Representation Of The American Dream In Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

The American dream has been sought after since the 1900s and has been said to be achievable. If an individual works hard enough and achieves success in life regardless of family history or social status, they too can achieve the dream. Truman Capote, On the other hand, believes no matter how hard an individual works, they are never guaranteed to achieve their version of the American dream. He explores this in his novel “In Cold Blood” as he takes a look at very different livelihoods. By digging into their values, experiences, and beliefs, Capote questions motives and motivations. Which critiques the pursuit of the American dream as well as the American justice system and its treatment toward people with mental health issues.

Capote portrays the Clutters family as the best version of the American dream. Mr.Clutter, described as a “man’s-man figure”, a generous employer, and a self-made man alongside being the embodiment of the American Dream and the pinnacle of respect. Capote lets the reader know that Mr.Clutter is a man that has cut no corners as he worked toward his goal. Bonnie is described as a beautiful woman that has been affectionate to others and her family. Described as the 'town darling,' Nancy is smart, beautiful, and involved in the community. She was the class president and an excellent student. Keyon was described to be intelligent and tinkered with many gadgets. Although, they seem perfect they are not without fault, beneath the surface of happiness lies dysfunction. Bonnie is clinically depressed. Kenyon is anti-social, barely speaking to anyone, and Nancy is infatuated with a boy that goes against her family's Methodist beliefs. This 'perfect family' still struggles on the inside and despite their hard work and adherence to family values, they still fall victim to a horrific fate.

When it comes to characters that dealt with the most misfortune and abhorrent treatment by american institutions no one had it worse then Perry Smith. As a child he was abandoned by his family, abused by 2 nuns at the orphanage and by others who were his caregiver. Capote uses Perry to portray his disbelief that if an individual works hard enough they can achieve the american dream. Capote further expands on Perry when he writes ”a longing to realize an adventure his imagination swift ...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.''”Capote characterizes Perry as someone who hoped to succeed through good fortune. However, these dreams never materialize and Perry finds himself in the same position he was in as a child, ''Things hadn't changed much. Perry was twenty-odd years older and a hundred pounds heavier, and yet his material situation had not improved at all. He was still an urchin dependent, so to say, on stolen coins. Due to what Perry believed as “fate” or bad luck, he turned to stealing and as a way to achieve his goals. Capote expands on how not everyone can achieve their goal by working hard and the pure fact that perry had to turn to crime to achieve his goal; Capote makes the reader question if the american dream really is achievable. In addition, to making the reader question the american dream, Capote makes the readers question the american justice system. During the trial, the Kansas Supreme court never took well into account the trauma and mental issues that Perry had been dealing with rather just condemned him to the death penalty. This goes along the lines of H. L. Menken proposed that we use the death penalty as a way of getting Katharsis, healthy way of letting off of steam, and that is what happend with Perry. The court and the townspeople were furious and wanted to get rid of the person that killed a member of their community and condemning perry to the death penalty with out looking into to his past was in a way their form of Katharsis.

Dick Hickcock was presented as an oddity when it comes to the american dream. Throughout the novel bits and pieces of his past are revealed. To much surprise of the audience Dick lived a pretty well off life. He had both of his parents, neither of them being abusive or neglectful, a roof under his head, and a father with a stable job.One could say he started with the American dream. What led him down hill wasn’t the justice system or american institutions, rather it was the fault of his parents and himself. as a child Dick used to steal many thing from his neighbors being called a “devil” and said to have “gone to jail more times than [one] can count”,Capote described Dick’s parents as wonderful and loving, but that loving nature ended up backfiring, dicks parents never taught him much to anything about his actions having consequences, rather they saw him with a pair of rose colored glasses. Since having been taught nothing about consequences, Dick acted on his impulse of the moment. If he needs money, he passes bad checks. If he’s broke he plans a way to rob and kill anyone who decided to help him. Capote understands that there are oddities when it comes to the american dream and dick was a prime example. Capote in a way juxtaposed Dick to Mr.Clutter. Mr.Clutter was a man of integrity, a loving father, and a hard worker. Meanwhile, Dick was a man with no integrity , with 2 divorces and 3 children that he abandoned, would cut as many corners as possible to reach his goal.

The American Dream may or may not be achievable. Capote though, made his stance pretty adamant that no matter how much effort is put into your goals nothing is ever guaranteed. He explores this in his book “In Cold Blood”, where he criticizes the pursuit of the American dream as well as the American justice system and its treatment toward people with mental health issues.  

16 December 2021
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