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39 pages 1 hour read

Hunter S. Thompson

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1971

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a 1971 novel by American author Hunter S. Thompson. The book chronicles the story of journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney Doctor Gonzo who drive to Las Vegas, ostensibly to cover an iconic off-road vehicle race. However, they are also looking to “find the American Dream” and take with them a car’s load of hard drugs. Duke is a fictionalized surrogate for Thompson, while Gonzo is based off the Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta. In Las Vegas, Thompson and Gonzo experiment with drugs and are unable to report on the race. This is due to the track being covered in clouds of dust. Raoul is going to leave but is tempted to stay by the opportunity to cover a police narcotics conference. The police, he learns from this, have a totally outdated understanding of drug culture. The novel ends with Raoul and Gonzo in a diner, finally being given directions to the “American Dream.” However, the place turns out to be a derelict, burnt out building frequented by individuals who are addicted to drugs. This guide uses the following edition of the text: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. London: HarperCollins. 2022.

Content Warning: Please be advised that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas depicts graphic drug use and abuse.

Plot Summary

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is divided into two parts, the first containing twelve and the second fourteen chapters. Part 1, Chapters 1-5, start with a journalist, Raoul Duke, and his attorney, Doctor Gonzo, driving on the road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 1971. They are ostensibly going there to cover the Mint 400, an off-road vehicle race. However, Raoul reveals to a hitchhiker that they are really going there to find the American Dream. They also take copious amounts of hard drugs with them, including LSD, cocaine, and mescaline. Eventually, the hitchhiker flees the car in response to the duo’s incoherent ramblings and extensive drug use.

After arriving and checking into their hotel, with Raoul still hallucinating from LSD, they attend the race the next morning. Unfortunately, the vehicles create a cloud of dust on the track making it impossible to properly observe the event. This leads Raoul to reflect on how he is supposed to write about something which he cannot see.

In Part 1, Chapters 7-12, after an evening at the Circus-Circus Hotel and Casino, Gonzo goes berserk while in the bath after taking drugs and asks Raoul to throw a radio in with him. After dropping Gonzo off at the airport the next evening, Raoul is seized by the same desire to leave. This is because Gonzo has left him with a firearm, copious amounts of drugs, and a huge hotel bill. The next morning, just as Raoul is leaving, he is told about a telegram from Gonzo. The telegram says that he should stay because they have been asked to cover the District Attorney’s conference on narcotics and dangerous drugs. Raoul still considers the assignment too dangerous and drives out of Las Vegas. As he is halfway to Los Angeles though, he is pulled over by a police officer for driving while intoxicated. The officer lets Raoul off provided that he gets some sleep at a nearby rest stop. Shortly thereafter, Raoul sees the hitchhiker he picked up on the way to Las Vegas, who recognizes him. This means that if Raoul stays at the rest stop, he will be reported by the hitchhiker for and arrested. On the other hand, if he heads straight to Los Angeles, he will be apprehended by the officer. Thus, Raoul chooses to go back to Las Vegas and the conference.

In Part 2, Chapters 1-7, Raoul arrives in his hotel room in Las Vegas and finds a young woman Lucy and Gonzo both on drugs. Gonzo explains that he met her while on the plane from Los Angeles and gave her LSD. However, Raoul convinces Gonzo that they need to get rid of her. This is because, when the drug wears off, she is likely to get them arrested. As such, they book a room for her at a different hotel on the outskirts of town, arranging for a cab driver to take her there. Unfortunately, afterwards, she remembers their room number at the Flamingo and calls them, asking for Raoul. To get rid of Lucy, Gonzo tells her that Raoul used a bad check to pay for their room, putting her down as a reference. For this reason, he explains, people are looking for her and she will be found and imprisoned if she rings the hotel again. The following day, Raoul and Gonzo attend the police narcotics conference, finding the talks about drug culture there to be severely dated.

In Part 2, Chapters 8-12, the book’s “editor” says that Raoul’s text has become disjointed, so he has used a verbatim transcription from Raoul’s tape recorder. This relates a conversation in which Raoul and Gonzo tell a waitress that they are looking for the American Dream. She directs them to a former night-club called the “Old Psychiatrists Club” which, they later discover, burned down three years ago. Sometime after Gonzo leaves, Raoul also finally leaves Las Vegas. At the airport, Raoul reflects on the failure of the drugs conference. It failed, he thinks, because the participants could not grasp how drug culture has changed since the 60s, moving away from psychedelics to “downers” like heroin and Seconal. At the novel’s end, Raoul arrives in Denver from Las Vegas, without quite knowing why, and buys some amyls, a depressant drug, from an airport pharmacy with a fake ID.

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By Hunter S. Thompson