Novel In Cold Blood Essay, Research Paper
Herb Clutter and his family possess it. Dick and Perry want it. It is often associated with the ideal existence. What is “it” exactly? “It” refers to financial stability. This is the state of not having to fret about paying the bills or providing for one’s family and of not having to worry if one will eat on a given day. The concept of financial stability is central in the novel written by Truman Capote and inspired by real events entitled In Cold Blood. This issue is the backbone of the novel and is the chief motive for the murders committed in the story. Additionally, financial stability is an important component in the typical view of the “American dream.” It is fair to say that the Clutters embody this concept, which involves a pattern of social and personal virtue that is accompanied by financial stability. The opposite seems true for those characters of Dick and Perry who fail to exhibit virtuous behaviors and therefore, never attain financial stability. These characters embody the “American nightmare.” Capote argues in his story that tragedy is not confined to the latter category and life is indeed a fragile thing.
It may seem risky to say that a person who has attained financial stability has done so by exhibiting virtue. While in the real world this statement might not hold true, it is supported within the context of Capote’s story. He introduces the Clutters as a financially stable family and as the embodiment of the “American dream.” He illustrates the virtues of Herb Clutter by stating “his name was everywhere respectfully recognized” (6) and “he was known for his equanimity, his charitableness, and the fact that he paid good wages” (10). Capote, when speaking of what Herb wanted to obtain in the world, says he “had in large measure obtained it” (6). Herb was a successful father, husband, businessman, and politician according to Capote’s account. The success of his farmland was a direct result of his hard work (11-12). In addition, Herb was very prudent with his money. He never carried cash (46) and he was excellent at storing his assets (11). Herb Clutter obtained financial stability for his family through virtuous means. Thus his family, with respect to financial stability, embodied the “American dream.”
Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, however, were not known for their virtue and respectability. While it is true today and was true at the time of the story that many profit from dishonesty, ultimately Dick and Perry were destroyed by it. It is fact that both Dick and Perry had served prison sentences for robbery in the past. Capote further illustrates the vices of Dick’s personality when he uses the statement, “I promise you, honey, we’ll blast hair all over them walls” (22) to portray Dick as a potential murderer. Capote also shows that Dick is a liar by revealing that he lied to his father about where he was going the night of the murders (23). It is fairly obvious that Capote is portraying Dick as a person who doesn’t often exhibit virtue in his actions. Capote presents a similar idea about Perry when he reveals Perry’s confession of murdering all four Clutter’s present at the house (255). Dick and Perry never attain financial stability and are, within Capote’s story, the embodiment of the “American nightmare.” It is possible that Capote is subtly equating this with their lack of virtue.
Throughout the story Dick and Perry tried to come up with schemes to make money. Dick goes on a bad check writing spree and he promises to marry Maria “who was the widow of a ‘very prominent Mexican banker’” (118) in order to get money. In fact, the incident at the River Valley Ranch was meant to be a robbery and not a murder. Dick and Perry never seriously try to find honest ways to make money, rather they spend all their time scheming and violating others in order to get money. Their methods ultimately fail every time and they always find themselves broke shortly after scamming someone. Thus the pattern of dishonest and dishonorable behavior is a major component to the idea of the “American nightmare” and it seems to coincide with financial instability within the context of Capote’s story.
It is possible to argue against Capote’s idea that virtue is followed by financial stability. After all the Hickocks were what Dick described as “semi-poor. Never down and out, but several times on the verge of it” (277). The Hickocks were good people who worked hard for what they had (277). They do not seem to fit with the idea that virtue follows financial stability. The only problem with this counter argument to Capote’s idea is that we don’t know anything else about the Hickocks. We don’t know what they did with the money they had. We have no idea how well the saved the money or if Walter (the father) went and gambled some of it away. Therefore, the counter argument cannot be effectively made using the information given.
The absence of financial stability in Dick and Perry’s lives is obvious. They probably wish that this was the extent of their problems. Unfortunately, their lack of virtue brought about a more serious situation. The result of the Clutter murders for Dick and Perry was death. This seems like any easy connection to make. If a person kills another person they may be punished by death. The important thing to understand is that Dick and Perry had little to lose my committing the murders. They had both spent time in prison and had nothing in the world but each other and the clothes on their backs. This was a desperate situation for Dick and Perry and they were willing to risk their lives in order to obtain some sense of financial stability. Perhaps this desperation is why they embody the “American nightmare.” Contrastingly, Herb Clutter had everything he wanted for himself and his family and the idea of him committing a similar crime is inconceivable given how much he has to lose.
The real tragedy that Capote presents is that the terms “American nightmare” and “American dream” hold limited value in the real world. Tragedy can strike even those who embody the “American dream” as in the case of the Clutters. Capote’s point is that life is fragile and it cannot be defined by black and white terms such as the ones above. It was tragic that Dick and Perry lost their lives, but such an occurrence coincides with the idea of the “American nightmare.” Society expects that people like Dick and Perry will be brought to justice and that people like the Clutters will live in peace and fulfillment. Capote argues that while we want things to work out this way it is inevitable that tragedy will strike some of those who embody the “American dream.”
Herb Clutter, a man of described virtue, was blessed with respect from his peers and financial stability. Within the concept of the “American dream” virtuous people are always rewarded with financial stability. Conversely, Dick and Perry, who Capote depicts as the embodiment of the “American nightmare,” do not exhibit virtuous behavior and therefore, never experience the stability and respect that the Clutter’s experience. The distinction between the “American nightmare” and the “American dream” is easy to see. Capote argues, however, that these concepts do not hold true all of the time and that tragedy strikes even those who are the most virtuous. Thus, we must understand that life is fragile and no one is impregnable to tragedy.