In Cold Blood

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Death Row Symbol Icon
Kansas State Penitentiary’s Death Row is housed in a coffin-shaped building, which clearly (and somewhat ham-handedly) symbolizes the end of the line for Perry Smith and Dick Hickok. The cells in Death Row look out on the shed that houses that gallows, known by the inmates as The Corner.

Death Row Quotes in In Cold Blood

The In Cold Blood quotes below all refer to the symbol of Death Row. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of In Cold Blood published in 1994.
Part 4 Quotes

Soldiers don’t lose much sleep. They murder, and get medals for doing it. The good people of Kansas want to murder me – and some hangman will be glad to get the work. It’s easy to kill – a lot easier than passing a bad check. Just remember: I only knew the Clutters maybe an hour. If I’d really known them, I guess I’d feel different. I don’t think I could live with myself. But the way it was, it was like picking targets off in a shooting gallery.

Related Characters: Perry Edward Smith (speaker), Herb Clutter, Bonnie Clutter, Nancy Clutter, Kenyon Clutter
Related Symbols: Death Row
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the story, Perry is beginning to unravel psychologically, so his words cannot be considered reliable. However, in a sense, this passage seems to be one of the most honest in the book. It would have been easy for Perry to play up his moral conflict (evident in his efforts to make the Clutters comfortable before their deaths, his questioning whether he and Dick are normal if they're capable of an act like that, or his thinking of Nancy Clutter on her birthday) and earn the sympathy of his Christian friend, but instead he presents himself in a pretty unforgiving light. This is another example of Perry's brand of evil being complex--Perry admits that he would have felt remorse if he'd known the Clutters, but says he is not sorry since he didn't know them, which seems sociopathic. However, this assertionis contradicted by the fact that by the time this quote occurs we've just found out that Perry tried to take the blame for the murders to spare Dick's family shame, indicating that Perry does have some empathy for people he doesn't know. Perryalso makes a moral comparison between the Clutter murder and the acts of soldiers and executioners, and questions whether one can make a meaningful distinction between them. Essentially, this quote indicates that Perry cannot understand the depths of his own moral confusion, and he seems weary of trying.


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Well, what’s there to say about capital punishment? I’m not against it. Revenge is all it is, but what’s wrong with revenge? …I believe in hanging. Just so long as I’m not the one being hanged.

Related Characters: Richard Eugene “Dick” Hickok (speaker)
Related Symbols: Death Row
Page Number: 336
Explanation and Analysis:

Dick has also unraveled psychologically, as he seems to believe that he is actually innocent of the murders. He has also, by this point, spent a lot of time learning the law to try to contest his fate. This behavior, along with the quote at hand, shows that Dick's brand of evil, unlike Perry's, is entirely self-interested and manipulative, to a potentially pathological extent. Perry is interested in finding a consistent moral logic that explains his behavior and the behavior of those around him (i.e. that he is guilty of murder in the same way that the state is guilty of murder in war and through capital punishment), which shows that Perry still sees himself as embedded in a society that is operating together by, largely, the same rules. Dick, though, has no such interest--he is only concerned with himself, even to the extent that he is willing to assert something so bizarre and contradictory as his support for the death penalty on the grounds that nothing is wrong with revenge, unless it is he who is being hanged.

I think…it’s a helluva thing to take a life in this manner. I don’t believe in capital punishment, morally or legally. Maybe I had something to contribute, something – It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize.

Related Characters: Perry Edward Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Death Row
Page Number: 340
Explanation and Analysis:

Perry's last words further show the complexity of evil. Perry did something evil, and the humility of his apology shows that even he would likely admit that at this point. However, he does not believe that this makes him wholly bad, and he does not believe that the taking of one life (or even four) justifies the taking of another. Despite Perry's flaws, he emerges from this story seeming reasonably human and sympathetic. It's profound that Perry acknowledges that even if he is sorry for what he has done, it is meaningless to say the words in the face of the lives he has taken.

This passage is also Perry's final appeal to his beloved dreams. Throughout the book Perry has been full of dreams--he is always aspiring to a better life than the one he has, but his visions for the future have, up until now, been largely concerned with personal wealth and adventure. That at the moment of his death Perry's dream for the future is to contribute to society opens the possibility that Perry has grown.

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Death Row Symbol Timeline in In Cold Blood

The timeline below shows where the symbol Death Row appears in In Cold Blood. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 4: The Corner
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Evil Theme Icon
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
...and Perry are sent back to Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, where they’re put on Death Row . Death Row is housed in a “dark, two-storied building shaped like a coffin.” The... (full context)