but their faces registered their shock. The silent treatment only serves to further enrage the attorney. He shouts again, renewing his offer of “cheap heroin.” The car roars away when the light...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 9 Summary
This chapter begins with an Editor’s Note. It explains that Dr. Duke, also known as Thompson, had “completely broken down.” The hard copy of what Thompson had written was completely illegible. What follows in this chapter, the editor explains, is what could be pieced together from the audiotapes and was “transcribed verbatim”; absolutely no editing took place, and Thompson declined to read it at all. To summarize what follows, the editor managed to discern from the tapes that Thompson and his attorney had come to the conclusion that the elusive American Dream would not show itself at the boring and lifeless District Attorneys’ Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The transcription begins as Thompson and his...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 10 Summary
Thompson’s attorney has decided it is time to go. Thompson takes him to the airport but almost causes his friend to miss the flight because he gets lost on the way. In fact, they are going in the opposite direction of the airport. The attorney is not happy. Thompson tells him not to worry; he has never missed a flight.
Thompson considers the logistics of his situation. There will not be another stoplight where he can turn around for at least five more miles. In Thompson’s estimation, there is only one option: cross the steep and grassy median and get to the opposite side of the freeway. He goes in at an angle, knowing full well that a wrong approach might flip the Whale over. The descent seems precarious for a few...
(The entire section is 599 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 11 Summary
Thompson thinks about the kid who was fined and jailed for vagrancy. He cannot imagine what the penalties might be for his transgressions. He considers the potential charges—rape and larceny among them—but decides the magazine’s lawyers would be wily enough to keep him out of jail for years, probably forever. Thompson fantasizes about moving all over the world; with each move, his defense attorneys would concoct new reasons to delay trials based on the change of venue.
He considers the sanity of such a scheme but then wonders what could be considered sane in a country under the rule of Richard Nixon. Once again, Thompson ponders the changes that have occurred in America since the 1960s. He also thinks about the...
(The entire section is 660 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 12 Summary
It has been nearly three days since the encounter with Alice, the maid, who now thinks she is secretly an informant for the police. The suite has not been cleaned for many days, either by Alice or by any other maid. The state of the rooms is getting progressively worse. Dirty towels are everywhere. Dried vomit coats the floor, as do grapefruit rinds and broken glass from the shattered mirror.
Thompson considers the depth of depravity the scene represents. He knows when it is discovered it will be immediately apparent that this scene was not caused by your run-of-the-mill drug user. It is “too savage, too aggressive.”
As he contemplates the sheer mass of the horror, the phone rings. It is a friend, Bruce...
(The entire section is 436 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 13 Summary
Two bouncers approach Thompson at the baccarat table and tell him it is time to go. They escort him to the front entrance and signal to the valet. They want to know where Thompson’s friend is. Thompson claims ignorance, but one of the bouncers produces a large photograph of him with his attorney.
Although it clearly is Thompson in the picture, he denies being that man. He says it is a guy named Thompson who works for Rolling Stone.His own name, he claims, is Raoul Duke. He says the other man in the photograph is a hit man for the Mafia. The bouncers want to know where he gets this information. Thompson flashes his police conference badge and warns the men to not make a scene. While they are equivocating,...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 14 Summary
Thompson wanders around the airport. He is still wearing his police badge from the conference. The badge reads, “Raoul Duke, Special Investigator, Los Angeles.” He had forgotten about it until he sees it in the mirror while in the men’s room. He tells himself to get rid of it. The meaningless of the conference greatly annoys him and he does not want to be associated with the gathering that he now considers a “cheap excuse” for a thousand cops to hang out in Las Vegas. He is disgusted that this entire conference, whose main purported purpose was to educate law enforcement personnel, had done no such thing. Nothing was learned.
The only thing Thompson takes away from the conference is that those in authority are...
(The entire section is 472 words.)