The Unfulfilled American Dream In "In Cold Blood" (Essay Sample)


“ICB” is a true-crime novelization of the Clutter-family’s murder. It tackles the global-issue of mental-illness and how it impacts moral-responsibility. People with mental-illness are impaired, but that doesn't mean that they bear no responsibility for their actions. Their illnesses can affect their behaviour, but rarely do such illnesses remove from them all ability to choose what they say or do; This philosophy is what centres the novel’s duration by presenting itself in the theme of the unfulfilled American-Dream.

To elaborate, the pursuit of the American-Dream is essential, due to the characters; The well-off Clutters live in affluence while the poor attempt to achieve what the Clutters have. A quote states, "Of all the people in all the world, the Clutters were the least likely to be murdered." Here, there's a unique-element to the murder(s) since the well-liked Clutters were popular, yet had few enemies. Additionally, it shows how their success was envied by others; Those covetous-people are Dick-Hickock and Perry-Smith, who represent members who’re on fringe-of-society. Capote makes it clear that they’re mentally-ill, and when their money-heist turns fruitless (they see their ‘dreams-of-wealth” turn into smoke: "How was it possible that such effort... could overnight be reduced to this - smoke…”.) they kill the Clutters in impulsiveness. Thus the Clutter-murder(s)/American-Dream introduces the global-issue of mental-illness’s impact on morality.

Mental-illness and its impacts on human-actions are presented by two criminals who demonstrate that someone may appear “normal,” but could have psychological-issues. I.E, Dick engages in criminal-activities on account of the damage to his brain from an accident, and that’s what he--morally--blames for his actions rather than his deep psychological-issues. While Perry’s schizophrenia comes from an abusive-violent family (both play a part in his crimes). Morality is another major-element regarding the global-issue. The readers know the criminals’ motive for the massacre is money/American-Dream; The assessment of the morality of the action can be seen from Perry’s qualms/remorse about his actions whereas Dick’s unphased/normal despite the crime. However, Capote writes/focuses on Perry as a somewhat moral-being and often wonders if his crimes aren’t his fault due to his illness; "After all, it was 'painful' to imagine that one might be 'not just right' - particularly if whatever was wrong was not your fault but 'maybe a thing you were born with.'" (110). While Dick’s an example of immorality/heartlessness, having no remorse/guilt for his actions. 

This global-issue will be most present when the difficulty of the future murder-trial becomes: To what extent are they still accountable for their actions? Capote seems to grapple with the question of whether the same moral standards apply to all people, regardless of their upbringing and their life circumstances; Or whether Perry and Dick are in some measure redeemed (morally) by the fact of their mental illness.

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