I wrote this for English class and decided to node it, since some of my other essays turned out pretty popular:
The 1970s in the United States was the end of an era of rediscovery. The world had just undergone a massive cultural revolution, and the power of money was slowly beginning to reassert itself over the society. Amidst the remnants of the hippie culture were those multitudes still fighting to find a way to escape the harshness of the real world. In the fifties, the United States government attempted to offer such an escape in the form of false security, then abused that illusion; in the sixties, this farce was rebelled against violently through activism as well as escapism. Some of this came in the form of often-excessive drug use. In the aftermath that was the seventies, those young enough to rebel but old enough to have seen the whole story were caught in between. These jaded masses saw the slow downfall of the rebellion they had spurred; aftermath in the form of drug overdoses, police brutality, and a waning number of people willing to fight for the all-inclusive Cause that was so apparent a decade before. They faced the torment of knowing they could now do very little to stop it with the only shield they knew: drugs. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson uses the contrast between the characters' perceptions in a drug-induced fugue and the factual world of Las Vegas to illustrate the frightening similarities between savage hallucinations and a murky reality.
Hunter S. Thompson's literary avatar, gonzo journalist Raoul Duke, has procured for himself and his Samoan attorney a suitcase of drugs, an assignment in Las Vegas, and a giant Chevy convertible dubbed the Great Red Shark. They tear off along the highway dabbling in their assorted mix of illegal and controlled substances -
". . . two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers . . . and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls . . ."
- in search of the bloated myth known as the American Dream. The absurdity
of their journey and their methods of reaching their goal is laid plain in a conversation between themselves and a waitress in a taco stand in Boulder City.
"Att'y: 'We're looking for the American Dream, and we were told it was somewhere in this area . . . Well, we're here looking for it, 'cause they sent us out here all the way from San Francisco to look for it.' . . . Waitress: 'Five tacos, one taco burger. Do you know where the American Dream is?' Lou: 'What's that? What is it? . . . is that the old Psychiatrist's Club?' Waitress: 'I think so.'"
The restaurant crew has become so jaded after the last decade that they have no recognition of the concept of the "American Dream."
The almost frenzied pursuit of happiness in the sixties has been replaced in the seventies by disillusionment, depression and desensitization. In the seventies, no one cares about the concept of a bigger, brighter future.
For Raoul and his attorney, future is obscured behind visions of bats and Moray eel-faced women. The hallucinogenic duo combine mescaline and LSD early on in the story, the result being horrific visions and major psychotic episodes.
"My attorney was in the bathtub when I returned. Submerged in green water . . . along with a new AM/FM radio plugged into the electric razor socket. Top volume . . . the whole sheet of blotter acid was chewed up . . . 'I dig my own graves,' he said. 'Green water and the White Rabbit . . . put it on; don't make me use this.' His arm lashed out of the water, the hunting knife gripped in his fist . . . lying there in the tub with a head full of acid and the sharpest knife I've ever seen, totally incapable of reason, demanding the White Rabbit."
This is the psychotic episode mentioned earlier. Only one of multiple cases of drug-induced hysteria in the novel, this acid-and-mescaline binge created a very tense and potentially a very gory scene. Earlier on, acid and mescaline had produced a truly macabre sight for the pair, this one in the hotel bar.
"'But what about our room? And the golf shoes? We're right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo! And somebody's giving booze to the goddamn things! It won't be long before they tear us to shreds. Jesus, look at the floor! Have you ever seen so much blood? How many have they killed already?' . . . 'That's the press table,' he said. 'That's where you have to sign in for our credentials . . .'"
Things have gone beyond bizarre
for the protagonists of the story before the novel has even reached page thirty. Visions of lizards outlandishly foreshadow the cop convention to come, a symbol of the bleak reality they faced. Much later in the novel, these scenes decrease in number proportionate to the amount of LSD and mescaline the protagonists have on hand. The hand of reality
comes slamming down on Raoul and his attorney like some kind of perverse withdrawal
. The pointlessness of life in the United States is laid plain in the idiocy of the government trying to quell the drug rebellion, as illustrated through the National District Attorney's Conference in Las Vegas, which they were later reassigned to cover.
"'We must come to terms with the Drug Culture in this country! . . . The reefer butt is called a 'roach' because it resembles a cockroach . . . cockroach . . . cockroach . . .' 'What the fuck are these people talking about?' My attorney whispered. 'You'd have to be crazy on acid to think a joint looked like a goddamn cockroach!'"
The man whose speech the attorney commented on was a keynote speaker at the convention. As Mr. Thompson later described,
"Here were more than a thousand top-level cops telling each other 'we must come to terms with the drug culture,' but they had no idea where to start. They couldn't even findthe goddamn thing. There were rumors in the hallways that maybe the Mafia was behind it. Or perhaps the Beatles."
These were the people in charge of protecting the country from the drug menace which had reared its ugly head, and they obviously knew next to nothing about the topic. This almost pity-inspiring concept is one of the reasons that the reality Raoul Duke and his Samoan attorney exist in is as bleak and grotesque as the alternative universe they float in while riding the waves of LSD and peyote juice contained within their incongruous black suitcase. Another example of this is the recollection of a client the Samoan attorney once had.
"'Shit!' I snapped. 'How many people has that junkie bastard shot since we've known him? Six? Eight? That evil little fuck is so guilty that I should probably kill him myself, on general principles. He shot that narc just as sure as he killed that girl at the Holiday Inn . . . and that guy in Ventura!' "
Murder, rape, privately owned exotic animals
. . . everything from the grotesque
to the absurd
, including the two examples provided above, is described over the course of Fear
. Each of the myriad points in the book is another rationalization for Raoul to chew another blotter tab. However, the most poignant point is one of the last major ones given in the book:
". . . No doubt they all Got What Was Coming To Them. All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create . . . a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody -- or at least some force -- is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel."
This statement summarizes the condition of disillusionment
that Hunter Thompson's contemporaries were thrown into at the end of the seventies. The crushing fear created by the concept discussed here - that there was no one at the end of the tunnel
- turned the whole generation off mysticism like a light switch. Just like that, the magic died and the myth hung its head and went home. In the book, Hunter's alter-ego kept himself bent on acid
and mescaline in the hope of forgetting, or forgetting, or somehow keeping away the bitter truth he had come to realize and vehemently deny. Raoul's last desperate attempt at this is more symbolic than anything else. In a final, completely non-sequitur event, Raoul gets a phone call about an ape. Someone is waiting for him at Circus Circus to complete an exchange of money for the mammal, but when Raoul arrives he finds that the ape has been taken to jail for assaulting an old man, and is instructed to keep away from it for fear of getting arrested himself. The ape symbolizes the most primal parts of his human nature, the core of his being he had been trying to release throughout the novel by using hard drugs. As he runs out of drugs, the ape finally becomes caged
like the subconscious self he had unleashed for the past few days. This summary action closes the book on Raoul's wild escape.
Drugs couldn't keep reality, worse than the most wicked heroin withdrawal, from hitting Raoul's, and through him, Hunter Thompson's psyche like a sledgehammer. At the end of the book, the galling truth comes through in Raoul's narration as he runs out of acid and into the choking, smog-filled, neon-lit Nevada sunset of the factual world. He has spent the last few days wandering aimlessly about Las Vegas like a friend he described earlier in the novel, searching for what seemed all too clear in the sixties. When the illusion breaks, his mind follows for a time. The end result is even worse than what would have happened if he chose to remain in the real world instead of trying to flee from it. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson uses the conflict between drug-induced fantasy and bitter reality to illustrate that a narcotic fugue is too similar to reality to be an escape from it.