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The American Dream is the idea of creating a life that is more prosperous and joyous, where there are equal opportunities for success. However, the promises of these dreams can cause people to grow resentful against others, creating an American nightmare. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood unfolds the darkness of these nightmare through the murder of a wholesome family, the Clutters. The murderers, Dick Hickock, and Perry Smith, attempt to attain their version of the American dream by robbing the Clutter’s, ultimately leading to the families deaths. The American Dream is twisted through the truths toldAlthough one may achieve success, success is not always everlasting.
The Clutter family is displayed as having achieved the American dream and having a quintessential American family and lifestyle. Not only was Mr. Clutter’s farm prosperous, he was also well respected within his community because of his determination and perseverance. Mr. Clutter “labored eighteen hours a day… but after a decade [his] domain consisted of over eight hundred acres owned outright” (11). In addition to his own success, his children were also greatly accomplished; Eveanna was studying to be a nurse, Beverly was engaged to a young biologist, Nancy was the town darling and Kenyon was the dashing young boy. Yet, all of their achievements are thrown away in a single night when they were murdered by Dick and Perry. Their murder generated fear throughout the city of Holcomb because the Clutter’s were idolized and put on a pedestal.
As a school teacher told Detective Dewey, “Anyone less admired. Prosperous. Secure. But that family represented everything people hereabouts really value and respect, and that such a thing could happen to them” (88). Although they achieved the American dream, their death showed the community of Holcomb that success is difficult to sustain. The greed and jealousy from those who could not achieve success, creates an American nightmare. Dick and Perry came from backgrounds exemplary of the typical American dream narrative. Dick was raised in a stable, middle-class lifestyle, he yearned for more and felt as if anything less was below him. After being involved in a car crash, Dick’s behavior began to change rapidly. His father stated, “After that, he wasn’t the same boy. Gambling, writing bad checks. I never knew him to do them things before,” (166). Perry’s childhood, unlike Dick, was extremely traumatizing as he spent many years in abusive orphanages and foster homes. As he recalls, “it was not long afterward [his] mother put [him] to stay in a Catholic orphanage. The one where the Black Widows were always at [him]. Hitting [him]. Because of wetting the bed,” (132).
However, the two end up in prison where one Floyd Wells told them about the Clutters: how successful, generous and most importantly, rich they were. Floyd recalls,“Dick was talking about killing Mr. Clutter. Said him and Perry was gonna go out there and rob the place, and they was gonna kill all witnesses—the Clutters” (161). Out of hatred and jealousy, Dick had decided to rob and kill the Clutter family. This is because the Clutters portrayed everything Dick and Perry wanted out of their life: wealth and prosperity. Throughout the novel, the American dream is invalidated through the demolished fate of the Clutter’s deaths which symbolizes the obliteration of the dream. Whereas Dick and Perry’s desire of the money and success seems to compel them to commit their crime. Capote demonstrates the corruption of the American dream through the tragedy of the 1959 murder. It depicts how in our society, both those who have and haven’t achieved success can all lose everything out of greed and jealousy.
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