There are many prominent themes in the novel In Cold Blood, and they cover a wide spectrum of topics. They include the effects (if any) caused by environment in childhood, how a person of any of locale can be a victim of hostility, and the presence of contrasting personalities.
Truman Capote gives the reader a detailed account of Perry Smith’s and Dick Hickock’s childhoods. Smith’s childhood was very problematic and scarred by years of abuse. He witnessed beatings of his mother by his father; as a result of the domestic violence, his parents divorced. Due to these problems he rans away from home, and he was “in and out of detention homes many times” (277). He is severely beaten and humiliated by a cottage mistress because of a mixuration malfunction. These violent episodes compelled his bitterness toward other humans. When Smith entered adulthood, he commited acts of thievery and acts of battery. While in the merchant marines, he once threw a Japanese policeman off a bridge and into the water. All these events had an impact on Smith, and his adulthood provided him with the opportunity to avenge the experiences that enraged him.
Hickock’s childhood was marked by no horror stories. His years of childhood showed no signs of abuse or neglect, but his parents were a little overprotective. He showed no real contempt for his parents or his childhood. Dick’s inception into adulthood reveals his abnormal “tendencies,” (Reed 115) and in the novel proof is given by Hickock: “I think the main reason I went there [the Clutter home] was not to rob them but to rape the girl” (278).
The two killers’ childhoods were obviously dissimilar, and their differences bring to question the formation of a killer’s mind. Is it childhood that affects the criminal mind’s mentality? Smith’s lack of companionship during his childhood led him to search for companionship in Hickock. Hickock took advantage of Smith’s need by promoting Smith’s fantasies. Hickock truly felt that Smith’s fantasies were ludicrous, but he supported his fantasies because he needed Smith’s aid to commit the murders.
A second theme of In Cold Blood is the randomness of crime. The Clutter family lived in rural Kansas hundreds of miles from a major city, and people of this small community felt a sense of security. The Clutter family murder made national headlines because this crime fit no stereotype. The Clutter family was well loved and respected by the people of Holcomb, who would have never seriously considered a such a crime happening in their own backyard.
The Clutter family was successful financially; they lived as well as any other family in town. However, there was no jealousy of the family’s success. This is another one of many reasons why this murder consternated the inhabitants of Holcomb, the investigators, and the rest of the nation.
Another theme throughout In Cold Blood is the attraction of opposite personalities and what they can become once united. The reader sees these opposing personalities in Hickock and Smith. The first scene of Perry Smith is with a guitar and a set of road maps. The guitar appears to function as a feminine image and symbol.
The reader also learns that part of what attracts Hickock to Smith is that Hickock fells “totally masculine” by this association. In one scene the contents of the criminals’ automobile is mentioned. One of Perry’s possessions is the guitar, and the “instrument that typifies his combative companion Dick… a twelve gauge pump-action shotgun.” Another instance of Smith’s feminism is Hickock’s constant addressing of him as “sugar,” “honey,” and “baby.” Smith’s feminine qualities are evident; however, the reader is left to interpret their importance (Reed 113-114).
In conclusion, there are many different themes throughout the novel. In Cold Blood discusses the issues of childhood influences, the randomness of a crime, and opposing personalities. These themes are unique in that they they can be molded into a nonfiction novel such as In Cold Blood.