Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Themes


Violence pervades Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ironically, Duke frequently discusses the literal and figurative brutality of the police and the capitalist system. However,over the course of the narrative, Duke and his attorney indulge in a great deal of violent behavior themselves. For example, Duke's attorney berates a car full of tourists on the Las Vegas Strip, and Duke pulls over in the desert and fires a gun into the air for no reason. Even more disturbing are the men’s thoughts and discussions, as related by Duke. They consider murdering both Lucy and the hitchhiker, and Duke describes a famous case of a PCP user clawing his own eyes out. Overall, the text depicts a world in which institutional violence has ‘trickled down’ to the minds and daily lives of ordinary, well-meaning Americans.

The End of the 1960s

Hunter S. Thompson was an active voice in the 1960s counterculture, and his alter ego Raoul Duke appears to have been swept up in it as well. Duke reminisces fondly about the period’s idealism, creativity, and his peers' eagerness to explore new ideas and ways of living. However, in his famous ‘wave speech,’ Duke argues that the decline of the counterculture was ultimately the fault of its creators; they all became too complacent and failed to respond to obstacles like infighting and alienation from mainstream culture. Written in 1971, Fear and Loathing is deeply ambivalent about what will replace the American counterculture. Duke’s pursuit of the ‘American Dream’ may be an attempt to fill this void.

Psychoactive Drugs

Duke and his attorney are heavy users of all kinds of drugs, but they demonstrate a preference for psychedelics such as LSD and mescaline. These drugs alter the user’s perception of reality, and the two men see these substances as enabling the ultimate escape from a troubling world. Throughout the text, Duke frequently describes his drug-induced delusions and hallucinations in detail. He seems to understand the line between reality and illusion, but he certainly believes that the content of his hallucinations can be significant and relevant to the world around him. Nevertheless, it is not always clear whether Duke’s perceptions at any given point are influenced by his drug use, which undermines his reliability as a narrator and gives the text a freewheeling, surreal quality.

The American Dream

As suggested by the text’s subtitle, Duke’s quest to understand the American Dream drives his decisions throughout his Las Vegas journey. He does not accept the traditional version of the American Dream—that is, hard-earned capitalist success, which he believes to be a dated and undesirable goal. However, Duke has not yet figured out what should replace Horatio Alger's vision in the modern world. He argues that the social movements of the 1960s were attempts to reframe the American Dream for a new generation, but the counterculture ultimately failed to debunk the capitalist paradigm. Duke views his journey to Las Vegas as a continuation of this search.


Almost every character in Fear and Loathing demonstrates some degree of hypocrisy, which Duke believes to be an inevitable part of the human condition. Although Duke generally supports the social movements of the 1960s, he shows little regard for his fellow man over the course of the novel. Duke's attorney is even worse, actively harassing strangers in casinos and on the Strip. Duke also points out that mainstream American culture is moralistic to a fault, and yet, the administration has no problem inflicting suffering on people abroad and marginalized populations at home. Duke also identifies hypocrisy in the individuals around him. For example, the Georgia police officer is pleasant and expresses concern for the young waitress in Duke’s story, but enthusiastically agrees with Duke and his attorney when they satirically suggest that even petty criminals should be beheaded.


Duke sees Las Vegas as the embodiment of unfettered capitalism, an unrestricted orgy of wealth and self-indulgence. Although he is critical of capitalist values, he tries to approach the city with an open mind in hopes that it might offer him insight about how to achieve the American Dream. He comes away disappointed, ultimately realizing that the relationship between money and power in Las Vegas is no different than what exists in the rest of the country. According to Duke, money attracts the power to protect itself, which inevitably leaves the underclass marginalized and unable to advance in society.

Culture Wars

The 1960s saw the emergence of a modern iteration of the American ‘culture wars.' Duke sympathizes heavily with the left-wing counterculture, but he recognizes that there is unnecessary vitriol on both sides. For example, Duke's attorney harasses the Oklahoma tourists based solely on their license plate and their ‘square’ appearance. Duke notes that the police officers say many misinformed and vindictive things about drug users during the narcotics conference. In turn, Duke assumes that all the police officers he meets are violent and ignorant.