(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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.)