What role do dreams play in In Cold Blood?

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Perry is a childlike man who has fantasies of wealth and treasure hunting, which are far from reality. Herb Clutter is a hardworking man who dreams of owning his own land, which he accomplishes by the time of his death.

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In the first chapter of In Cold Blood, Capote discusses the dreams of Herb Clutter in close proximity to Perry's dreams, setting the tone for the rest of the book and establishing the thematic role of dreams. The dreams of these two men, and the steps they take to achieve them, give the reader a sense of who they are: Herb Clutter is characterized as a practical and hardworking man with conventional dreams of security, while Perry is characterized as a childlike man in pursuit of fantasies that are out of reach despite his imagination's ability to conjure them.

Since his childhood days growing up on a farm, Herb Clutter dreamed of owning his own land as an adult. This dream was so much a part of Herb that he gave up a secure job in order to pursue the dream. Additionally, Herb dreamed of having a family, which he also accomplished. Both of these dreams are wholesome and within reach for many people, and Herb Clutter manages to have both by the time of his death. Meanwhile, Perry's dreams of treasure hunting and making easy money quickly are less realistic and are characteristic of someone less engaged with the real world.

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In one sense, dreams are significant in the plot of In Cold Blood as an indication of how far removed from reality Perry and Dick are.

Perry's dream is to reach Mexico and find a sunken treasure of Spanish gold. This seems to be his ultimate motivation in participating with Dick in the scheme to rob the Clutters: to get the money needed for the trip south of the border. Perry's less specific dream is to make something of his poetry and music and to become a great success as a performer. All of this, of course, is unrealistic and a pure fantasy. Dick's plan for robbery is based on a different dream. He has only the word of another inmate in prison that the Clutters even have a safe in their home, let alone one containing a huge amount of cash. The whole operation is one that only desperate men, whose thinking is disconnected from reality, would attempt to pull off.

The Clutters themselves are in a kind of dream world too. They do not sense their own vulnerability until it is too late. In this, they are no different from most Americans of their time, who lived in a world of ostensible innocence. The overall message of Truman Capote's book may be that a dark undercurrent exists in general in American life unseen by most people. In this case, it is represented by the irrational and sadistic violence unleashed by Perry and Dick. It is significant that toward the end of the story, when the two are on death row, Capote gives an account of their fellow inmate Lowell Lee Andrews, who murdered his parents and sister. Andrews also inhabited a dreamworld; he went to the movies after committing the murders and showed no emotion when questioned by the police. Like Perry and Dick, he is a sociopath cut off from reality, though in the book as a whole, Capote seems to be saying that "normal" people also have their own fantasy world in which they at least partly live.

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There is a repeated emphasis on dreams in this novel.  There are actual dreams and then "dream" can be seen as goal or aspiration as well.  Perry has the dream of travel, going to Mexico, and seemingly being a the successful man that he is not.  Perry also has the actual dream about the yellow parrot.  This dream allows him to gain some sort of revenge on those who've hurt him over the course of his life.

Al Dewey's wife also dreams of Bonnie Clutter.  Later, Paul Helm has an almost dream-like vision of Bonnie at the window of her bedroom, but it turns out to be a vagrant armed with a shot gun.  Most of the dreams in the book end up like Paul's "vision"; an idea of something better that, in the end, never comes true as we hope.

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