Killing for the American Dream in Cold Blood

The dictionary defines The American Dream as the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved. “The Dream concept, however, has acquired in the United States a very particular meaning. From the early years of the American nation, individual hopes, plans and ideas showed a tendency to amalgamate into a complex configuration of ideals that were later called the ‘American Dream.’ Lionell Trilling wrote in his book Liberal Imagination, ‘Ours is the only nation that prides itself upon a dream and gives its name to one, ‘the American Dream.” Thus, providing hope to all Americans that there is a way to achieve something great and that there’s a definition with defining qualities of how one can achieve their very own American Dream. Capote paints a picture of the American Dream through the Clutters and Dick Hickock and Perry Smith sharing that there are many variations of the American dream other than the classic definition. He shows the struggle and what it looks like to strive for something so basic to get.

At first glance the Clutters are your typical American family at first look a mother and a husband a son and a daughter and two daughters who have grown up and started families of their own. Herb Clutter is a successful farmer with a very kosher lifestyle. He plays by the rules, makes good money, and is sensitive towards others. In part one The Last to See Them Alive the Clutters are clearly acknowledged as living the American Dream. Capote shows this through what some may consider the average or typical American lifestyle. ”Everything Herb had, he earned – with the help of God. He was a modest man but a proud man as he had a right to be. He raised a fine family. He made something of his life.’ But that life, and what he’d made of it – how could it happen, Erhart wondered as he watched the bonfire catch. How was it possible that such effort, such plain virtue, could overnight be reduced to this – smoke, thinning as it rose and was received by the big, annihilating sky” (Capote, 79)? Here is an example of the cookie cutter American Dream, a rich simple but wholesome life. ”The son of a farmer, he had from the beginning aimed at operating a property of his own… the upstart’s experiments succeeded – partly because, in the beginning years, he labored eighteen hours a day.

Setbacks occurred – twice the wheat crop failed, and one winter he lost several hundred head of sheep in a blizzard; but after a decade Mr. Clutter’s do-main consisted of over eight hundred acres owned outright and three thousand more worked on a rental basis – and that, as his colleagues admitted, was ‘a pretty good spread”’ (Capote, 11-12). Herb Clutter has worked his whole life to achieve a common goal, but great accomplishments don’t come without greater setbacks like loosing sheep his crops failing but ultimately achieving what he wanted, his own individual American dream.

Perry and Dick, as referred to in the book, have an incapability to obtain the American dream. Perry, who was crippled by a motorcycle accident and haunted by a childhood of poverty and abuse, was never able to find bliss in the middle-class existence, despite being intelligent and hardworking. ”Since childhood … a longing to realize an adventure his imagination swiftly and over and over enabled him to experience: the dream of drifting downward through strange waters, of plunging toward a green sea-dusk, sliding past the scaly, savage-eyed protectors of a ship’s hulk that loomed ahead, a Spanish galleon – a drowned cargo of diamonds and pearls, heaping caskets of gold.”

Since the American dream in middle class existence, is so far out of reach for Perry, the reader is left to believe that he turned to a life of crime, where he believes he can make enough money to flee to Mexico for a life of treasure hunting there. Dick, on the other handle, is slightly stable lower middle-class during childhood, is concerned by the normal means which he might achieve the American dream. Because of Dick’s fear of being normal, he turns to writing bad checks and plotting crime with Perry. ”Things hadn’t changed much. Perry was twenty-odd years older and a hundred pounds heavier, and yet his material situation had improved not at all. He was still (and wasn’t it incredible, a person of his intelligence, his talents?) an urchin dependent, so to say, on stolen coins.”

So, all in all what Capote has done in the non-fiction novel In Cold Blood through the many themes and messages throughout the novel the one that is being focused on The American Dream shows the different variations of what the dream consists of and how it differs from person to person and the different struggles it takes to achieve one’s personal dream Dick and Perry were on the run trying to achieve their dream they tried to cheat the system and all actions have consequences. Compared to Herb Clutter how worked for everything he had and conquered his own dream. Everyone is a living example of their own American Dream because that’s exactly what it is. Their own.

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Killing for the American Dream In Cold Blood. (2021, Jun 13). Retrieved June 28, 2022 , from

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