In Cold Blood

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Themes and Colors
Dreams Failed, Dreams Achieved Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Evil Theme Icon
Normal vs. Abnormal Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Experience Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in In Cold Blood, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In Epic of America (1931), James Truslow Adams wrote that the American Dream is “…a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” The notion of striving for dreams – the American Dream in particular – is central to…

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The notion of Christianity as a force of redemption and salvation is explored in numerous ways throughout the book. It’s emphasized from the beginning that Garden City is a strongly religious (and specifically Christian) town. The Clutters are a Methodist family, and their Methodist frugality and temperance seem to be tied in with their apparent achievement of the American Dream.

Although Perry outwardly shuns Christianity – Catholicism in particular, given that he was at one…

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Primarily explored through the seemingly motiveless and random killing of the Clutters, In Cold Blood grapples with the question of what is and isn’t evil. Characters – especially criminals – often hold conflicting and ambiguous attitudes toward evil. Perry, for example, seems to be of the opinion that his killing of the Clutters wasn’t necessarily an evil act. When asked by his staunchly Christian army buddy Don Cullivan whether he felt any shame or…

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Dick constantly asserts that he’s “a normal,” even though he has deeply abnormal physical features (his face is crooked thanks to a car accident) and even though he’s capable of committing various crimes – up to and including murder. The question of what’s considered normal and abnormal is repeated throughout the book.

For example, what is a normal marriage/family? In spite of being the perfect couple, Herb and Bonnie have a troubled marriage. Dick and…

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Prior to the massacre of the Clutter family, Holcomb, Kansas (a small town adjacent to the county seat of Garden City) is portrayed as a kind of Eden before the fall – a quiet, innocent town where nothing of note happens. (Of course, it’s later revealed in the book that the region had its share of horrifying crimes long before the Clutters were murdered, but it’s a time that’s only remembered by the town’s elderly…

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