Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Summary
by Hunter S. Thompson

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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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. Gonzo frequently teeters a line which legitimately threatens his own life, and, by the midpoint of the text, coverage of the Mint 400 largely has taken a backseat to escaping Las Vegas. In their decadence, Duke and Gonzo have possibly crossed a line by running up an absurd hotel tab that they have no intentions of paying. In Thompson’s own hallucinatory state of self-disgust and paranoia, the legitimate fear and loathing of the book, he wonders if Las Vegas’s reputation for settling up with welshers through lethal, if not legal, means might be employed upon him.

Part Two expands the gonzo aspects of the book and introduces, if not cements, it with irony. On the lam from seemingly everyone in Las Vegas and headed back to his California home, Thompson receives a telegram informing him that he has received a high-paying assignment to cover the National Conference of District Attorney’s four-day seminar on drugs and narcotics. The idea itself of Thompson—in his own mind a dilettante to the drug culture but a far better resource on the subject matter than district attorneys—covering the people who try to debilitate and legislate the drug scene in the United States is too tempting an opportunity to pass up.

In an instance of a Christian walking directly into the lions’ den, Duke and Gonzo infiltrate the drug conference and are amazed at how far behind America’s legal enforcers are to the American drug scene. Disenchanted, they both come to realize that there is no pragmatic danger of them being caught on drugs as, even though they are surrounded by the nation’s drug enforcers, the attorneys are entirely clueless as to the nature of the drug user and drug culture. They leave the conference and pick up the quest for the American Dream, which, Thompson comes to find, does not exist. His final reaction and rejection leads him to believe that perhaps Alger may have been more right than he initially realized: The American Dream can be found in Las Vegas, as any child who grew up wanting to be part of the circus can indeed grow up to be the proprietor of Circus Circus, a low-rated resort and casino, which Thompson regards with little value. The irony for Thompson comes full circle here, as he discovers that with success can also come self-loathing.


(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...

(The entire section is 1,111 words.)