Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson was born the first of three sons to Virginia Ray Davison, a local Louisville librarian, and Jack Robert Thompson, an insurance adjustor. Thompson lived a comfortable middle-class life with his family until his father died of a rare neuromuscular disease when Thompson was just 14. Thompson went on to high school in Louisville, but after he was charged as an accessory to robbery in 1955 and sentenced to sixty days in the local jail, he was not allowed to take his final exams and didn’t graduate. That same year, Thompson joined the United States Air Force, and in 1956 he applied to aviation school. His application was ultimately rejected, and Thompson was later stationed in Florida, where he took night classes at Florida State University and wrote for the school newspaper. He received an early honorable discharge from the Air Force in 1957 due to his unruly behavior and inability to follow directions. Thompson briefly lived in New York City and audited courses at Colombia, but by 1960 he was living in Puerto Rico writing for a sports magazine. In 1961, he moved back to the States and lived in Big Sur, California, where his first feature article was published in Rouge magazine. Around this time, Thompson began writing novels, including The Rum Diary about his time in Puerto Rico, but he failed to publish at that time. In 1963, Thompson married Sandra Dawn Conklin, who gave birth to their son, Juan, in 1964. By 1965, Thompson and his family were living in San Francisco, California, where he was active in the American countercultural movement. He took an assignment to write a story about the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club, and spent an entire year riding and living with them. Thompson’s research of the club gained much attention and he was offered several book deals. Unfortunately, Thompson’s presumed financial success angered the Angels, who demanded half his profits and savagely beat him. During the late sixties, Thompson moved to Colorado, where he ran, unsuccessfully, for Sheriff of Pitkin County in 1970. During his political run, Thompson created gonzo journalism, a form of new journalism that rejects objectivity and instead relies on a first-person account to report any given event. In 1972, Thompson published Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to split reviews; however, the book gained popularity with the public throughout the 1970s and has since become an iconic piece of American literature. Thompson spent most of the ‘70s working as a journalist, but he frequently drank and missed deadlines. By 1980, he began to slow down and isolate himself, but he continued to write for Rolling Stone magazine. For most of the 1990s, he worked on a single novel that was never published, and in 2000, he began writing a weekly column for ESPN. Thompson married Anita Bejmuk in 2003, and in 2005, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head while at home in Woody Creek, Colorado.
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Historical Context of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on a 1971 trip to Vegas that Thompson took with attorney and Chicano activist, Oscar Zeta Acosta. Thompson was writing a story for Rolling Stone magazine about the death of Mexican-American journalist, Ruben Salazar, and as a prominent member of the Mexican-American community, Acosta was Thompson’s primary source. Racial tensions had been rising in Los Angeles during the time, and Thompson and Acosta decided to travel to Vegas to escape the hostile environment. Salazar, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, was a principle voice in the Mexican-American community and a civil rights activist who was vocal about the disproportionate number of Mexican-American soldiers who were sent to Vietnam and subsequently killed. In August of 1970, Salazar was covering the National March of the Chicano Moratorium, a Mexican-American anti-war group that protested the Vietnam War, when he was killed after being struck in the head by a tear-gas bomb fired by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Other Books Related to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S. Thompson famously referred to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a failed piece of gonzo journalism. Gonzo is Thompson’s personal creation based in part on the style of New journalism, a form of expository writing pioneered by Tom Wolfe during the 1960s and ‘70s. Wolfe rejected traditional objective journalism and instead favored literary techniques and a subjective perspective. Wolfe’s 1965 book of essays, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, began as an article on custom car culture for Esquire magazine and was compiled almost completely from Wolfe’s personal notes and letters. This same subjective perspective is seen in Thompson’s own writing, as well as a sharp critique of American culture and 1960s counterculture. American counterculture began when the beatnik subculture of the 1950s gave way to the hippie culture of the 1960s, and Jack Kerouac’s 1957 publication of On the Road, an account of Kerouac’s own travels across the United States, is generally considered to be the defining literary work of the American counterculture. Thompson identifies American writers Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsberg as prominent figureheads of the counterculture and even finds them partially at fault for the movement’s failure. Kesey’s own novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which examines the treatment of patients in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, is in keeping with Thompson’s anti-establishment views and the importance of equal and universal civil rights. This anti-establishment viewpoint is also seen in Ginsberg’s 1973 publication of The Fall of America: Poems of These States: 1965-1971, an openly political collection of poems in which Ginsberg condemns the Vietnam War and speaks frankly about his sexuality, during a time when homosexuality was considered a crime in most of the United States.
Key Facts about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  • Full Title: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
  • When Written: 1971
  • Where Written: Woody Creek, Colorado
  • When Published: 1971
  • Literary Period: Contemporary/Postmodernism
  • Genre: Gonzo journalism
  • Setting: Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Climax: When Duke and Dr. Gonzo go to the Old Psychiatrist’s Club looking for the American Dream and find it burned to the ground.
  • Antagonist: The establishment of American government and mainstream society
  • Point of View: First-person narrative

Extra Credit for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Famous Relatives. Thompson was named after a distant relative on his mother’s side, Nigel John Hunter. Hunter was a prominent Scottish surgeon who pioneered human artificial insemination and prescribed to Lord Byron, a famous British poet born with a club foot, the first orthopedic shoe that enabled him to finally walk.

Hemingway Robbery. Thompson visited the home of American writer Ernest Hemingway in 1964, a few years after Hemingway’s suicide, where he stole a pair of elkhorns that were hanging over the front door. Thompson kept the antlers as a souvenir for the rest of his life, but his wife, Anita, finally returned them to Hemingway’s family in 2015, nearly ten years after Thompson’s own suicide.