In Cold Blood

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In Cold Blood Part 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Floyd Wells, a former employee of Herb’s and a current inmate at Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing (imprisoned for stealing lawnmowers, in a failed attempt at starting a lawn care business), learns of the Clutter murder. He had shared a cell with Dick that summer, and had mentioned to him that the Clutter family was well off. Dick subsequently boasted that he and Perry were going to rob and kill the Clutters. Floyd is afraid to squeal on Dick, fearing retribution, but a fellow inmate (a staunch Catholic) helps Floyd gain an alibi for visiting the deputy warden’s office. Floyd goes to the deputy warden and tells him what he knows.
Floyd, too, wishes to attain the American Dream; after all, he only stole the lawnmowers in order to start his own business. In talking about the Clutters, he unwittingly inspired Dick to cultivate his own dream of riches. Christianity again plays a positive role – here, it allows Floyd to offer information about Dick and Perry.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The Dewey residence. Alvin and his wife, Marie, are in the kitchen. Alvin has just gotten word that Dick and Perry are the main suspects in the Clutter killing. He shows his wife the photographs, and Marie considers their faces. Dick - with his narrow eyes - certainly looks like a criminal, but Perry – with his soft eyes that are “dreamy” and “rather pretty” – doesn’t look like a criminal at all.
Marie, like many of the townspeople, harbors ideas about what a “normal” criminal should look like. Dick seems to fit the bill, but Perry – given his sensitive demeanor – seems “abnormal.” It's interesting that here Perry's abnormality is seen almost in a positive light, but it was Perry's desire to appear normal to Dick that helped to motivate him to kill the Clutters, which is fairly ironic.
Themes
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
Dick’s family’s house. Mr. and Mrs. Hickok are speaking to the KBI. Dick’s father tells Agent Nye that Dick was a normal boy, but he seemed resentful that his family couldn’t afford to send him to college. Mrs. Hickok blames Perry for Dick’s continued criminal behavior. Agent Nye catches a glimpse of a 12-gauge shotgun leaning against the wall. Mr. Hickok explains that the gun belongs to Dick.
A college education is often associated with the ability to achieve the American Dream. Dick seems to feel that he was never given a chance at that dream, given that he couldn’t afford to go to college. Dick is again referred to as a “normal” person.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
Dick and Perry hitch a ride with a traveling businessman. Dick chats up the businessman, all the while plotting to give Perry the signal to crack his skull with a rock. Perry feels nauseated – the businessman’s laughter reminds him of his own father’s laughter, and this makes him feel even more nervous. Just before Dick gives the signal, the businessman pulls over to pick up a third hitchhiker – a black soldier. Perry, relieved, considers this “a goddamn miracle.”
Throughout the book, Perry’s evil acts seem to be tied to his traumatic past, and in particular to his father. Perry believes he is spared from committing murder via a “miracle,” which indicates he attributes it to some divine force.
Themes
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
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Agent Nye visits a rooming house in Las Vegas where Perry had once lived. The landlady remarks that she’s expecting Perry to turn up any day, given that he had sent her a package from Mexico for safe keeping until his return. Nye then travels to San Francisco and pays a visit to Perry’s sister Barbara, who is not happy to discuss her brother. Barbara – a suburban housewife - has no leads for Nye. She asks Nye to not reveal her whereabouts to Perry. “I’m afraid of him,” she says. “He can seem so warmhearted and sympathetic. Gentle. He cries so easily….He can make you feel so sorry for him.” The episode leads Barbara to brood about her family’s past.
Barbara’s “normal” life stands in stark contrast to Perry’s life of crime. In spite of this, Barbara is haunted by her family’s past, and worries that she’s doomed to evil – she fears she will either commit an evil act, or that an evil act will befall her. Perry’s essential nature is questioned – is he truly a gentle person? Or is he simply evil?
Themes
Evil Theme Icon
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
Iowa. Dick and Perry seek shelter from a rainstorm in a barn. They’re headed for Kansas City, where Dick claims he can “hang a lot of hot paper.” Dick speculates that the duo should spend the winter in Florida with their spoils. Perry sulks – he’s convinced the duo will get caught. They discover a car in the barn and decide to steal it.
Dick has come up with a new fantasy of how he might achieve some semblance of the American Dream. Perry, meanwhile, still suspects that their evildoings cannot go unpunished.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Evil Theme Icon
The KBI decides to keep information about Dick and Perry secret for the time being – they still aren’t sure that they’re the killers, given the lack of hard evidence. Meanwhile, rumors still abound in Holcomb. Mrs. Hartman (of Hartman’s Café) has noticed that in spite of this, things are beginning to quiet down.
The town seems to be returning to “normal,” given that talk of the Clutter case has died down.
Themes
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
Kansas City. Perry is at the Washateria, doing laundry and waiting for Dick to return. He feels sick with worry. He spies a woman’s purse and briefly considers snatching it. He realizes that his life hasn’t changed much since his childhood purse-snatching days. “He was still…an urchin dependent, so to say, on stolen coins.” Dick finally arrives, and he is triumphant. He’s written one bad check, has plans for where he can write some more, and has secured plates for their stolen car. “Then Florida here we come,” Dick says. “Just like all the millionaires.”
Perry realizes that he’s been chasing after the American Dream his whole life. The only way he’s been able to do this, though, is through a life of crime and evildoing. Dick continues to build up the fantasy of life in Florida – unlike Perry's romantic dreams of treasure hunting in Mexico, Dick wants to go to Florida because that's where rich people go. Dick seems to feel that just by being near those "winners" he will be a winner too.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Evil Theme Icon
Alvin, in the midst of a dream about catching Dick and Perry, is awakened by a call from Agent Nye. Dick and Perry have been traced to Kansas City, but no one is able to track them down. Alvin has a hunch that they won’t be caught – he feels Dick and Perry are invincible.
Alvin feels that the capture of Dick and Perry has become a thing of fantasy. His pessimism stands in stark contrast to Dick and Perry’s unwarranted optimism.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Christmas Day. Dick and Perry are on the beach in Miami, Florida, where they’ve been for several days. Dick collects seashells and reflects on the envy he felt a few days earlier when, in the lobby of a luxury hotel, he spotted a man his own age, accompanied by a blonde woman, who “looked as though he knew the glories of money and power.” Dick felt a surge of violent rage (“Why should that sunofabitch have everything, while he had nothing?”) and left the hotel. Dick gives his seashells to a twelve-year-old girl, and he attempts to hold her hand. He’s sexually attracted to her, and he “was sorry he felt as he did about her, for sexual interest in female children was a failing of which he was ‘sincerely ashamed’…because other people might not think it ‘normal.’”
Being in Florida has put Dick face-to-face with an American Dream he can never realize – one of immense wealth, power, and sex appeal. This is all part of his dream of being “normal” – and even though he says he’s achieved it, this couldn’t be further from the truth. (He’s penniless, he’s a fugitive, and he’s sexually attracted to young girls.) It seems that Dick’s evil tendencies have no cause – there’s seemingly no explanation for his pedophilia.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Evil Theme Icon
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
Perry – aware of his friend’s pedophilia - is concerned that Dick will try to rape the girl, and he is relieved when the child slips away from Dick. Perry overhears Christmas carols on a radio and he is moved to tears. He idly contemplates suicide, which, given his family’s history, seems “like the specific death awaiting him.” Perry feels that his dreams of treasure hunting have been destroyed, along with his dreams of being a nightclub singer. He realizes that he and Dick are “running a race without a finish line” – their money is almost gone, and the two are leaving Florida tomorrow, with the aim of heading west.
This is one instance in which Perry seems reasonably “normal”—he abhors Dick’s pedophilic tendencies. Perry is once again convinced that his family history has doomed him in some way. Although he feels his dreams have been shattered, the romantic quality of his suicidal fantasy seems to share the romance of his previous dreams.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
The same day, Bobby goes for a walk and unintentionally ends up walking to the Clutters’ farm. Herb’s orchard smells of rotting fruit, and the house has an air of abandonment and disrepair. The only sign of life comes from the livestock corral, where the family’s pet horse, Babe, still lives.
The Clutters’ dreams are ruined – their house lies in disrepair, and the yield from Herb’s orchard has gone to waste.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Dick and Perry pick up a couple hitchhikers – an old man and a young boy. Dick is initially annoyed by the passengers, but quickly warms up to them when the young boy introduces him to the art of finding returnable bottles by the roadside. Together, they load the car full of bottles, and the boy exchanges them at a motel. They split the money and eat a big dinner at a diner.
A parallel can be drawn between Perry (and possibly Dick) and the young boy. Like Perry, the boy is a vagabond who’s chasing after a dream of stability. His only means of doing this, however, is by collecting bottles– similar to Perry’s “stolen coins”
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
December 30th. The Dewey household. Alvin gets a call notifying him that Dick and Perry have been arrested in Las Vegas. Alvin is at first delighted and then is overcome with dread that the KBI won’t be able to put together enough evidence to convict Dick and Perry. Alvin sets off for Las Vegas.
Once again, Alvin is distrustful of his fantasies and dreams, given the hard lessons he’s learned in life.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Earlier that day, Dick and Perry arrive at the post office in Las Vegas to pick up a box they mailed from Mexico (containing, among other things, the boots they wore the night they murdered the Clutters). Dick has hatched a new plan to impersonate an officer and write bad checks at the casinos. He also secretly plans to ditch Perry, once he’s made a bundle. (“Dick was sick of him – his harmonica, his aches and ills, his superstitions, the weepy, womanly eyes, the nagging, whispering voice.”) Perry and Dick drive to the Las Vegas rooming house to pick up the second box, and the police arrest them when they arrive.
By this point in the book, Perry’s masculinity is no longer simply “abnormal” – it’s downright feminine! (His “womanly eyes,” for instance.) Dick has concocted a new fantasy, this time one that doesn’t include Perry. His scheme to impersonate an officer is yet another bizarre riff on the American Dream – if he can’t actually have the dream, he can at least appear to have it.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
Dick is interrogated at the Las Vegas City Jail. Agent Nye is surprised by how skinny Dick is. (“I’d imagined a bigger guy. Brawnier.”) Dick coolly lies to Agents Nye and Church, offering a tidy alibi for what he did the night of the Clutter killings. The investigators catch his lies, but Dick still denies his involvement with the murders. Agent Nye emerges from the interrogation room and spots Perry. He’s fascinated by Perry’s short legs, tiny feet, dark complexion, and “pert, impish features.” Alvin and Agent Duntz interrogate Perry, who stumbles over his recitation of the alibi he and Dick had agreed on. The agents accuse him of killing the Clutters, and Perry falls silent. His knees pain him.
Both Dick and Perry are considered to have abnormal features, at least according to Agent Nye. Dick is considered to be too scrawny (Nye imagines the killer would look stronger), and Perry’s stunted legs, dainty feet, and “pert, impish features” certainly don’t fit the bill, either. It’s not clear in this scene whether Perry is uncomfortable due to his legs, a feeling of guilt, or worry that his evil fate has caught up to him at last.
Themes
Evil Theme Icon
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
Perry and Dick are jailed in separate cells, and they ruminate about their respective interrogations. Perry longs to talk to Dick. Dick, meanwhile, realizes that Floyd has ratted him out. He considers that he should have killed Floyd while he was in prison. Then he realizes that Perry is a greater liability, and regrets not killing Perry while they were wandering the desert.
Dick seems to have adopted a casual attitude toward murder. It seems that his motivation for committing evil acts stems from a place of selfishness, whereas with Perry it stems from a place of childhood trauma.
Themes
Evil Theme Icon
Perry and Dick are interrogated a second time. Perry sticks to the alibi. Dick, on the other hand, when presented with a photograph of a bloody footprint from the scene of the crime, rats on Perry. “Perry Smith killed the Clutters,” he says. “It was Perry. I couldn’t stop him. He killed them all.”
In ratting out Perry, Dick has essentially sentenced him to death – yet another example of his casual (and selfish) attitude toward the taking of human life, and his selfish tendency to always put himself first.
Themes
Evil Theme Icon
Holcomb is abuzz with gossip and speculation following the news report on Dick’s confession. Many of the townspeople are puzzled that the killer wasn’t one of their own, and there are rumors that the real killer, or perhaps the person behind the killings, is still at large.
Holcomb has lost its innocence to such a degree that the townspeople are reluctant to let go of their cynical belief that the killer is one of their own!
Themes
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
Dick and Perry are being driven back to Garden City in a police caravan. Perry sits in the passenger seat beside Alvin, who is driving. Perry is handcuffed, and when Perry requests a cigarette Alvin is forced to light it for him and place it between Perry’s lips – something Alvin finds “’repellent,’ for it [was]…the kind of thing he’d done while he was courting his wife.”
Perry’s “abnormal” masculinity again is again put in terms of femininity – in this case, he’s essentially taking the place of Alvin’s wife. Alvin, a “normal” man, finds this “repellant”
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Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
Once in Garden City, the agents turn Perry against Dick, and Perry fills the investigators in on details of the murder. Perry recounts how frustrated he and Dick had been to discover that the family had no cash on hand. Perry had been reduced to scrambling for a silver dollar that had fallen out of a doll’s purse in Nancy’s room. “I was just disgusted…One dollar. And I’m crawling on my belly to get it,” Perry says.
Perry has come to realize that he’s been scrambling for the American Dream all his life. Even though he’s worked hard (similar to Herb), his efforts have only resulted in poverty and a vicious cycle of desperation and crime.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Perry describes how he’d tried to make the Clutters more comfortable after he’d tied them up. He describes how he had to guard Nancy from Dick, who wished to rape her. Perry reveals that, for a split-second after the murders, he’d considered killing Dick, given that he was a witness. Alvin listens with horror, but also with a measure of sympathy for Perry, given that his life had been “…an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage and then another.”
Perry’s ambiguous attitudes toward evil are on display here. He’s staunchly against rape, and he’s determined to make the Clutters feel comfortable. In spite of this, he has a casual, almost workmanlike, approach to their murder. Alvin finds himself sympathizing with Perry in spite of his evil acts.
Themes
Evil Theme Icon
Two gray tomcats wander the streets of Garden City, picking dead birds from the grilles of automobiles. Nearby, a large crowd has gathered outside of the courthouse to see Dick and Perry get escorted to jail. The crowd falls silent when they finally arrive, “as though amazed to find them humanly shaped.”
The two cats, symbolic of Dick and Perry, make their first appearance. The townspeople have assumptions about what a “normal” criminal should look like, and they’re perplexed that Dick and Perry don’t fit that mold.
Themes
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon