Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a travelogue of sorts, due to the blurred lines between fiction and non-fiction, which deeply explores the status of the American Dream during the early 70’s, specifically 1971. Thompson states this purpose within the first three chapters of the book in the line, “Because I want you to know that we’re on our way to Las Vegas to find the American Dream. ” (F&L pg 6) Although Thompson states in the beginning of the book that, “Our trip was different.
It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country…” by the end of the book he comes to the conclusion that the American Dream is a farce, and is in fact “dead. ” Another main component of the destroyed American Dream is the failure of the sixties counterculture to fulfill their non-materialistic version of the American Dream. #1: 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 expenses be damned – and then he sends me over to some 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. ” (F&L pg 11)
This quote demonstrates Thompson’s tainted version of the American Dream, especially when juxtaposed to Horatio Alger’s American Dream stories, which involve going from “rags to riches” through hard work, honesty, and determination. In Thompson’s version, even though he went from being stone broke to getting $300 cash, in other words, going from rags to riches, there was no hard work involved. Thompson only needed to pick up the phone and drive around to Beverly Hills, and then Las Vegas. Moreover, he does this while completely twisted on mind-altering drugs, such as LSD.
In addition, the cities of Las Vegas and New York are also very important in the iconography of the American Dream. Las Vegas represents the exaggerated and most extreme trends in American society, such as instant gratification, hypocrisy, greed, excess, and the belief that you need to be lucky to go from nothing to something, while New York represents the ideals of moving up in society, charm, and opportunity. #2: “Allow me to introduce myself…I’m a man of wealth and taste. Sympathy? Not for me. No mercy for a criminal freak in Las Vegas.
This place is like the army: the shark ethic prevails-eat the wounded. In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity. ” (F;L pg 72) In Horatio Alger’s American Dream, there is a clear hero character, who succeeds through bravery and honest ethics. On the other hand, in Thompson’s work, the people have this “shark ethic” of feeding on the wounded or the poor, in which everyone is guilty. Instead of working hard in order to move up in society, people resort to stealing, and taking advantage of the people below them.
Even our protagonist, Duke, has flawed ethics himself and is more of an anti-hero than a hero. #3: “Especially here in our own country—in this doomstruck era of Nixon. We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled the 60’s. That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “consciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously… 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 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 the light at the end of the tunnel. ” (F;L pg 178) Thompson’s criticism of society does not exclude the counterculture generation. In fact, his disappointment in the generation is even more acute since he was a part of the movement.
The generation tried to start a new American Dream, one without the materialistic values of excess and greed. However, the movement didn’t have a solid backbone, and failed to put into consideration the grim realities that exist in America. People thought that LSD alone could change the future, and that lead to what Thompson calls “a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers…” The change in society that the movement called for was destroyed with the election of Nixon, and by that time the movement was so broken up that they could not stop it from being torn apart.
In essence, the American Dream of the sixties has been cannibalized by something else, which would be improper to call the American Dream; instead it should be called “the American Nightmare. ” Personal Response: Thompson’s argument is very convincing, he uses countless examples and metaphors to back up his point, and the language used in his quotes is very effective at conveying his message accurately and persuasively. Although society has changed from the seventies, I believe that the “shark ethic” that Thompson discusses still prevails.
If Thompson were alive in 2008 during the financial crisis I believe he would have written a novel on it with a very similar message to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, putting the blame on politicians and rich greedy managers. To me, the American Dream is not completely dead, just altered, one could almost say it has been “raped” by our society. The novel made me very upset with the direction that our country has been heading in over the last 40 years, as well as instilling a feeling of disappointment in the sixties generation for not creating a lasting change and sending our country in the right direction.
It made me think about all that is happening now, with the debt crisis, political turmoil, and the massive gap between the rich and the poor. Why is it that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer? Why does the government not step in and do something about it? These are all questions that the book made me ask myself, and I’m sure Hunter Thompson would be asking if he were still alive.