Anyone Except the Clutters: the Question of Meaning in Capote's in Cold Blood

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A strange thing happens when people like the Clutters experience an “undeserved” misfortune. Perhaps misfortune is an understatement in the Clutters case, but the fact is that when bad things happen to good people, everyone around them cannot help but question the nature of good and evil; with that comes the existence of God. Capote put it best in the quote he included from the schoolteacher: “Feeling wouldn’t run half so high if this had happened to anyone except the Clutters. Anyone less admired. Prosperous. Secure. But that family represented everything people hereabouts really value and respect, and that such a thing could happen to them –well , it’s like being told there is no God. It makes life seem pointless.” (88) The question of why bad things happen to good people is a very loaded question; one that is broader than the scope of this essay. The goal of this essay will be to determine what Capote’s answer to this question is, at least in the context of this novel. Does he believe that the Clutters died for a reason, or that it was simply a random act that they were caught up in by chance?

Throughout the novel, the one character who is completely consumed by the question of meaning is Detective Dewey. His dedication to finding the Clutters murderers is driven by his belief that “he might suddenly ‘see something,’ that a meaningful detail would declare itself” (83). The Clutters murder didn’t seem to have any apparent meaning. But Detective Dewey was not alone in his belief that the actions people do are meaningful; that the events that occur in this world have an order, a design. This belief is prevalent, especially in religious groups, and we learn in the novel that Holcomb, Kansas is part of the “Bible Belt” (34). It was definitely a religious town, and the Clutters were churchgoing folk. Dewey, for this reason, cannot escape believing there is a reason for everything, and that the Clutters death had a purpose. Is that what Capote...
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