Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Literary Elements


Roman à clef, Fiction, Autobiographical novel

Setting and Context

Las Vegas, Nevada, 1971

Narrator and Point of View

Fear and Loathing is written in the first person narrative from the point of view of Raoul Duke (who is largely based on Thompson himself). In one chapter, the character of Duke's "editor" presents the transcript of a tape recording of the conversations that Duke and his attorney have in a diner because at that point, the men were too high to recall this portion of their journey coherently.

Tone and Mood

The tone of the novel is cynical and dark; the mood is surreal, grotesque, and darkly comedic.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is Raoul Duke; the antagonist is "the establishment" and authority figures in general.

Major Conflict

The main conflict in the novel is between Duke and his attorney and civilized society. They are constantly on the run from straitlaced civilians who do not respect the counterculture, which Thompson reveals through their encounters with various cops, hotel managers, waiters, etc.


Since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas does not follow a traditional narrative structure, the plot does not have many of the structural elements one expects from a novel. However, Part 2, Chapter 9: Breakdown on Paradise Boulevard can be considered the climax because this is the moment when Duke and his attorney believe they have actually found the "American Dream," which, ironically, turns out to be a "huge slab of cracked, scorched concrete in a vacant lot full of tall weeds [that] ... burned down about three years ago" (168).


Duke and his attorney embark on their journey to Las Vegas with loftier goals than simply writing an article about the Mint 400. They are in search of the American Dream and generally want to escape from L.A. because, as Duke 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 and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas" (12). However, it is their commitment to assigning a deeper meaning to this epic journey and Duke's confidence that he will get his work done that proves to be their ultimate undoing, which Thompson foreshadows throughout the novel.

1) "No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted" (47).
Duke's observation here foreshadows all of his close brushes with the law over the course of the novel and his ultimate realization that the American Dream is just as empty as his hallucinations.

2) "Something ugly was about to happen. I was sure of it. The room looked like the site of some zoological experiment involving whiskey and gorillas. The ten-foot was shattered, but still hanging together -- bad evidence of that afternoon when my attorney ran amok with the coconut hammer, smashing the mirror and all the lightbulbs" (181).
This foreshadows the maid coming into Duke's room, after which he and his attorney must figure out a way to convince her not to turn them in.

3) "The important thing is to cover this story on its own terms; leave the other stuff to Life and Look-- at least for now" (57).
Duke's rumination here foreshadows the format of his eventual coverage of the Mint 400 - a series of Rolling Stone articles that he compiled into Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Furthermore, "cover this story on its own terms" is essentially a definition of Gonzo journalism, a genre that Thompson pioneered.


1) "When we arrived at the Mint Hotel my attorney was unable to cope artfully with the registration procedure" (23).
This is an understatement because Duke's attorney is actually just so high that he cannot interact with other human beings at all.

2) "'Just leave a pile of towels and soap outside the door exactly at midnight.' He smiled. 'That way, we won't have to risk another one of these little incidents, will we?'" (184).
This is an understatement because the "little incident" to which Duke's attorney is referring is his attack on the cleaning lady; he wrestled her down onto the bed and and tried to shove an ice pack in her mouth to keep her from screaming.


1) "His Agnew-style wife" (106).
This is an allusion to Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's conservative Vice President who was majorly disapproving of the counterculture and hippie movements; he often said that the Democrats were too soft on Communism.

2) "Lucy in the sky with diamonds" (110).
This is an allusion to the Beatles' 1967 hit song of the same name; although John Lennon claimed that the song was inspired by his son Julian's preschool drawing, many listeners assumed that Lennon intentionally used three nouns whose first letters spell out LSD.

3) "Straight to the gas chamber, like Chessman" (116).
This is an allusion to Caryl Chessman, a kidnapper and rapist who is the last American non-military prisoner to be executed for a crime other than murder under the vaguely worded "Little Lindbergh Law." Chessman's case, which garnered international attention, eventually led to the abolition of capital punishment in the state of California.

4) "He could probably get Melvin Belli for that" (132).
Melvin Belli was an American lawyer who was best known for his defense of celebrity clients like Errol Flynn, Muhammad Ali, and Mae West, as well as Jack Ruby (the man who shot Lee Harvey Oswald for assassinating President John F. Kennedy).


See separate section on Imagery


1) "You can turn your back on a person, but you can never turn your back on a drug-- especially when it's waving a razor-sharp hunting knife in your eyes" (56). This is a paradox because by turning your back on a person, you are inevitably turning your back on the drug that said person has ingested. Hunter uses this paradox to emphasize the separation between the essential nature of a person and the effects of the drugs that are influencing his or her mind.

2) "The desperate assumption that somebody -- or at least some force -- is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel. This is the same cruel and paradoxically benevolent bullshit that has kept the Catholic Church going for so many centuries. It is also the military ethic ... a blind faith in some higher and wiser "authority." The Pope, The General, The Prime Minister ... all the way up to 'God'" (179).
This is a paradox because (according to Duke) faith in an unseen authority gives many believers strength but it does so by forcing them to relinquish their power to accept the (often grisly and unappealing) truth.


1) "Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars" (18).
This is an example of parallelism because Thompson is joining two clauses that are similar in both construction and meaning.

2) "He paused, listened for an instant, then suddenly began running towards the car" (34).
This sentence is an example of parallelism because the grammatical components of this sentence are similar in construction.

3) "...I began to drink heavily, think heavily, and make many heavy notes" (40).
This is an example of parallelism because it contains grammatical components that are similar in sound, meaning, and rhythm.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

1) Throughout the novel, Thompson uses "the Strip" interchangeably with Las Vegas. This is an example of synecdoche because a part ("the Strip") represents the whole ("Las Vegas").

2) "I soaked another kleenex and fouled my own nose" (45). This is an example of metonymy because Thompson uses a brand name (Kleenex) to replace the name of a thing with which it is closely associated (facial tissues).


1) ..."$50,000 in prize money slumbers darkly in the office safe at Del Webb's fabulous Mint Hotel in the bright heart of Casino Center" (57).
This is an example of personification because Thompson is giving an inanimate object (money) human attributes (it slumbers).

2) "He was reaching across the bathroom toward the white formica shelf where the radio sat" (59).
In this example of personification, Thompson gives the radio human attributes by writing that it "sat" on the formica shelf.