Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Summary and Analysis of Part I: Chapters 9-12


Chapter 9

Raoul Duke and his attorney panic when the hotel sends them a large bill and they realize they have run out of money. Duke lends his attorney some money for plane fare and he departs for Los Angeles. Duke is anxious upon finding himself alone; he has no money, he cannot think straight because of the drugs, and his attorney ordered 600 bars of Neutrogena soap from room service, which are now packed into the Great Red Shark. Duke suddenly realizes that his attorney has also left the unregistered .357 Magnum in the car. Although Duke is initially nervous about carrying an illegal gun, he decides to keep it because it is a high-quality weapon. He rationalizes that if he takes the risk of getting the gun back to his home in Malibu, he deserves to keep it.

Duke returns to the Mint Hotel and begins to write his article over coffee, rum, and sandwiches. When it is time to check out, he tries to act casual to hide the fact that he has not paid his bill. As he waits for the valet to bring his car, Duke reads a newspaper. The text excerpts some of the morbid articles, which include coverage of a young woman’s heroin overdose, an increase in heroin deaths among soldiers in Vietnam, a hearing on the American use of torture in Vietnam, a shooting in New York City, and a pharmacy burglary. Duke reflects on the fact that he, too, is a felon, although unlike the people in the newspaper, he is not dangerous. He reconsiders this view when he reads about Muhammad Ali being imprisoned for being a conscientious objector to the draft.

Chapter 10

Duke is walking to his car when a voice calls out to him. He panics because he believes that the hotel has realized he’s trying to skip out on the bill. He begins to worry about what the conditions will be like in prison and is just about to surrender himself when the clerk chasing him reveals that all he wants to do is deliver a telegram. It is addressed to Hunter S. Thompson, care of Raoul Duke, and is from "Dr. Gonzo." "Gonzo" reveals that Rolling Stone has a large assignment for Duke in Las Vegas. He is to cover the National Conference of District Attorneys’ Seminar on Narcotics and other Dangerous Drugs. The magazine wants 50,000 words and is offering a ‘massive’ payment. "Dr. Gonzo" instructs Duke to check into the Flamingo and await his return.

The young clerk apologizes for the delay, and then he wonders how Dr. Gonzo could have sent the telegram when he is still registered as a guest at the hotel. He adds that the Mint’s manager, Mr. Heem, would like to speak to Dr. Gonzo. Duke concocts a series of lies to convince the clerk that Dr. Gonzo is still in their room, and that Hunter S. Thompson is the one who actually sent the message. He departs before the clerk figures out that he is lying.

Duke drives down Las Vegas Boulevard and ponders the new assignment. It sounds urgent, but he does not feel physically or financially able to spend another week in Las Vegas. However, he is attracted to the irony of covering a narcotics conference while he himself is “in the grip of a potentially terminal drug episode” (80). He decides to have a beer and think it over.

Chapter 11

Duke stops for a beer at Wild Bill’s Café on the outskirts of Las Vegas. He spots a plane taking off in the distance and speculates that Lacerda is onboard. This causes him to panic about failing to finish the Mint 400 story, and his mental state soon devolves into a full-blown, drug-induced ‘freakout’.

Duke remembers that the Mint’s checkout time is not until noon, which leaves him two hours to get as far as possible from Las Vegas. He gets back into his car and speeds toward Los Angeles at 120 miles per hour.

Chapter 12

Duke approaches Baker, California. He is profoundly exhausted but keeps driving. As he speeds down the highway, he reflects on the best way to deal with the highway patrol. He has a theory that when one is about to be pulled over, it is better to speed up and then exit and pull over suddenly. Although this will initially irritate the officer, Duke believes that it also shows that one is a good driver and establishes a kind of mutual respect between the driver and the cop.

Duke is pulled over in Death Valley for speeding and uses exactly this strategy. Unfortunately, he forgets that he has a can of beer in his hand when he steps out of his car to speak with the officer. Although the officer is angry at first, he decides to let Duke off if he promises to take a nap at the next rest stop. Duke nearly ruins his good fortune by blurting out that he plans to drive all the way to Los Angeles, but the officer ignores the admission and gives Duke a written warning.

Duke stops in Baker for something to eat, but is unnerved when he sees the hitchhiker from the beginning of the trip trying to catch a ride out of town. Duke phones his attorney, who reminds Duke that they are supposed to be in Vegas to cover the narcotics seminar. Duke immediately forgets his paranoia and tells his attorney that he is already at the Flamingo hotel and is making this call as a joke. He decides that the world is pushing him to attend the seminar, and that the highway patrol officer and the (possibly hallucinated) hitchhiker are just obstacles intended to make him return to Vegas. He has a drink in a bar before turning back, and he banters briefly with the bartender about his impending visit to Las Vegas. However, Duke's bizarre ramblings quickly alienate the bartender. Duke happily goes on his way, unperturbed.


In this section, Thompson playfully acknowledges the blurry distinction between himself and his narrator, Raoul Duke. In Chapter 10, Duke receives a telegram addressed to Hunter S. Thompson, care of Raoul Duke. At first glance, it might seem like this moment eliminates the ambiguity about whether this text is a work of fiction or nonfiction. Raoul Duke is not just a pseudonym for Thompson; the text seems to establish them as separate characters. But does it? The scene could also be read as proof that Duke is Thompson’s alter-ego, or that Thompson is Duke’s alter-ego. It could also be argued that no interpretation of this moment is reliable, because Duke is constantly on the verge of drug-induced psychosis and his perceptions cannot be taken as fact. This is just one moment in Fear and Loathing that seems to clarify an ambiguity but in fact only opens the door to more uncertainty.

Although Duke’s drug-induced hallucinations are surreal and often absurd, they are still an important component of the text and offer essential thematic insights. One example of this occurs in Chapter 10, when Duke tries in vain to “stupefy that one rebellious nerve end that kept vibrating negative” (80). Duke’s anxiety and paranoia are often a reflection of his environment, and it is arguable that his bad trips are induced not only by the drugs, but also by the political and cultural malaise that America was experiencing when Thompson wrote the novel.

Duke refers to Horatio Alger repeatedly throughout the novel. In this section, Alger’s name comes up whenever Duke faces difficult situations. Each time, he asks himself what Horatio Alger would do in the same circumstances. Alger was a nineteenth-century American novelist known for his popular stories about young boys lifting themselves out of poverty through hard work and determination. His work is often associated with the concept of the ‘American Dream’ because his heroes are rewarded for their hard work with happy families and a solid footing in the middle class.

In the twentieth century, many scholars argued that Alger’s stories glossed over the dramatic economic inequalities of Gilded-Age America. Critics also accused him of equating personal fulfillment with material wealth (Weiss). Only two years before Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing, the scholar Richard Weiss published The American Myth of Success, a scathing critique of the notion that hard work is all that is necessary to succeed in America. In his study, Weiss referred extensively to Alger’s work, claiming that the novelist is “identified with the golden age of American plutocracy” (48).

Duke’s references to Alger, then, are made in a spirit of irony and mockery. Despite his hypocrisy and his ridiculous behavior, Duke is a strident critic of American capitalism, and Thompson seems be asking his readers to take Duke’s criticisms at face value. Later in the novel, Duke describes the garish casino at Circus-Circus as “pure Horatio Alger” (191). The grotesque casino, he suggests, takes capitalistic self-indulgence to an extreme; it is the logical result of a society that embraces Alger’s values. When Duke holds up Alger as an aspirational figure and a role model, he is poking fun at both Alger and himself; after all, the “good American” is one of Duke’s favorite personas to adopt when meeting strangers (96).