Madness Portrayed through Diction and Tone in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
In Hunter S. Thomas’s work, (an excerpt from) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, diction is used in a way to really complement the imagery that it portrays. Thompson also uses diction and tone to relate the many negative connotations within the text, and to express his overall point of madness, again and again.
Within Thompson’s work the use of the type of diction can be a strong indicator of the message that is trying to be relayed. Within the first paragraph alone there are examples of this extreme diction. In the first line the text reads, “ The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. (Thompson pg 407)” Within this sentence alone there are several examples of the informal and slang diction Thomas uses throughout his work. The, “…whole hep world” can be related to the slang portion of diction. Slang is characteristically more metaphorical and playful, which can be seen in the text, “…if the Nazis had won the war.” This statement suggests that Thompson has a cynical outlook from the very beginning towards the Circus-Circus establishment. Thompson continues to use this style of diction saying, “ This is the Sixth Reich. (pg.407) ” The fact that Thompson would compare the Third Reich (the Nazi government in Germany between 1933-1945) to the Circus-Circus really drives home exactly the environment that Thompson is trying to relay. In addition, the fact that Thompson referred to Circus-Circus as the Sixth Reich instead of the fourth relates an even deeper meaning behind the text. Considering that Nazi Germany was only in its Third Reich when they were defeated, would leave the reader to assume that Circus-Circus is so tortuous to its patrons that it skipped all the Reichs in between, and was promoted straight up to the sixth. The use of the term “Sixth Reich” can even be related to the mark of the devil considering it is the sixth reich, which surpassed three non-existent reichs. This establishment, in the eyes of Thompson, is the epicenter of the loosely moraled man (or woman). Thompson chose to use the diction in a way to relate the metaphorical meaning more often than the expected. This usage may confuse the reader, and thus, the point of the text goes unknown. This practice is common and often critiqued as it has been in the following text, “…for the imagery and the rhythm are not merely the instruments by which this fancied core-of-meaning-which-can-be-expressed-in-a-paraphrase is directly rendered…their mediation is not positive and direct. Indeed, whatever statement we may seize upon as incorporating the “meaning” of the poem, immediately the imagery and rhythm seem to set up the tensions with it, warping and twisting it, qualifying and revisiting it (Brooks pg 197).” Thompson has chosen the indirect mode of diction, which relates to the over sense of madness within the work.
The choice of the diction relates to the overall negative tone of the work. In the first paragraph the text reads, “ …but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange Country-Fair/ Polish Carnival madness is going on up there… (pg. 408)” Thompson repeated usage of the term “high” relates a sense of the Circus-Circus being larger than life. The use of this motif is shown again a few lines down, “…the Forty Flying Carazito Brothers are doing a high-wire trapeze act…” Thompsons useage of this motif can be linked to the idea that the environment has that larger than life feel, but also that the patrons are all under the influence of alcohol (this is a casino after all), and thus, might feel like they are high up in the air with the performers. It’s this dark intensity that is transmitted throughout Thompson’s work, and very evident in his choice of diction and relating tone.
In the last paragraph of the work Thompson goes on to say, “…Reality itself is too twisted(p.408).” This statement reveals again the overall sense of immoral behavior and dark intentions, when it is associated with the usage of these intoxicants by the patrons. The fact that Thompson chose the word “twisted” in the quote above is an example, again, of these negative connotation within his diction. The word twisted itself brings up images of dishevelment, and general uneasiness, which can be linked by to Thompsons overall message of madness within the text. The quote above can even be interpreted from, “Reality itself is too twisted,” to reality has now surpassed insanity. This statement delivers, once again, Thompsons obsession with madness within the text. This obsession with madness, and with the strange and unusual, can be seen throughout the text; with Thompsons uses of specific words. In particular the term “Bizarre” (in the second paragraph, line four) really jumps out as unusual. This word, “bizarre,” takes on double meaning within the text. The term can be interpreted as meaning a open market with random or strange additions. This definition alone takes on the characteristics of the patrons; a random and strange group of individuals.
Thompsons continues to use terms that bring up images of dishevelment and chaos, so to speak. He uses words such as, “funhouse, carnival, and circus,” which at first glance bring up images of easy going fun, however with the overall tone of the work these words take on new meaning. These words (“funhouse, carnival, and circus”) from the very beginning give off, within Thompson’s work, a sense of insanity or even entrapment, which can be considered quite ironic.
Another example of irony has also found its way into Hunter Thompson’s work, (an excerpt from) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. At the end of the second paragraph Thompson goes on to say, “ Stand in front of this fantastic machine, my friend, and for just 99¢ your likeness will appear, two hundred feet tall, on a screen above downtown Las Vegas. Ninety-nine cents more for a voice message. “ ‘Say whatever you want fella. They’ll hear you, don’t worry about that. Remember you’ll be two hundred feet tall.’(p.408) ” This statement communicates a strong message of irony within its text. Some unknown person can for 1.98 be projected high into the night sky almost as if to say they are a sort of god. This person would feel a sense of importance as his face and message are related to hordes of the general public, but in reality this individual is just some joe schmoe who had a few extra quarters in his back pocket to spare.
Within Thompson’s work the theme of the “American Dream” can be found in the attitudes of the patrons of Circus-Circus. The fact that these individuals are allowed to go to a legitimate business and engage in these activities that can be seen as immoral to many, correlates with the idea of freedom within the American Dream. However, the attitudes of the patrons convey a strong paradox within the text. The fact that the patrons are able to engage in these scandalous and unethical activities contradicts what the “American Dream” is all about. With this having been said, the attitudes could also be considered the death of the American Dream. Nevertheless, these attitudes cannot be truly denied the title of the “American Dream”, because in the end the dream is to be free to chose your own path in life without fear of persecution, and these patrons have taken advantage of this and chosen their path. This is a perfect example of a paradox, which relates a message that seems absurd or contradictory, but in reality also contains a possible hidden truth. This particular device is often confusing for the reader and can be seen critique in the following text from the Well Wrought Urn, “ …for the frequent occurrence in the preceding chapter of such terms as “ambiguity”, “paradox”,…Perhaps they are inadequate. Perhaps they are misleading. It is to be hoped in that case that we can eventually improve upon them…But adequate terms…will have to be terms which do justice to the special kind of structure which seems to emerge as the common structure… (p.195)” This text parallels the idea that the text may be misunderstood when devices such as paradox come into the picture.
This idea of the “anti American Dream” can be found not only in the attitudes of the patrons, but also in the many references to illegal narcotics. In the last two paragraphs of the work, Thompson puts quite a lot of emphasis on phrases such as; “drug person”, “acid fanciers”, and “psychedelic drugs”. Thompsons use of these terms can be transcribed into the metaphorical motif of the “death of the American Dream”. Thompson goes on to say, “…But nobody can handle that other trip–the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into Circus-Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas…(p.408)” This statement reflects another bold statement by Thompson; that this town, Las Vegas, (and the Circus-Circus in particular) are so far away from reality that in comparison psychedelic drugs are the lesser of the two evils (in Thompson’s mind). Thompson acknowledges again, and again the insanity within this establishment. In the second paragraph he has this to say, “ This madness goes on and on, but nobody seems to notice. (p.408)” This statement confirms the idea of the patrons acceptance of madness, and in turn the death of the American Dream, so to speak. This statement also speaks to the idea that the patrons have completly zoned out of life. This idea can be backed up from this line of the text, “ Meanwhile, on all the upstairs balconies, the customers are being hustled by every conceivable kind of bizarre shuck. (p.408)” This quote brings to life the idea that these individual have, in a way, given up their free will, and are being “hustled” around. The word hustled, in the text, conveys two separate meanings. The first explanation being the original definition of being trick or coned. The second meaning relays a hidden agenda; that the carnies are “hustling” the patrons like cattle from one money trap to another; this is , in a way, where their freedom is being willingly surrendered.
Thompson references many controversial topics, including that of the Nazi variety. In the third paragraph he has this to say, “Jesus Christ, I could see myself lying in bed in the Mint Hotel, half-asleep and staring idly out the window, when suddenly a vicious nazi drunkard appears two hundred feet tall in the midnight sky, screaming gibberish at the world: ‘Woodstock Über Alles!’(p.408) ” The reference at the end of the quote relays the message, “ Woodstock Over Everything”, This message is a perfect example of a contradiction within the text. A contradiction is a mix of statements or ideas that oppose one another. The fact that Thompson chose to incorporate the Nazis ( a true picture of corruption and confinement) with the free flowing ideals of woodstock (which represented ultimate freedom in the 1960’s) openly represents a contradiction within his text. Thompson also chose to loosely resolve this contradiction; in the next paragraph he goes on to say, “ We will close the drapes tonight. (p.408)” Thompson choses to resolve this contradiction in the same manner in which the patrons of Circus- Circus conduct themselves; Thompson completely ignores it. He spends almost the entire work bashing the practice of ignoring the obscene, and yet, in the end, Thompson himself falls prey to the obscenity of Circus-Circus, and to Las Vegas herself.
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