Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas | Study Guide

Hunter S. Thompson

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas | Symbols

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Convertibles

Duke and Dr. Gonzo rent two different cars while in Las Vegas. The first is a bright red Chevrolet convertible they call the Great Red Shark. The second is a white Cadillac convertible dubbed the White Whale, or simply the Whale. The white whale is an allusion to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, which is considered one of the great American novels. The naming suggests that this is the new great American novel. The degradation of Duke and Dr. Gonzo—and the destruction of the car—further reinforces the degradation of American society. These are both expensive American-made vehicles, which represent the manufacturing prowess and material prosperity of America in the early 1970s. Cars, especially large convertibles, and the open road are integral parts of American culture. One aspect of the American dream is the mobility cars and freeways offer, which makes their presence in the novel symbolic of the American dream itself. The subsequent destruction of each vehicle, then, symbolizes the destruction of the American dream.

Neutrogena Soap

While staying at the Mint in downtown Las Vegas, Dr. Gonzo convinces the housekeeping staff to supply him with 600 bars of clear, glycerin based Neutrogena soap. The brand of soap is important because in 1971 Neutrogena was considered a luxury brand. It was more expensive than other brands of soap and not widely available. The soap bars and their excessive number symbolize the skewed logic of Dr. Gonzo's drug-influenced state. To him it seems perfectly reasonable to want 600 bars of expensive soap, even though soap is associated with cleanliness, which contrasts sharply with the squalor and neglect Dr. Gonzo and Duke allow to evolve in their suite. The comically excessive amount of soap mirrors the excess of his drug consumption, which in turn mirrors the excessive luxury and material consumption that define Las Vegas in general.

Psychiatrists' Club

When Duke and Dr. Gonzo go looking for the American dream in Part 2, Chapter 9, they get directions at a taco stand for a place called the old Psychiatrists' Club. The place is portrayed as a den of drugs and violence. Duke and Dr. Gonzo think this must be the place because 24-hour drugs and violence seem to fit their degraded vision of the American dream. Furthermore, what the relatively straight women running the taco stand consider violent and depraved are exactly the sort of people Duke and Dr. Gonzo are. The straight world's negative assessment of something is an endorsement to Duke and Dr. Gonzo. When they discover the club had burned down three years prior, this symbolizes the death of Duke's American dream, an America where freedom to do and be anything is embraced. This dream is lost near the same time the 1960s counterculture is entering its decline.

Reptiles

Upon his first arrival in Las Vegas, under the influence of LSD, Duke hallucinates giant reptiles feeding on human flesh in the bar of the Mint hotel and casino. These are regular bar patrons and guests at the hotel, people who are part of mainstream American culture. Duke's hallucination is amusing, but it also reveals his true feelings about mainstream people. They are dangerous and all too willing to destroy others for their own gain, but they keep it hidden until they're in a place like this. When he returns to Las Vegas after fleeing the Mint, Duke considers shooting real lizards in the desert to ease his tension about a recent run-in with a police officer. He envisions an explanation to authorities about firing the gun along the federal highway in which he talks about shooting the lizards in self-defense. Lizards symbolize Duke's anxiety and fear about mainstream society, which he regards as dangerous and cold-blooded.

.357 Magnum

Dr. Gonzo has a .357 Magnum, which he received from his drug-dealing cousin as payment for defending him against a murder charge. The gun emerges first in the car on the way to Las Vegas, then as an item that causes Duke great anxiety when he realizes he has to get it back to Los Angeles. He lies to Dr. Gonzo and says he sold it, but he takes it on the plane when he leaves Las Vegas for good. Like car culture, guns and gun culture are an integral part of the American dream. Many people believe that gun ownership is written into the United States Constitution. In this context, the gun represents freedom from tyranny. The gun also hangs over Duke and Dr. Gonzo as a constant threat, something that could raise the ante on charges should they be caught. In this respect the gun symbolizes their entire position in Las Vegas. Technically legitimate, but something that could explode at any moment and create havoc.

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