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Idyllic Perception of the American Dream in the Novel 'In Cold Blood'

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In the book In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, one topic his writing focuses on is an idyllic perception of the American Dream. The people of Holcomb are stereotypical small-town Americans of the 1950s. When the town is completely upended one night, by the murder of the upstanding Clutter family, it shows that the American Dream is fragile. Although In Cold Blood was written in the 1950s, it can be used to reflect on the present. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood shows how people are tempted to shortcut the process of achieving the American dream through crime; home hold-ups were more commonplace in the 1950s which caused homeowners considerable anxiety, not only about being robbed but potentially being murdered; people today manage money electronically and don’t have large sums of cash at home, they also have advanced security for their homes which makes home hold-ups less profitable, more difficult, and increase the risk of being identified even if you kill the witnesses.

Dick and Perry believed the assumption that a wealthy family, the Clutters, would have a safe filled with cash in their home, and that they could shortcut the American dream by holding up the Clutter family and robbing them. “Since childhood ... a longing to realize an adventure his imagination swiftly and over enabled him to experience: the dream of drifting downward through strange waters, ...a ship's hulk that loomed ahead, a Spanish galleon - a drowned cargo of diamonds and pearls, heaping caskets of gold.''(p.16-17) This quote references Perry’s dream of one day “magically” striking it rich and immediately fulfilling his life goals. His dream shows parallels to his expectations of robbing the Clutters. Dick can also be seen with ambitions to have his perfect American dream, but he doesn’t want to have to work hard or long, he wants a quick fix solution. “Dick who wanted ‘a regular life,’ with a business of his own, a house, a horse to ride, a new car, and ‘plenty of blond chicken.’ It was important, however, that Perry not suspect this - not until Perry, with his gift, had helped further Dick’s ambitions.”(p.55) Mr.Clutter lived the perfect American Dream, he had everything Dick and Perry had ever wanted. “Always certain of what he wanted from the world, Mr. Clutter had in large measure obtained it…He wore a plain gold band, which was the symbol…of his marriage to the person he had wished to marry…She had given him four children – a trio of daughters and a son.' (p.6) When Dick and Perry hatched their plan to rob and murder the Clutters they planned carefully to leave no witnesses and flee the scene with no evidence of their presence left behind.

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There was more anxiety about home hold-ups in the 1950s because then it was a more viable, common crime, and murdering the witnesses gave robbers a good chance of avoiding being identified; even if there is a similar murder rate today, it happens less frequently in one’s own home. The town of Holcomb, in the 1950s, was at a loss, with a lack of modern technology and techniques the police had rarely found any evidence to convict anyone, “I don’t know a soul who still thinks they’ve got hell’s chance of catching the one done it.”(p.191 Mrs.Hartman). In the 1950s, the easiest way to solve a crime was through having eyewitnesses testify and having suspects interviewed. “Without a confession, we’ll never get a conviction.”(p.190 Dewey) The most common way to convict anyone of a crime was to have a witness or multiple witnesses. “ ‘You left a witness. A living witness. Who’ll testify in court’(Nye)…’ Living witness! There can’t be!... There ain’t anybody that can connect me with any goddamn murder. Checks. A little petty thievery. But I’m no goddamn killer.’(Dick)”(p.223) Due to modern technology, there have been huge advances in criminology, allowing crime to be solved with evidence other than testimonies, witnesses, and confessions.

People today are less anxious about home hold-ups because very few people hold large sums of cash in their homes, and invaders can still trigger alarms direct to the police and be caught on camera even if they did kill the witnesses. “Except for two sets of boot prints, one bearing a diamond pattern and the others a Cat’s Paw design, the slayers had not left a single clue.” (p.190) The best evidence found at the crime site was weak, it didn't create any leads, but was eventually used as supporting circumstantial evidence that Dick and Perry were at the scene. “…when you come home tonight, you’ll have to ring the doorbell. I’ve had all the locks changed…Just lock the doors and turn the porch light on…what’s wrong? Marie scared?... Hell, yes…her and everybody else.” (p.87) With a lack of home security in the 1950s, the best one could do to secure a house from intruders was to change the locks. Also in the 1950s, electronic banking had not been invented, it was a reasonable assumption that any rich family would have a safe filled with cash (Mr.Clutter being an exception) “It sometimes cost him ten thousand dollars in one week to run his operation… I seemed to remember a sort of cabinet, or safe, or something, right behind the desk in the room Mr.Clutter used as an office.”(161 Floyd Wells) The amount of home hold-ups in current times has decreased significantly, with security cameras, and alarm systems.

Dick and Perry’s attempt at shortcutting the American dream helps identify a type of crime that people are less anxious about today. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote helps us better understand the times in which we live, by showing events of the past that are less secure than today, but may have influenced the way that we live now. The fears of the past helped motivate entrepreneurs, who made the changes necessary for people today to live as they do. Security cameras and alarm systems, and the ability to transfer money electronically without bundles of notes offers comfort to today’s homeowners and lessens anxieties about a particularly brutal crime that happens in the one place everyone needs to feel safe and secure, in their homes.

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Idyllic Perception of the American Dream in the Novel ‘In Cold Blood’. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“Idyllic Perception of the American Dream in the Novel ‘In Cold Blood’.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
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Idyllic Perception of the American Dream in the Novel ‘In Cold Blood’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2023 Dec 8]. Available from:
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