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Thompson's notoriously unconventional "gonzo" novel, which blurs the narrative line between fiction and non-fiction. It is written with the author (Thompson) as the main character, but he uses the pseudonym "Raoul Duke" to avoid legal repercussions and allow for more artistic license. The writing does not represent the objective method of most fiction and non-fiction writers but rather reflects Thompson’s own subjective view of the world, which is often hyperbolic, deranged and hopeful but at the same time bleak (in a word: American) . Despite the fact that the book is subjective and not always truthful it was Thompson's belief that this method brought out more truth than simply relaying facts; a sentiment shared with William Faulkner who said that "facts and truth really don't have that much to do with each other." The novel cannot be said to be narrative non-fiction in the traditional sense and it isn't a fiction novel either; it is an experiment in truth, an attempt to convey actual life and emotions into a written form, and in this respect it is successful.
Hunter S. Thompson coined the term "gonzo" as it relates to journalism. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the first time he uses the term to describe his own work. "Gonzo" journalism can be described as a sort of stream-of-consciousness approach to journalism with an emphasis on immediacy and subjectivity, conducted with or without
the use of mind-altering substances (with being Thompson's preference). The reason Thompson decided to do the Las Vegas story through "gonzo" is not exactly clear. His assignment initially was to write five-hundred words on a motorcycle race in Las Vegas, but in the book he makes very little attempt to watch the race and takes frequent trips to the bar instead. On the non-Gonzo side his assignment was to cover the race but on the Gonzo side it turned into something completely different and much more ambitious; as Thompson says: "...what was the story? No one had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism" (Thompson, 1). It seems that he saw the trip to Las Vegas as a great opportunity to tackle one of his most prominent themes, the American Dream, and why not? Las Vegas was a perfect manifestation of the greed and depravity that he saw as plaguing America. The best way to cover the story for him was to write it gonzo-style, this way he would be able to grasp the full scope of the story.
Thompson mentions Horatio Alger - the great nineteenth century American writer of "rags-to-riches" stories - frequently throughout the novel, usually sarcastically. It becomes evident that Thompson saw himself as a kind of drug addled Horatio Alger championing the American dream as well as the drug culture of the sixties, which, for
him was a kind of American dream but a failed one. He says to this effect: "...ours was a different trip [than the hippies]. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country - but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that" (Thompson, 4). The obvious theme of the novel is the American dream but not in its pure literary sense, it is rather Thompson's own subjective view of it mingled with Alger's conventional view. This is the essence of the novel as well as Thompson's "gonzo" style - to throw objectivity to the wind and meld fantasy with reality in a way that brings out the great truth of the theme (ie. the American dream).
Along with the unconventional style of the story there are some journalistic moral issues. Since Thompson is not striving for objectivity his voice in the novel is supremely subjective; he describes other people’s thoughts without having asked them what they were actually thinking and he makes up situations and people that don’t actually exist, all for the sake of his “gonzo” approach. Although this is all well and good in a fiction novel, when it comes to narrative non-fiction there are some deep issues. One example of a situation that is obviously made up is when Thompson says: “Psychedelics are almost
irrelevant in a town where you can wander into a casino any time of the day or night and witness the crucifixion of a gorilla on a flaming neon cross that suddenly turns into a pinwheel, spinning the beast around in wild circles above the crowded gambling action” (Thompson, 43). This is clearly untrue, for reasons that need not be explained, but what kind of message is he trying to convey by being so hyperbolic? In this particular passage the truth actually comes out very nicely. When he says, “[p]sychedelics are almost irrelevant” he is addressing the fact that Las Vegas is crazy enough as it is without drugs, and since he uses Las Vegas as a microcosm of the U.S. it suggest a country gone mad. Furthermore, when he mentions the gorilla on the cross he is equating the madness of the world with Christianity while also addressing animal rights. If you look closely and take Thompson’s ramblings with a grain of salt the truth will come out, not at all times, but there is an underlying method to his madness. In the book Thompson sums up this out look very neatly when he says, “It made no sense at all, but I knew it was true. Drug reasoning” (Thompson, 27). Just as a flaming gorilla on a spinning cross makes no sense there are sensible and profoundly true undertones to the thought of it.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas isn’t really narrative non-fiction. As Hunter S. Thompson would have it, it is a “gonzo” novel. Although it
isn’t a conventional narrative non-fiction novel it is still a very important book, which bridges the gap between fiction and reality. It has been shown that, though it is not an entirely truthful account, there are still many truths to be found it. It is not truthful so much on the level of hard facts, but rather in the sense of it capturing the zeitgeist of the sixties and the sentiments following from that point onward (this being the reason it has maintained its popularity). Therefore “gonzo” journalism is a legitimate practice if it is executed correctly, and as the father of it Hunter S. Thompson is also the master of it.
Book Report: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Brayden Benham Submitted to: Prof. Stephen Kimber Nov/28/08 Jour3440: Intro. To Narrative Non-Fiction