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 Perry, on the other hand, could be said to have a happy marriage – they even go on a veritable honeymoon in Mexico after murdering the Clutters. The book also questions what a normal person might look like. Herb, the proverbial everyman, is of average build and has fine, even features. On the other hand Perry, albeit handsome, is often referred to as having feminine facial features, and has stunted and warped legs thanks to a motorcycle accident. In Cold Blood also questions the notion of normal mental health. Bonnie, in spite of having a supposedly perfect life, suffers from bouts of “nervousness” that often result in her hospitalization. By the end of the book, Perry is pronounced mentally ill; Dick, in contrast, is pronounced sane, in spite of his inhumane actions.
The book also grapples with sexual norms. What is normal sexuality? What kind of person possesses normal sexuality? And what is normal masculinity? Perry – sexually inexperienced, never married - is staunchly against “pervertiness” – homosexuality, pedophilia, and rape. Conversely, Dick– married twice, father of three children, and the epitome of what Perry considers masculine - is a pedophile and a rapist. On a metatextual level, one could also argue that the close relationship between Dick, Perry, and the book’s author, Truman Capote (who was openly homosexual throughout his life), further complicates these questions of sexual norms.
Normal vs. Abnormal ThemeTracker
Normal vs. Abnormal Quotes in In Cold Blood
Little things really belong to you…They don’t have to be left behind. You can carry them in a shoebox.
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.”
Nancy wore her dress of cherry-red velvet, her brother a bright plaid shirt; the parents were more sedately attired, Mr. Clutter in navy-blue flannel, his wife in navy-blue crepe; and – and it was this, especially, that lent the scene an awful aura – the head of each was completely encased in cotton, a swollen cocoon twice the size of an ordinary blown-up balloon, and the cotton, because it had been sprayed with a glossy substance, twinkled like Christmas-tree snow.
Now, what kind of person would do that – tie up two women…and then draw up the bedcovers, tuck them in, like sweet dreams and good night?
But I’m afraid of [Perry]. I always have been. He can seem so warmhearted and sympathetic. Gentle. He cries so easily…. Oh, he can fool you. He can make you feel so sorry for him –
Dick was sick of [Perry] – his harmonica, his aches and ills, his superstitions, the weepy, womanly eyes, the nagging, whispering voice. Suspicious, self-righteous, spiteful, he was like a wife that must be got rid of.
Nonetheless, [Alvin] found it possible to look at the man beside him without anger…for Perry Smith’s life had been no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage and then another.