Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas | Study Guide

Hunter S. Thompson

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Course Hero. "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Study Guide." September 26, 2017. Accessed July 7, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fear-and-Loathing-in-Las-Vegas/.


Course Hero, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Study Guide," September 26, 2017, accessed July 7, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fear-and-Loathing-in-Las-Vegas/.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas | Part 1, Chapter 1 | Summary



After receiving a phone call on the patio of the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo rent a red Chevrolet convertible, fill the trunk with assorted drugs, and blaze across the desert to Las Vegas. Duke is slated to cover the Mint 400, a motorcycle and dune buggy race in the desert. They sample extensively from the stash in the trunk, which causes Duke to hallucinate a swarm of giant bats overhead as they drive.

While Duke hallucinates, Dr. Gonzo drives and sings with the radio. They pick up a hitchhiker near Baker, California. Duke wonders how long they can appear sober before the kid figures out they are on drugs and reports them. He considers whether they should kill him and bury him in the desert, but he isn't sure if he is thinking these things or saying them out loud. The kid looks terrified. Duke tries to explain that "we're on our way to Las Vegas to find the American Dream." He assures the kid Dr. Gonzo is an attorney, even though he is Samoan. The kid assures them he isn't prejudiced but still looks scared.


Duke's fear and anxiety in Chapter 1 is only a first taste of the fear and anxiety that will inform his every thought and action for his entire time in Las Vegas. He sees menacing images that are not there, and the drugs induce a sense of paranoia that leads him to panicked and violent thoughts. None of these factors will change during his stay in Las Vegas. The placement of the hallucinations just before his encounter with the hitchhiker confirms his state of mind is unstable, and he isn't perceiving things as they are.

In Ralph Steadman's illustration of the hitchhiker in the text, the kid appears as a goofy hippie type, a misfit from straight society in his own right. Duke has no more trust in him than he does in anyone else. He is keenly aware the heyday of the hippies is over, indicated by his thoughts about mass-murderer Charles Manson's being caught in the desert near where they are driving. Despite the kid's and Dr. Gonzo's assurances that they're all in this together, Duke no longer feels connected to other people in a meaningful sense. His fear of the hitchhiker may or may not be founded, but Duke has no way of knowing for sure, just as he has no way of knowing whether or not he is speaking aloud. If part of the American dream of the 1960s lies in communion with other people, it is already lost for Duke. The drugs have cut him off from the rest of society, even the society that, like him, exists outside the mainstream.

According to Thompson's introduction to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, published in his 1979 book The Great Shark Hunt, Oscar Zeta Acosta—the real-life basis for Dr. Gonzo—took offense at being portrayed as Samoan. This offense came not from any prejudice on Acosta's part but a desire to be recognized as himself, even though Thompson wanted to preserve Acosta's identity since he was a practicing attorney and member of the California Bar Association. Acosta's insistence at being identified on the early book cover illustrates how the skewed logic of his fictional counterpart carries over into reality.

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