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.
Christianity Theme Icon

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 point living in an orphanage run by abusive nuns – mysticism, the divine, and Christian culture are nonetheless very important to him. Since childhood, Perry has been subject to visions of a golden parrot – a huge, cross-shaped bird that descends upon him in times of crisis. Perry is convinced that this vision (which is most likely a symptom of paranoid schizophrenia) is divine – an avenging angel, or possibly even Jesus. Perry forms an unlikely friendship with the prison chaplain’s clerk, Willie-Jay – a relationship that becomes very influential in his life.

Christians and Christian principles surface throughout the book as possible antidotes to killing and violence – the death penalty is opposed by a number of Christians (including Herb’s brother), and Christianity is often presented (especially by Willie-Jay) as a possible means for turning Dick and Perry from a life of crime. Christianity isn’t always presented in a positive light, however. Bonnie, for example, descends further into guilt and depression after briefly leaving her husband to live a new life in a different city; she “had liked it too well, so much that it seemed to her unchristian….”

Christianity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Christianity appears in each chapter of In Cold Blood. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Christianity Quotes in In Cold Blood

Below you will find the important quotes in In Cold Blood related to the theme of Christianity.
Part 2 Quotes

It was after one of these beatings, one [Perry] could never forget…that the parrot appeared, arrived while he slept, a bird “taller than Jesus, yellow like a sunflower,” a warrior-angel who blinded the nuns with its beak, fed upon their eyes, slaughtered them as they “pleaded for mercy,” then so gently lifted him, enfolded him, winged him away to “paradise.”

Related Characters: Perry Edward Smith
Related Symbols: The Golden Parrot
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

While Perry's previous admission of his beliefs in fate and premonition seemed eccentric, this passage tips from eccentric to, depending on your perspective, a kind of religious ecstasy or an indication of possible mental illness. Perry here describes a cherished vision, one that has returned to him throughout his life, of a parrot who saves him from his own wrongdoing and the cruelty of others. The parrot, which Perry compares to Jesus, has a similar function -- to take Perry to paradise despite his sins.

This gives crucial insight into Perry's perspective on himself. Through the parrot, readers glimpse the litany of cruelties Perry has experienced at the hands of others, and we see that, while Perry does not always consider his actions to be good or righteous, he does feel that he is less cruel than other people, which excuses some bad behavior. Furthermore, he expects salvation not from his own deeds, but from the parrot. This logic sheds light on Perry's seemingly impossible hope for a fulfilling and stable life, and also his idea that he can achieve this without behaving wholly honorably. The parrot points to a complicated psychological disposition in which Perry's past and his (possibly pathological) beliefs in salvation and fate combine to make murder possible. 

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