In Cold Blood Notes

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“First, it is a commentary on the American Dream. Herb Clutter has made a wonderful life for himself--his daughter, after all, bakes apple pies. But Herb Clutter's American idyll is abruptly and arbitrarily shattered by two petty criminals. The American dream is fragile, and it only functions if marginal people (ex-cons) are not present.”

A second theme of In Cold Blood is the randomness of crime. The Clutter family lived in rural Kansas hundreds of miles from a major city, and people of this small community felt a sense of security. The Clutter family murder made national headlines because this crime fit no stereotype. The Clutter family was well loved and respected by the people of Holcomb, who would have never seriously considered a such a crime happening in their own backyard. 

The Clutter family was successful financially; they lived as well as any other family in town. However, there was no jealousy of the family's success. This is another one of many reasons why this murder consternated the inhabitants of Holcomb, the investigators, and the rest of the nation.

Weber noted the evocative quality of the book's ending:... drawing us out of the account of waves of feeling for both the Clutters and the killers, for lives unrealized and cut short, and leaving us with an evocation of the serene order of the landscape, an order that has been violated yet persists, somehow larger and more enduring than man's evil acts.

In the March 18, 1966, issue of The Spectator, Tanner cited Capote's intention to achieve "mythic significance" of his factual account, as he described the symbolism of In Cold Blood: "For here is a 'true' parable of the outlaw against the community; the roving life of random impulse cutting across the stable respectability of continuous ambition; the gangster versus the family man...the terrible meeting of the cursed and blessed of America."

In 1968, Galloway similarly focused on Capote's symbolic images: "...the Clutters' way of life was an anachronism, but a genial and alluring one-the small but influential seed of reality at the heart of the American dream."

Perhaps the ultimate irony is Capote's allegation that the murders themselves were the result of a psychological accident (e.g., "Perry never meant to kill the Clutters at all.  He had a brain     explosion."); (e.g., "... the victims might as well have been killed by lightning.").

In foreshadowing Nancy Clutter's demise, Capote wrote of "... the dress in which she was to be buried"  In telling Perry Smith's story, Capote often relied on flashbacks to his childhood to try to understand what may have led to the grisly murders years later: "... a final battle between the parents, a terrifying contest in which horsewhips and scalding water and kerosene lamps were used as weapons, had brought the marriage to a stop."

“In In Cold Blood it is the all-American Clutter family--Herbert William Clutter, 48, the father; Bonnie, his wife; Kenyon, 15, the only son; and Nancy, 16, "the town darling"--whom destiny has selected to represent, in Capote's telling, "sane, safe, insular, even smug America--people who have every chance against people who have none." Anyone at all familiar with the world of Capote's earlier fiction knew two things, why he had chosen this subject and not another and what doom was coming to the Clutters, from the moment he first introduced Herbert Clutter. "Always certain of what he wanted in the world, Mr. Clutter had in large measure obtained it." Poor Clutter is even physically emblematic of the doom-deserving, vulnerable losers (outward and visible winners) of Capote's universe: "Though he wore rimless glasses and was of but average height, standing just under five feet ten, Mr. Clutter cut a man's-man figure. His shoulders...
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