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In The Great Gatsby and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Scott Fitzgerald and Hunter S. Thompson use a villain as contrast to represent the ugly side of ‘the American Dream’. The two novels are set in different time periods and so the severity of each character’s actions and the effect they have differ in relation to the environment they are in. However in both there is a consistent theme of greed and self indulgence which is portrayed as a predominant common trait in the villains.
The comparison between these two characters arises in the extent to which they exploit wealth and their surroundings to distort the freedom aspired to in the American Dream. In The Great Gatsby it can be considered that the villain is Tom Buchanan. He is the embodiment of greed, selfishness and self indulgence and represented as expressing traits characteristic of what would be considered a villain during the time Gatsby was written. To a modern day reader Tom can be regarded as racist when he makes comments such as “there are great things happening in Germany at the moment”.
This adds to his villainous portrayal. Similarly to Dr Gonzo, Tom is in a powerful position amongst his fellow characters and abuses this status to manipulate his peers as a way of getting what he wants. Dr Gonzo is aware of the susceptibility of his friend, Raoul, and picks on this weakness by tempting him towards a life consisting of drugs, alcohol, over indulgence and extremely limited morals.
He is presented as the ‘devil’ on Raoul’s shoulder, always pushing him to go too far and overstep the mark.
He manipulates him with the frequent repetition “as your attorney I strongly suggest… ” obviously a tested and proved theory that has worked in the past and so is likely to work again. This can be seen as Thompson portraying Gonzo’s awareness of Raoul’s submissive nature and weakness to succumb to a life of grotesque self indulgence; and also his unfailing ability to manipulate this. Tom Buchanan is presented as a hypocritical bully, and in some respects Dr Gonzo can also be seen as one.
Tom and Daisy can be likened to Raoul and Dr Gonzo, when Nick says that they leave other people to pay for the consequences of their actions. Raoul and Gonzo leave a path of destruction everywhere they go, and it can be argued, so do Tom and Daisy. An example of this the death of Myrtle Wilson which Daisy without hesitation allows Gatsby to take the blame for, an event which subsequently results in his death. Tom’s social attitude is based around racism and sexism; it is this total disregard and ignorance for everyone around him that likens him most to Dr Gonzo.
Gonzo does as he pleases whenever he pleases and only ever considers himself; it could be argued that Gonzo’s villainous nature is not entirely his own doing, as we never see him without his personality or thought processes under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Gonzo can evoke pity in the reader, Thompson creates a sense that Gonzo is out of control and cannot help the things he does. Gonzo and Raoul rarely seem to be enjoying their intoxicated state; it seems to be something that causes them a lot of anxiety and discomfort, and yet Thompson still presents this state of being as a preferable alternative to sobriety.
It is for this reason we can be led to assume that there is an underlying cause for Gonzo’s behaviour; that something has happened to make him the way he is, as a way of avoiding whatever underlying problems he may have. The element of Gonzo perhaps not being evil through and through is represented in rare moments in which Thompson shows him as having at least a shred of a conscience. Such as when he asks Raoul to throw the radio in the bath with him and is horrified to discover that Raoul would actually do it “You bastard! You’d do that wouldn’t you? This is an obvious violation of Gonzo’s moral code, which before this point had been near enough non existent. Thompson uses this incident to show Gonzo’s awareness of the difference between right and wrong, even if it is quite unconventional at times. It is from this interpretation that it can be assumed Tom Buchanan is a true villain. He seems to be aware of what he is doing at all times yet shows little or no remorse for his actions; whereas Dr Gonzo is just an intoxicated bully. Based on his occupation, Gonzo is evidently educated and intelligent.
Ironically, he could be using this to accomplish everything the American Dream originally aspired to. However he is instead abusing this, as a method of manipulation and persuasion to fulfil his selfish desires. Arguably, perhaps this is what the American Dream has become in modern society since the times of Gatsby. So it is difficult to say whether this makes him a villain or a hero. Daisy can similarly be likened to Raoul Duke; she allows Tom to overpower her socially and seems to have no problem with this, proven when she says “the best thing a girl can be in this life is a beautiful fool”.
Tom is possessive over Daisy and keeps a close eye on her and who she is conversing with “did you give Nick a little heart to heart on the veranda? ” which he is described as ‘demanding suddenly’, showing Tom’s forceful and stern attitude towards his wife. Tom maintains this attitude despite his affair with Myrtle Wilson, which provides a perfect example of his hypocritical nature. Daisy’s submissive nature is similar to Raoul’s tendency to succumb to Dr Gonzo’s temptations of drugs and alcohol, allowing him self to be overpowered. Dr Gonzo and Tom are both used to represent much ‘The American Dream’ stands for.
Tom represents extreme wealth and the abuse of such power and Dr Gonzo represents grotesque greed, something in which he indulges to a dangerous level. These two characters certainly share a tendency to indulge in greed, as is seen with Tom’s adultery; it is simply not enough for him to just have Daisy. Gonzo pushes Raoul into a lifestyle similar to his own; at times it seems against Raoul’s will. This is what highlights him as a villain, he forces a reckless lifestyle upon Raoul just so he has someone to join in with his endless string of drug fuelled antics and mindless destruction.
This is seen when Gonzo tells Raoul to take the mescaline, which causes much distress for Raoul. Gonzo isn’t concerned about Raoul’s wellbeing and seems to just be using him for his own entertainment. The environment that Gonzo is in- Las Vegas- makes him appear as less of a villain as his behaviour is expected from the inhabitants of that kind of environment. Gonzo makes no excuses and no attempts to disguise his grotesque nature showing an element of highly ironic and commendable honesty. This is unlike Tom, who is more of a subtle villain.
The language Thompson uses for Gonzo to express himself is crude and obscene at times. This can be interpreted as giving Gonzo perhaps a slightly comedic quality, and it would be possible to write off his bad deeds as being just his ‘way’; but it is mostly just a reflection of his obscene character. At regular points in the novel he refers to people as ‘bastards’ and seems to have basically no social etiquette or manners. This is acceptable though in the environment he is in which leads you to wonder, if Tom was in a similar environment, would he perhaps be much the same?
Clearly in the surroundings Fitzgerald creates for Tom it is not acceptable to behave in such a way. Gatsby is set in a time period more than half a century before Fear and Loathing and so social norms and expected behaviour is at times vastly different. If it is considered that Tom and Gonzo possess shared traits of greed and indulgence, then they are both examples of the undesirable effects this can have when exposed to a world that provokes and fuels these traits. However it is this that makes Tom possibly the more influential villain of two.
Tom is extremely wealthy and powerful and therefore in a position which grants him the ability to do as he pleases and expect no one to object. Gonzo’s actions, have less impact in a world where the people surrounding him have ‘seen it all before’. It is not only characters that can be considered as villains so much as themes and ever present but never really visible elements to a novel. In Fear and Loathing it can be considered that the villain is represented through the law.
The reckless lifestyle these two people lead is always over shadowed by the power and authority of the law, the one thing that seems to ground the spontaneous and erratic narrative we become accustomed to. The law acts as a constant barrier preventing Raoul and Gonzo from doing entirely as they please. This is similar to the prohibition enforced in Gatsby. Thompson reflects on the great San Francisco acid wave of the 1960s in what has become known as ‘the wave speech’. “And that, I think, was the handle – that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil.
Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave… So now less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right sort of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back” This has Thompson looking back with nostalgia, reflecting his knowledge that all good things must come to an end, for any number of reasons.
It is this sense of boundaries and restrictions that poses the biggest threat to Raoul and Gonzo. The haunting thought that one day the party will be over. This reflection however is also ironic, as clearly Raoul and Gonzo are prolonging this drug fuelled lifestyle for as long as possible. The contrast between the contextual information behind these novels is obvious. The reckless, carefree and destructive environment of Las Vegas, the bright lights and trashy surroundings are a far cry from the civilised and upper class world of Gatsby.
However, the comparison between these two settings and time periods is perhaps not as obvious. Both of the environments these novels are set in are ones that encourage greed and self indulgence, ones where wealth is celebrated to an extreme and coveted by those without. Particularly Jay Gatsby, a man who idolises wealth and is in this respect like Fitzgerald himself. It can be seen that one of the true villains in both of these novels is the lifestyle itself that these characters seem compelled to achieve.
Fitzgerald was seduced very easily by the roaring 20’s, which is reflected in the character of Nick Carraway. Nick is very intrigued by Gatsby’s illusive reputation and is drawn to experience life in the same way he does. Nick is fascinated by this lifestyle without allowing himself to be mesmerised. He is perhaps the only character in the novel that is not self indulgent, he willingly involves himself in the party scene whilst at the same time consciously distancing himself so as not to get ‘sucked in’. He is both a participant and an observer. I am within and without” Nick says “simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”. Nick’s character is used as an insight into the emptiness and shallowness of this lifestyle. It can be argued that Nick and Gatsby are used to represent the two sides to living in this way. You can be completely drawn into it and driven by the yearning for wealth and extravagance, like Gatsby, or you can look past this and realise that there are perhaps elements to life with more substance than what is directly in front of you.
Gatsby represents the side of Fitzgerald that centred on wealth. He idolises the wealthy much like Fitzgerald himself; this could be partly down to Zelda Fitzgerald who would not marry Fitzgerald until he could prove himself capable of success and wealth. This is not dissimilar, to Daisy; a character primarily focused on wealth and luxury. There is an obvious connection between Raoul Duke and Thompson and the character is largely autobiographical. Raoul seems relatively laid back; he will go along with any situation presented to him.
This sense of freedom is something that was instilled in Thompson himself. However when reading about Thompson’s life it is obvious he also felt trapped and described his home as his “fortified compound”. Thompson committed suicide age 67 and stated in his suicide note this was “17 years more than I needed or wanted”. The lifestyle he has shown in Fear and Loathing is evidently one that does not allow one to live past a certain age, showing that even a life that seems to have no boundaries is still restricted in some way.
This it seems is the main villain that Thompson portrays, the idea that everything has a boundary and nothing is ever as idealistic and free as concepts such as the American Dream had led the American public to believe. When Raoul and Dr Gonzo are intoxicated they believe they are truly free and can live life in the way they choose. This is why they are constantly under the influence, seeking a way to prolong this illusion for as long as possible. The American Dream is the belief in the freedom that allows people of the United States to pursue their goals through hard work and free will.
These novels in many respects keep the theme of the American Dream fairly central. A major theme of Fear and Loathing is the idea of freedom. The concept of a road trip itself is very liberating and free, and so the situation in which Thompson places his characters provides a sense of no boundaries to the reader, that anything can happen at anytime. Although Raoul Duke and Dr Gonzo’s goals are by and large highly immoral, the key idea in this portrayal of this grotesque self indulgence is that of freedom. This liberating factor of the American dream can be seen as either a good or bad thing.
It can be argued that these characters aren’t really villains, but the need for freedom they have had instilled in them from their cultural ‘norms’ has made them become villains. That it has made them selfish and reckless. Both are quite immoral novels, and it is hard to pinpoint one central villain in either. However, whereas Fear and Loathing is a grotesque celebration of the American dream, Gatsby seems to ridicule it. Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the American Dream is ironic. There is a slight undertone running throughout almost mocking these characters.
The environment and social class the novel is set in is one that is typically regarded as ‘having it all’, however Fitzgerald shows that this is far from the truth. These characters are perfect examples of everything associated with the American dream; rich, free, and prosperous. But they are also selfish, greedy and deceptive. We are able to see through the pretence of ‘the perfect life’ through the narrator Nick Carraway, who watches the other characters, often in disgust, and seems to be the only character whose values aren’t strictly materialistic. They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” In this novel, it seems that every character is a villain in some respects. Tom is the obvious villain, hypocritical and cruel. But every character at at least one point commits a villainous act. For example; Daisy kills Myrtle Wilson, Myrtle has an affair with Tom and Wilson kills Gatsby. Fitzgerald has created a society driven almost insane by its own greed and selfishness. The characters have succumbed to the temptations of self indulgence and in doing so lost control.
These people have been converted into villains by the lifestyle and culture which surrounds them. It is hard to distinguish whether they are villains of their own making or victims of circumstance, but have become selfish, reckless and careless, and refuse to take seriously what they have become. “Suppose you meet somebody just as careless as yourself. ” “I hope I never will. ” If a villain is considered to be someone who causes deliberate harm to others for his own pleasure or benefit, then both Gonzo and Tom may be considered as such. They are both portrayed as warped products of the American Dream.
Gonzo is rarely in control and so can be seen as more of an accidental villain and perhaps just as much a victim. Tom’s actions are driven by a conscious sense of greed; pre-meditated and even deliberately sadistic. Tom and Gonzo are presented in different ways. The narrative of Fear and Loathing drags us along with it, whereas Gatsby’s narrative is someone else’s story, told through the eyes of another character. This allows a more critical and objective interpretation to be made of Tom, as it is easy to judge someone when looking at them from an outsider’s perspective.
Thompson involves us in the heart of the action and by instinct we make less harsh judgements of ourselves. I think Fitzgerald is more successful in portraying the traditional stereotype of a villain in Tom Buchanan; someone who deliberately commits evil deeds for selfish purposes. But I think Thompson portrays more of a modern day villain, someone driven by influences no longer under his control; subsequently turning him into a villain. For this reason, I think Tom is the true villain of the two.
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