Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the Influence of the Counter Cultural Movement
History is something that defines us, it is also something that influences us.
Everything in our history has led us to this moment here, the moment that you are reading this. Whether you like it or not our own individual history defines who you are and who you want to be. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, the main protagonist, Raoul Duke, (aka Hunter S. Thompson) documents his journey “gonzo style” showing the effects of the counterculture movement of the 1960s.
During the 1960’s and the 1970’s tensions were rising due to race, sexual preferences and social traditions, ultimately sparking the counterculture movement of the 1960’s. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas there are many references of this movement and the main character Raoul Duke could even be seen as a symbol to this movement. One example of this was when Raoul returned to the hotel room which he was sharing with Dr. Gonzo who was listening to white rabbit, “White Rabbit,” he said. “I want a rising sound.” It is very interesting that Dr.gonzo asked for this specific song because White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane is an iconic counterculture song released in 1967, the peak of the counterculture movement and also during the summer of love. It was basically their anthem, “One pill makes you larger And one pill makes you small, And the ones that mother gives you, Don’t do anything at all.” this is a quote from the song “white Rabbit” it describes the illicit drug use that was commonly seen during this time period because of the counterculture movement. Another reference this book has to the counterculture movement was when Raoul said, “San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were here and alive in that corner of time and the world.” This is directly referencing the movement in the 1960’s. Raoul recalls this time as special, he said that there are no words to describe that time period and just being a part of this movement and seeing it was spectacular. It shows that the author was very supportive of this new counterculture and that it seems like he was actually actively involved in this movement as well. This quote could also be referencing the “Summer of Love” in 1967 in San Francisco and how tens of thousands of people, mainly hippies, gathered together. Raoul was very dedicated and enthusiastic towards this movement. However he knew that this movement would ultimately fail. Raoul said, “All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit.” Here you can show Raoul’s frustration, to him it seemed like he was the only one dedicated to this movement, that everyone else was just getting high thinking that the world would fix itself, but the truth is that it won’t, that there is no amount of money that would fix the world. Raoul also stated that the counterculture created, “a generation of permanent cripples” This is because people at the time only wanted to do drugs and get high. That they weren’t willing to put in the work to get the change that they wanted. So, the movement at last crumbled.
The counterculture movement of the 1960 also gave birth to the drug culture, an era that was highly influenced by the use of illicit drugs, the ones that messed you up the most. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo bring, “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.” This quote shows you that these guys are no strangers to drugs. Throughout this book drugs are mentioned on almost every page. This shows how prominent drugs were during the mid 1900s and especially during the counterculture movement. Duke argues that the drug culture was a result of the failure of the movement and that it is a response to the American culture. Raoul says, “Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only real cure is to load up on heinous chemicals”. To Raoul these drugs help him escape the reality of the world and he sees it as the only cure. The lifestyle of drugs and alcohol abuse is not a good life and it is a very slippery slope, Raoul acknowledges this however, he still is constantly under the affect of hardcore drugs it seems as though he would rather be high than face the world for what it is. Raoul Duke is also a representation of the counterculture movement, and that quote shows how the people involved in this movement acted. They were always heavily influenced by the use of illegal drugs which ultimately led to the failure of the movement. Raoul believes that the drug culture won’t be fixed until the American culture is fixed because when the culture is fixed, there will be no reason to use drugs. However, this “fix” doesn’t seem like it will be coming any time soon.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has a lot deeper meanings and concepts than what you might think. There is a lot of hidden knowledge that an average reader would miss. The author really dives deep into the major problems of American culture, especially the failure of the counterculture of the 1960s. He also gives a glance of the birth of a drug culture in the 1970’s. As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Some may never live but the crazy never die”.
- Boundless. “Boundless US History.” Lumen, courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-ushistory/chapter/counterculture/. This source is about the counterculture. It describes what a counterculture is and it describes how the counterculture of the 1960s happened. It talks about the ideals and interests of this movement as well as the music and culture that it brought.
- Chepkemoi, Joyce. “What Was The Counterculture Of The 1960s and 1970s?” WorldAtlas, 30 Nov. 2016, www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-was-the-counterculture-of-the-1960s-and-70s.html This source also talks about the counterculture movement and the effects it has. It ties In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas so it shows how the movement directly influenced the book. It also talks about how Hunter S Thompson was an advocate for this movement and how he ultimately knew this movement would fail.
- Gorton, Thomas. “Hunter S. Thompson’s Daily Routine of Drugs and Booze.” Dazed, 6 Jan. 2016, www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/29029/1/hunter-s-thompson-s-daily-routine-of-drugs-and-booze. This article is about Hunter s Thompson and the drugs he used throughout his life. The book I read is basically the same way he lives. Which is not really caring about anything and doing a whole bunch of drugs. It talks about how he gets up at 3am and drinks whisky and snorts cocaine all day, then takes acid at 10 then begins to write his stories. I don’t understand how one person could do so much drugs. One thing I am curious about would be how much in his lifetime he spent on drugs.
- Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Langara College, 2019. This is the primary source, the book, fear and loathing. It’s about a guy named Hunter S Thompson and he documents his life, more specifically his time in Las Vegas. It talks about all the drugs he does and how he documents the mint 300 which is a race he is told to write about for a magazine company.
- Ulin, David L. “Why’s This So Good? Hunter S. Thompson and ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’” Nieman Storyboard, 13 Apr. 2017, niemanstoryboard.org/stories/whys-this-so-good-hunter-s-thompson-and-fear-and-loathing-in-las-vegas/ This article specifically takes about gonzo journalism. It talks about why it was such a good hit in the time it was made. It goes into it with great detail with lots of quotes from fear and loathing. It talks a lot about the context of the book. It talks about the chaotic life that he had and how his life isn’t like everyone else’s life and that’s why it is so good.
Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Hippie Generation Portrayal
In The United States during the 60’s and 70’s, many U.S. citizens opposed the U.S involvement in the Vietnam war, as well as domestic issues that included racial discrimination. These lead to the counterculture movement, where younger generation of Americans rejected societal norms by taking large amounts of drugs,, indulging in lots of sexual intercourse, and listening to psychedelic rock. These americas later became known as the hippie generation. This generation created many works of art and literature, such as Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream. The semi-fictional novel is a firsthand account of what the Hippie Generation was all about, and is an accurate story of the Hippie generation,
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream follows the life of journalist Raoul Duke and his Attorney Dr. Gonzo as they go to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400, an off road racing event. The characters are supposed to represent the author Hunter S. Thompson and his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, and the events that take place in the novel are the true experiences of his young self. The main characters in this story are always in constant pursuit of drug-induced euphoria, and take any kind of drugs when they can. As a result, the story, told from Raoul Duke’s point of view, is a mixture of real events and drug-induced hallucinations, The novel tells of their stay in Las Vegas as Raoul Duke covers the Mint 400 as well as a seminar that is ironically about illegal drug use. Throughout the story,duke constantly mentions the pursuit of “the American dream” which he attempts to interpret. This “American dream”seems to be lost in all the wildness of the drug induced Las Vegas trip. The two’s’ trip to Vegas is an example of the behavior and mindset of the Hippie generation.
The timeframe for this novel is in the early 70’s, right as the Vietnam war was coming to an end, the civil rights movement had begun, and counterculture was everywhere. At some points, the novel quickly speaks about current events regarding the Vietnam war, which was one of the biggest causes for the movement. “WASHINGTON (AP) – A House Subcommittee report says illegal drugs killed 160 American GI’s last year – 40 of them in Vietnam” (25).Actually, the Vietnam War was opposed by the public due to the media criticism on the issue of U.S military brutality towards the civilians.. The passage is in reference to the issue of drug abuse by soldiers during the war, which killed many of them. The use of drugs by soldiers was coincidental with hippies in the counterculture movement, much like Duke and Gonzo. Soldiers used the drugs to help relieve them of the immense pain, on the other hand, the hippies just wanted to have fun. Nonetheless, article pieces like this and the massive amount of drug use throughout the book accurately reference the time period of the Vietnam war. Another example of historical accuracy can be found in Raoul Duke’s pursuit of understanding “The American Dream”.
Throughout his journey, Raoul Duke mentions the American dream pretty cynically. He said,“You have no faith in the essential decency of the white man’s culture. Jesus, just one hour ago we were sitting over there in that stinking baiginio, stone broke and paralyzed for the weekend, when a call comes through from some total stranger in New York, telling me to go to Las Vegas…and then he sends me over to some strange office in Beverly Hills where another total stranger gives me $300 raw cash for no reason at all . . . I tell you, my man, this is the American dream in action! We’d be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end” (11). The “American dream” that Duke talks about are the great things, which he critiques. when, he criticises the ideal of American capitalism, as he finds out how crazy it is for a potential employer to give him large amounts of cash. This shows of the counterculture movement during the 1970s. Hippies hated normal American ideas such as capitalism, as shown by the character. This is normal from several counterculture developments in history. One of those movements was the “new left”movement. “where college students criticized things such as pression, corruption and racism as basic flaws in the structure of America. They were called the “new left”, to show both the similarities and differences of their ideas with older socialist and communist ones” (ucdavis.edu: “New Left” ). The New Left movement advocated for social equality, and was slightly communist, and always was against American capitalism. Raoul Duke also shows the counterculture theme of social equality. Throughout the book, Dr. Gonzo is harassed and attacked wherever the two go due to his Samoan heritage. Duke finds the racism to be just a part of American culture, the same idea the hippies of the time had.
I enjoyed reading this book and had already watched the movie beforehand. It is very interesting the way Hunter S. Thompson incorporates graphic drug hallucinations into reality, as it gives a real feel to what it is like to be on drugs. It was interesting to read a firsthand account of the counterculture movement. Hunter s. Thompson invented Gonzo journalism, so that also made it an interesting read. I liked watching the movie but reading the book made it a lot better. The way he described being high on drugs was very entertaining. Even if you don’t have time to watch the movie, the way the book was written is still very good and draws the scenes into your mind. Overall, i do recommend that people read and enjoy this book
How LSD is depicted in Terry Gilliam’s fear and loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a movie infamous for its depiction of various types of drug use, particularly concerning Psychedelics. The plot is driven by journalist Raoul Duke and his lawyer Dr. Gonzo on their drug fueled trip to cover stories in Las Vegas. The film depicts various drugs such as Mescaline, LSD, Ether, Marijuana, and a myriad of other substances, but this paper will focus mostly on its depiction of LSD.
Early on in the film, Duke is shown taking several tabs of LSD in the form of blotter paper, and then proceeds to ask how long he has until it kicks in. Gonzo tells him he doesn’t have long and that he would have to speed in order for them to get to Vegas before the drugs kick in. Just over a half an hour later, the effects begin to take hold. The Valet’s face starts shifting and moving as he asks him questions and Duke can no longer keep his composure as well as he could before. When he enters the building, He appears to be a sweaty mess, blaming the heat of Las Vegas. Once he tries to speak to a woman behind the reception counter for a press pass and a room, he can hardly keep his composure at her questions, he has virtually no ability to say what he wants to say in a normal fashion, and, like the Valet’s face before, everything is shifting and “breathing”, particularly patterns on things like rugs and wallpaper, and people’s faces. Soon after, he can no longer control himself as everyone in the building appears to become lizard people, and he begins to panic and not be able to keep his voice down when speaking to Gonzo, drawing a lot of attention to himself, and afterwards he is brought to his hotel room and is hiding behind furniture and overall acting very paranoid.
Now, the time it takes for the subjective effects to happen are typically 20-60 minutes after oral consumption and spreading into the bloodstream and across the blood brain barrier, and lasting 8-12 hours (Maisto, Galizio, and Connors 297-8). This makes the time frame in which the LSD activates and lasts accurate, as it is implied to have started acting on Duke within an hour and lasted until the next morning, where he says he didn’t sleep, meaning from consumption (less than an hour before sundown) to the next morning (give or take 12 hours), matching the route of administration and length of effects. The physiological effects of LSD are generally similar to that of Stimulants such as Amphetamines and Cocaine (Maisto, Galizio, and Connors 299). This would make LSD sympathomimetic, and leads to effects such as increased heart rate, high blood pressure, dilated pupils, high body temperature, and sweating. This is shown when Duke is sweating heavily before he gets to the reception at the hotel, blaming the hot Vegas weather, when in reality it’s the large amount of LSD he took making these effects happen.
As for the vivid changes in what he was seeing, such as the lights blaring, colors showing up, patterns and objects “breathing” and faces shifting, etc. The reasons for this are hard to pinpoint exactly, however, it is believed that since hallucinogens in the same class as LSD (Serotonergic Hallucinogens) all bind to the 5-HT2A Receptors that they have much to do with the effects drugs like LSD have on mood and perceptions, behaving similarly to Serotonin (Maisto, Galizio, and Connors 297). It is also a known agonist of these receptors. However, since other drugs that affect serotonin also don’t cause hallucinations (Such as MDMA, another type of Hallucinogen, or SSRIs), it is still up for debate what truly makes these hallucinations happen. However, Duke’s strange mood and visual hallucinations are relatively accurate, given the way the drugs are reported to work (Maisto, Galizio, and Connors 299).
Something Duke and Gonzo both experienced were some of the adverse effects of the drugs. Particularly panic in Duke’s case and Psychosis in Gonzo’s. This is seen when Duke can’t compose himself in any way socially, freaking out when people question him or look at him. His paranoia and panic attacks are a known issue regarding LSD, particularly in the 1960’s when there were walk in crisis centers dedicated to calming people with these effects down (Maisto, Galizio, and Connors 300). In Gonzo’s case, however, he becomes absolutely psychotic when on LSD and other Hallucinogens in the same class in the film. Every time he uses hallucinogens in the film he ends up threatening to kill people and himself. He becomes dangerous to himself and others, despite the fact that he seems relatively well adjusted when sober. This shows the idea that LSD brings out psychosis in some people. It is unknown whether LSD creates a state of psychosis in these people or if there were already latent problems in them and the LSD just magnifies it. The conclusion is hard to find here, since evidence is hard to find because psychotic users of LSD tend to use other, harder drugs as well, and because we don’t entirely understand LSDs effects, but it is generally agreed that it can bring psychosis out in disturbed or emotionally vulnerable individuals, and in Gonzo, this manifests itself in his threatening of various bystanders and acting like a lunatic (Maisto, Galizio, and Connors 302)
In conclusion, the effects of LSD in the movie are almost spot on to what studies have shown about LSD, from the physical effects to the psychological effects down to the adverse effects, almost everything that happens in the movie is accurate to what would happen according to the studies shown. The only problem here, however, is that LSD isn’t an incredibly well documented drug, with hallucinogens in general being a sort of enigmatic branch of substances. This, along with the fact that, as of now, it is generally accepted that LSD has widely ranging effects depending on the individual, means that virtually anything, particularly when it comes to visual hallucinations, can be a justified and “correct” depiction of LSD (for example we know the effects that it has on Serotonin and that this may be the reason for visual hallucination, but the exact reasons why and the extent of the hallucinations are unknown from a physiological standpoint). However, as of now, the representation of LSD is almost perfect in relation to how it is shown to act in studies.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Thompson’s Satire of the American Dream
The American Dream is a concept that first takes on its concrete form in The Epic of America; it is described as “That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement…That dream or hope has been present from the start.” (Adams, xvi). And though it is certainly a term taken ambiguously at best, this classification is one that rings mostly true to its central idea, which is akin to the Horatio Alger pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps ideal. It has several tangents and different interpretations, but it is largely regarded as associated with wealth or advancement of some sort. What Hunter S. Thompson seeks to do in his painfully satirical novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, is not only to deconstruct and realize the absurdity of such an idea but to kick it while it is down and make a mockery of it. Thompson rejects the idea of the American Dream with such severity that he associates it with a hallucination-crazed, drug-induced weekend binge of absolute nonsensicalness.
To begin, it is necessary to get a slightly more exhaustive grasp on the American Dream as an ideal. One of its essential properties is that every American ought to have equal opportunity and that anyone can reach success or prosperity through hard work. This needs some unpacking, and this is where seriously vast interpretations begin to surface. What exactly is success or prosperity? There is, of course, no universal answer to this; some would consider a modest life with all the modest trappings that come with it as successful whereas to others it may be superfluous wealth and luxury, etc. To Thompson (if we look at Fear and Loathing as rooted in autobiography, which is a reasonably safe and agreed-upon claim), it is subjecting himself to every drug imaginable and going on misadventures throughout Las Vegas. Duke, Thompson’s alias, says the following while driving down Main Street, blasted on drugs: “Ah yes. This is what it’s all about. Total control now. Tooling along the main drag on a Saturday night in Las Vegas, two good old boys in a fireapple-red convertible…stoned, ripped, twisted…Good People.” (Thompson 29). Subjective success is as varying as snowflakes, so already the idea of the American Dream begins to see some distortion across the board. The above passage could hardly be considered anything even close to a universal idea of success; however, to Thompson, it is. Or at least it can be interpreted as such.
What exactly constitutes “hard work”? Is it working an exhaustive sixty hours a week? Important to note too is that hard work often is not included in one’s ideal picture of success. And is it a truthful claim to say that all Americans have equal opportunity? If a Black person, a White person, a Middle-Eastern person, and a Mexican person somehow all put in an equal amount of “hard work”, is it intellectually honest to say they will all yield the same benefits? Already there is a formidable margin that begins to form.
When Duke is at the Circus-Circus sitting at the bar, negotiating buying a monkey (“Goddammit…I want that ape”), he claims to be sitting in the heart of the American Dream:
He seemed surprised. “You found the American Dream?” he said. “In this town?”
I nodded. “We’re sitting on the main nerve right now,” I said. (Thompson 190, 191)
He then goes on to relate the story of the manager who, as a kid, wanted to run away to the circus. And now he had his own circus. Bruce, the person he is talking to at the bar, says, “Now the bastard has…a license to steal, too…You’re right—he’s the model.” (Thompson 191).
What is absolutely crucial to Thompson’s view of the American Dream is the fact that he places the “nerve” of it in not only in Las Vegas, which is portrayed as a nonsensical, crazy town, but in the Circus-Circus no less, the epicentre for the absurd and harebrained. This could be interpreted through a couple different lenses. One interpretation is that the idea of “success” in the American Dream is so personal, so random, so subjective that these ideas could be so medley as to be comparable to the chaos that is the Circus-Circus. However, from what is known of Hunter S. Thompson and his eccentricities and views on government/big-business America, a more likely interpretation is that the very idea of an “American Dream”, with all its ambiguities, false promises, and romanticism, is such a completely absurd and ridiculous idea that it is not only as ludicrous as a circus, but is comparable to the Circus-Circus while having been on a motley of hallucinogens.
Along with that, the agreed upon “model” for the American Dream is, as claimed by Duke, someone who wants to join a circus, receives his own, and then is able to steal. The end line here is that the Circus-Circus manager’s success is defined by his being able to steal. This is hugely satirical towards the American Dream, Americans themselves, and it even extends to capitalism. Thompson, in the above passage, depicts the American Dream to be goofy, nonsensical, and selfish. With such being the epitome of the American Dream and everything it stands for, Thompson sends a significant attack on America and its ideals, prompting perhaps a re-evaluation of such.
Another of Thompson’s comparisons is seen when Duke and Dr. Gonzo are inquiring about the American Dream, and a waitress and a man named Lou take it as a physical place. Thompson plays with words here by having the waitress recall the physical place’s location on a street called “Paradise”. This, of course, deals with the idea that the American Dream will yield some modern sort of capitalist “paradise” or some accessible paradisiacal form of success. Also important to this idea is that the waitress and Lou both cannot exactly pinpoint this supposed place’s location. What Thompson shows here is that the American Dream cannot be found because it does not exist. It is the chase towards success that people can never escape, and the American Dream is ultimately unattainable. Continuing on this tangent, Lou later asks, “…did somebody just send you on a goose chase?” (Thompson, 165). Again, this further concretes Thompson’s message that the American Dream is a nonsensical and unreachable ideal. Success is so subjective, America can oftentimes be criminally judgemental and unequal, and it is essentially just an insane idea to even consider. After an entire chapter devoted towards trying to ascertain the American Dream’s location (the supposed physical place), Duke and Dr. Gonzo eventually reach what used to be a psychiatrist’s club that is described as such: “…a huge slab of cracked, scorched concrete in a vacant lot full of tall weeds. The owner of a gas station across the road said the place had ‘burned down about three years ago.’” (Thompson 168). This is the icing on Thompson’s metaphorical cake: a psychiatrist’s purpose is to diagnose and treat mental illness. The comparisons are clear. Chasing the American Dream is akin to a sort of mental illness, a delusion; Thompson might even extend that comparison perhaps to a drug-induced weekend of hallucinations and absurdity. Not only that, but the place itself, the American Dream, had burned down. Thompson implies here that if there ever was an American Dream, in the abstract sense, that it is long gone, it is completely desecrated, and it has been in such a state for so long that a lot “full of tall weeds” had been able to flourish.
On a larger scale, the reader may look at the trip in general in a metaphorical, while not too abstract, light in which it relates to the American Dream. Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo both are under the influence of an intense amount of hallucinogens, which are, of course, known best in accordance with the counterculture of the 1960s. Keep in mind that Duke is from the very beginning of the novel claiming to be looking for “the American Dream”. The reader may look at this hallucinogen-binge as Duke’s, and on a larger scale the youth and counterculture of the 1960s, attempt to reclaim and in turn remold what society looked at as the American Dream. Until then, it was perceived to be that of an essentially capitalist system. Duke, and the 1960s counterculture, attempted to deny this and to consequently create their own, independent version of the American Dream. Going further down the line of this metaphor, the reader may also look to how the trip ultimately turned out for Duke: with an intense hangover and no sign of having found this American Dream which he had originally set out for. The same can apply in a sense to the entirety of the 1960s counterculture. While the movement gradually ended and emerged with a societal “hangover”, they were left without having “found” the “American Dream”.
That is not to say that there were no reformations, perhaps even in the idea of the American Dream itself. To many of the participants in the counterculture, they were, whether it was through drug-induced hallucinations or not, able to ascertain that there is no real grasp of a universal American Dream. Their misadventures led them to the fact that it is in fact chimerical. The reader may see this view reflected in Thompson’s writing in that the “main nerve” of the American Dream was found in a circus.
One may look at the novel from the viewpoint that “ Hunter S. Thompson is America…” (Copetas), and this is to say that Thompson’s exploits in Las Vegas represent the vulnerable, misguided, and fragmented people of the counterculture in 1960s America. Thompson, and all of the individuals sharing his worldview, shares some parallels with existential philosophy as well. In a time where everything has fallen apart and there is no direction to be found, one is faced with indecision and uncertainty; however, by the same token, one is also allowed to rebuild the fragments in any way one wants. It is a time of possibility as well as chaos. Thompson’s journey to Las Vegas is a first step in testing the waters and in finding not the American Dream, but rather his own sense and purpose in life.
Adams, James Truslow, and Schneiderman, Howard. The Epic of America. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1931. Print.
Copetas, A. Craig. “When the Going Gets Weird.” Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Deborah A. Schmitt, vol. 104, Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center, login.ezp.mesacc.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=LitRC&sw=w&u=mcc_mesa&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CH1100001922&it=r&asid=45df7d14daa44bb532e62c2be72b94a1. Accessed 14 Apr. 2017. Originally published in London Review of Books, vol. 14, no. 23, 19 Dec. 1991.
Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and loathing in Las Vegas: a savage journey to the heart of the American dream. New York: Vintage , 1998. Print.
The Concept of Goodness: as captured by Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and The Book of Daniel
In “Book VI” of the Republic, Plato states that the good in our souls is the “…authentic source of truth and reason,” that the good is the cause of all”…that is right and beautiful (Plato 517c),” that it is through reference to the idea of the good that “…just things and all the rest become useful and beneficial (Plato 505a).” The Good, therefore, according to Plato, is the cause of the forms as well as the cause of knowledge and reason (Davis). In other words, the good is the cause of the exact qualities which we have up to this point found essential to the grasp of what goodness is. The three novels share the characters’ experience with both “goodness” and the deterioration of this “goodness” in many facets. And so, perhaps the most evident theme within these three titles (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Lives of Girls and Women, and The Book of Daniel) is the corruption of this “goodness”. Each novel attempts to define “goodness” through its characters’ contention in order to exhibit human existence without this “goodness”.
Initially, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Dr. Gonzo and Raoul Duke discuss this falling out with goodness as it pertains to the American Dream and the people’s quarrel with their trust in the American bureaucracy. As suggested by the text’s subtitle, ‘A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream’, Duke’s quest to find the American Dream drives his every action during his inebriated journey through Las Vegas. Duke notes that, “this is the American Dream in action! We’d be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end” (Thompson 11), when he refers to the great sum of money he was gifted by a man in Beverly Hills. The “strange torpedo” symbolizes the volatility of the traditional concept of the American Dream; “strange” is used to describe the unfamiliarity or alien-like quality of the American Dream, as if it had never existed or at least no longer exists.. However, Duke does not accept the traditional version of the American Dream—that is, hard-earned capitalist success, classic standards of family life and morals, which he believes to be a dated and undesirable goals. Instead he believes that the counterculture ultimately failed to debunk the capitalist paradigm and views his voyage as a continuation of this search (Weiss). Duke explains his search when he says,
“Let me explain it to you, let me run it down just briefly if I can. 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. That’s why they gave us this white Cadillac, they figure that we could catch up with it in that…”(Thompson 164). Dr. Gonzo and Raoul Duke attempt to find a physical manifestation of the American Dream, but it is destroyed when they discover that it is “a huge slab of cracked, scorched concrete in a vacant lot full of tall weeds [that] … burned down about three years ago” (Thompson 168).
This is a paradox because (according to Duke) faith in the American Dream and therefore, goodness, gives many believers strength but it does so by forcing them to relinquish their power to become a part of a society that accepts this frail idea of what America “should” be.
Moreover, in The Book of Daniel by E.L Doctorow, forever scarred by their parent’s arrest, trial and execution, Daniel and Susan experience the swift corruption of their innate goodness. Susan’s suicide and Daniel’s twisted personality traits are a direct reflection of the turmoil they suffered throughout their childhood. Susan and Daniel both deal with the legacy of their parents in radically different ways. Daniel visits Susan after she has been institutionalized and he notes that, “Today Susan is a starfish. Today she practices the silence of a starfish. There are few silences deeper than the silence of the starfish. There are many degrees of life lower before there is no life” (Doctorow 207). Daniel observes his sister as a starfish because she is so lifeless, so inert, so silent and immutable (Estrin). Daniel believes his sister died from a “failure to analyse”. She could not fully internalize what happened to their parents since she was very young when the events of the trial and execution occurred. It was then when she became confused (thinking the Shelter was jail) and evinced signs of inner turmoil and craving for control (incontinence).
Daniel, however, progresses with the experience of his parents legacy in a very different way. Daniel’s personality changes in conjunction with his parents execution. Probably one of Daniel’s most disturbing personality traits is his disposition towards his wife. He explains to the reader, his pride in exposing Phyllis’ insecurities and weaknesses, especially her sexual ones. Daniel recounts numerous times throughout the novel, on his sexual endeavors with Phyllis, deeming her a “sex martyr” and eventually comes to the conclusion that this is why he married her. Daniel goes so far as to tell the reader that his actions are directly a cause of his childhood when he says, “We tried to share responsibility for my actions. We considered me as our mutual problem. I was shameless (Doctorow 99), and instead he and his wife understand this burden and have agreed to share its repercussions. It is this shift in moral compass after his parent’s execution that Daniel begins this unrighteous course of abuse and destruction.
Ultimately, Thompson and Doctorow both demonstrate how a lack or loss of “goodness” explains the mal-experience of the characters within their stories. Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo’s quest for the American dream can be likened to a quest for traditional “goodness” in America during the early 1970’s, burned down (Thompson) and destroyed. Daniel’s corrupt sense of “goodness” is far from tangible throughout Doctorow’s unsettling story, as the reader experiences the shift in Daniel’s personality with Daniel and the other characters affected by his wrath. It is the culmination, however, of Thompson, Doctorow, and Plato that truly explains how without “goodness” the human experience is impossible.