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Both Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Road explore physical journeys and their psychological effects on individuals. The sense of these journeys allows for deep thematic explorations in which both Hunter S. Thompson and Cormac McCarthy challenge conformist ideologies. Whilst the hope of death providing closure in The Road is prominent, Fear and Loathing subverts the sense of an ending through the enmity of finality. In the era of social media, these journeys seem more prevalent with an increase in delusion (the illusion of ultimate freedom) and eccentric behaviours in the hopes of acquiring a false sense of recognition.
The physical journeys depicted in the two novels seem to have an impact on the emotional state of the characters.
Both Cormac McCarthy and Hunter S. Thompson demonstrate their environments as being antagonists. As Raoul Duke and his attorney settle into Las Vegas’s strange and unique environment, Thompson uses their adventures as a lens to critique American society and culture. One dominant motif in this section is the military. Duke encounters several members of the military and law enforcement in these chapters, and each time, he reacts very negatively to these men and what they represent. Duke has his first run-in with the military in Chapter 5, when he talks to a group of veterans who have come to watch the Mint 400. Duke is deeply disturbed by the patriotic iconography on their dune-buggy, but he pretends to share their cultural conservatism in order to send them on a wild goose chase after the journalist Peter Davis.
Duke’s animosity and paranoia towards the military can best be understood as a reaction to the Vietnam War, which was in its final years when Fear and Loathing was published in 1971.
Violence permeates the journeys of the characters in each of the novels. Duke’s violent impulses become even more prominent in this section of the novel. On multiple occasions, we see that he reflexively turns to violence when he is unsure how to handle a situation. The first example of this in Part II occurs when he pulls over in the desert to shoot iguanas. Later, he proposes pimping Lucy out as a prostitute and then murdering her when he realizes that she might report his attorney to the police for giving her LSD.
Duke’s violent tendencies are ironic because he criticizes violence when the police or the military are perpetrating it. He seems to be truly disturbed by the crime articles he reads in the newspaper and the reports about the Vietnam War he sees on television. In Chapter 1, he discards a magazine after reading about a man who clawed out his own eyes while using PCP, and he acts deeply agitated about the Vietnam War while speaking to the hotel operator on the phone. Yet despite this disgust, Duke still has frequent violent impulses of his own. Although Thompson often plays Duke’s hypocrisy for laughs, the contradiction hints at the author’s dark, misanthropic worldview. All of the characters in Thompson’s work have a violent side regardless of whether they self-identify as part of the counterculture or the ‘establishment’.
Duke explains that the mid-sixties was a special time in American culture, characterized by a “sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. He ruminates on the fact that at the time, those who participated in the 60s counterculture thought they were invincible and that the world was changing rapidly and permanently. Looking back on it, he believes that everything that was meaningful about the sixties has now disintegrated.
Both Thompson and McCarthy demonstrate the freedom and its shortcomings. Thompson’s portrayal of drug use is gritty and often contradictory. Raoul Duke embraces drugs, especially psychedelics, as a means of escaping the injustices of American society. He looks back fondly on the drug culture of the 1960s, and he spends most of the novel under the influence of one or more drugs. However, unlike his contemporaries Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and Timothy Leary, Thompson does not explicitly advocate the use of LSD in this text. Indeed, his portrayal of the psychedelic experience is often quite negative. Although Duke sees LSD as a means of escape, many of his trips quickly lead to violence and anxiety, which are exactly what Duke is trying to avoid in the first place.
The ending of Fear and Loathing is symbolic of how we each travel on our own road alone.