The great theme of In Cold Blood, if it can be called a theme, is America itself. The America of Capote's book is a vast sprawling landscape of deserts and beaches and plains, laundromats and diners. One is constantly impressed by the sheer distance, the amount of miles traveled, the amount of miles there are to travel. Dick Hickock and Perry Smith travel over eight hundred miles in twenty-four hours to commit their crimes. Afterward they travel to Mexico, back to Kansas, to Florida, Texas, and Nevada. Perry spends his childhood following his parents from Texas to Oregon. He and his father move to Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska. As a young man Perry goes from Seattle to Honolulu to Worcester, Massachusetts; St. Joseph, Missouri; McCook, Nebraska; and New York City. Perry "washed dishes in an Omaha restaurant, pumped gas at an Oklahoma garage, worked a month on a ranch in Texas." This sounds like an older America, an Old West America of pioneers and cowboys, a place of dissatisfied travelers who seek their destiny elsewhere, a land where the right job or good luck or gold is always in the next town, a neighboring state, in Alaska, Florida, or maybe Oklahoma. This is a country that by its sheer size and the variety of its landscapes seems to promise bounty, more than enough for everyone, and sets people dreaming and traveling. That size and variety is at the root of the myth of America. It is a place people have, because of industrialization and mass media, almost...
(The entire section is 1242 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of In Cold Blood Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Nature versus Nurture
Capote includes, almost in their entirety, long texts written by Smith's sister, his father, the court-appointed psychiatrist, and his friend Willie Jay, which detail Smith's childhood, motorcycle accident, prejudices, and mental state. The composite image of Smith derived from these accounts is one of an innately intelligent, talented, sensitive being warped and eroded by neglect, abuse, humiliation, and unresolved emotional trauma. Smith's mother, an alcoholic, choked on her own vomit. His brother and sister committed suicide and another sister disowned him. His father moved him from house to house during childhood, preventing Smith from going to school. Nonetheless, Smith has taught himself to play the guitar and harmonica, to paint, and to speak with exacting grammar. He reads constantly and, ‘‘being a bit of a prude,’’ avoids vulgar literature and materials. In prison, he paints a portrait of Jesus for the prison chaplain, which leads Reverend Post to believe that Smith cannot be "all that bad.’’ Capote's recounting of Smith's childhood and family life begs the question whether Smith's crimes stem from inherent criminal tendencies, or whether he is pushed onto that path through circumstances beyond his control.
The community of Holcomb, Kansas cannot rest until the killers are brought to justice. "Why don't you arrest somebody?’’ a townsperson asks Agent Dewey. "That's what...
(The entire section is 669 words.)