What does the crime reveal about the town of Holcomb? How does the gossip surrounding the murders reflect underlying truths about the town?

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pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The horrific crime takes place in a small town where people like the Clutters don't even lock their doors at night.  This was a common activity especially during the early part of the 20th century.  The fact that the crime takes place in such a town, a safe, small community where everyone knows everyone else makes it more frightening.  A crime like this is thought to occur only in a big city where there are plenty of nameless, faceless people who don't know each other.

"The crime confronted the townsfolk of Holcomb with their own isolation. Neighborliness evaporated. The natural order seemed suspended. Chaos poised to rush in. They distrusted and came to suspect not terrible strangers, but themselves."

"At the trial, struck mostly silent, they gaped. A squadron of psychiatrists, about the best we can produce in the way of a tragic chorus, emphasized the banality and dehydration of the current articulations of motive. "Paranoid orientation," they said. "Schizophrenic reaction. Severe character disorder."

But the tragedy is that the Clutters were targeted for what they represented, success, both economic success and the fact that they were a stable, normal family.  They are well liked in town and when the murder is discovered, it rips the lid off this town, as if everyone now feels very vulnerable.

A suspenseful fear develops between the townspeople who believe that the killer must live among them, creating paranoia and mistrust among neighbors.

The killers destroy the sanity of this town, they take away something very precious from the residents of Holcomb, their belief that if you live a good life, go to church, treat your neighbors right, live according to the rules that nothing really bad will happen to you. The murders send the whole town into a state of chaos, some people can't cope, so that move away their fear is that great.

But peoples lives are changed permanently, that is why Capote found this particular crime so fascinating, the randomness, or almost random act, there was planning on the part of the killers, the Clutters were targeted, but it seems impossible to connect the two.  The murders, the savageness of the assault shook this town so deeply that it was changed forever, a small sleepy town in Kansas is now famously known for the savage murders.

"The author went west, to Kansas City, to Garden City and Holcomb, Kan., the hamlet where the murders took place. With the obsessiveness of a man demonstrating a profound new hypothesis, he spent more than five years unraveling and following to its end every thread in the killing of Herbert W. Clutter and his family. "In Cold Blood," the resulting chronicle, is a masterpiece--agonizing, terrible, possessed, proof that the times, so surfeited with disasters, are still capable of tragedy."

Read the study guide:
In Cold Blood

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