Raoul Duke’s Chase For the American Dream
Creator of Stratton Oakmont, former stockbroker Jordan Belfort once commented on his employees saying, “They were drunk on youth, fueled by greed, and higher than kites.” Belfort served as the main protagonist in recent Oscar nominated film The Wolf of Wall Street; in the film Belfort becomes an extremely successful and wealthy stockbroker through the use of deception and corruption. In addition, the story features a wide array of drugs and prostitution as work on Wall Street is depicted as dirty and immoral. Belfort is eventually consumed by greed as his lust for money ultimately culminates in his imprisonment. The film offers an insight on the American Dream as instead of hard work and dedication, the characters cheat and swindle others to achieve success and gain wealth. Similarly, in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the main character Raoul Duke heads to Las Vegas in search of the American Dream. Accompanied by his “attorney” Gonzo, the trip results in many hallucinations, paranoia, and adventures after an excess usage of drugs. The American Dream is a common ideal that all Americans have equal opportunity to achieve prosperity through hard work and integrity. Thompson critiques the American Dream, as his characters journey to a city of chance and greed, constantly disrespect authority, and emphasize a dominant mentality to attain success.
Stressing the role of chance and luck in life, Thompson places the characters in Las Vegas, commonly known as “Sin City,” where gambling and drugs run rampant with its visitors. While discussing the differences between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Duke recalls the story of his high rolling friend that originally won $15,000 through gambling, but eventually returned to the casinos becoming $30,000 in debt (41-42). This personal anecdote displays the belief that luck or chance decides the success of an individual as the friend became successful due to his good fortune in gambling.
In addition, the story displays that chance can negatively affect success as the friend eventually loses his winnings due to his own greed. Las Vegas becomes a symbol for the American Dream for Thompson, as it is associated with the nature of chance and luck. Likewise, after Duke leaves the rental car company, the employees discover that he was redlined, but the employees tell the bank, “Yes. He’s long gone; totally insured” (105). Duke was extremely fortunate as he was able to escape the rental car company before they discovered his atrocious credit and denied him the Cadillac. This situation represents the role of chance in life, as Duke was only able to continue his journey in Las Vegas due to his own luck. Las Vegas serves as a representation of chance and luck as Thompson emphasizes the role of good fortune to attain success in the world.
Conflicting with the common belief that the American Dream is characterized by integrity and respect, Thompson contradicts this belief as Duke insults police officers and veterans. During his stay in Las Vegas, Duke attends a seminar concerning drugs with his attorney. After ditching the seminar, the two men harass vacationing police officers by offering drugs and yelling other absurdities (151). The two men have no esteem for the officers as they mock and taunt them with obscene remarks. Their actions directly go against the American Dream as they lack the integrity that is commonly associated with the ideal. Thompson uses their disrespect to show the common trend in the nation, as more people are disrespectful and denigrate individuals with greater authority. Similarly, after leaving Las Vegas, Duke purchases drugs at an airport and insults two marines saying, “God’s mercy on you swine!” (204). Instead of having integrity and showing politeness, Duke displays only disdain as he takes a stance against figures of authority and the Vietnam War. Thompson condemns the American Dream as he holds a personal grudge against individuals with power and depicts the lack of morality within the nation. Thompson’s disparaging of authoritative figures, reflects his criticism of the American Dream as he reveals a lack of integrity and honor. Thompson adopts a commanding mentality as he discusses the lack of sympathy in the country, believing there was no mercy for criminal freaks within Las Vegas. While discussing sympathy, Duke examined the dominance of the shark ethic, “Eat the wounded. In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught” (72). Duke shows a lack of morality as he believes only the strong succeed and those suffering succumb to failure. In addition, the shark ethic serves as a lesson of selfishness, teaching that the key to success arises from concern solely for oneself. The author, Thompson, conveys his view on the nation, as he paints a world lacking morality and integrity. Also, Thompson emphasizes the need for deception in the world, as he believes success arises from selfish actions, rather than helping others. Thompson uses the shark ethic to convey the American Dream as he stresses the importance of neglecting other’s problems, instead demonstrating that success emerges from egocentric decisions.
The setting of Las Vegas, taunting of authoritative figures, and use of the shark ethic serve Thompson as he redefines the American Dream as an ideal of luck, selfishness, and lacking of integrity. Through the use of Duke, Thompson conveys common practices within the nation as he emphasizes his egocentric characteristics and lack of morality. Thompson not only redefines the American Dream, but also criticizes the change in ideals of the nation as the world focuses more on selfish desires, rather than answering to the aid of others. Thompson reasons that instead of determination and honor, one must have good fortune and become egotistical to achieve success, similar to the characteristics of successful CEO Jordan Belfort.
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