Study Guide

In Cold Blood Family

By Truman Capote


The eldest daughter, Eveanna, […] lived in northern Illinois but visited frequently. Indeed, she and her family were expected within the fortnight, for her parents planned a sizable Thanksgiving reunion of the Clutter clan […]; fifty-odd kinfolk had been asked, several of whom would be traveling from places as far away as Palatka, Florida. (1.7)

Capote is setting the stage for us about this close, happy extended Clutter family. How could anything bad happen to such a solid bunch? Relatives traveled from far away just to see them, and we can almost see the bunch of them sitting around looking like a Norman Rockwell painting.

When she had first appeared in Holcomb, a melancholy, imaginative child, willowy and wan and sensitive, then eight, a year younger than Nancy, the Clutters had so ardently adopted her that the fatherless little girl from California soon came to seem like a member of the family. (1.55)

Sue Kidwell's family was different: her father had abandoned them and she was being raised by her mother. So we see a different family structure here, along with a description of another definition of family that includes friends that you love.

The only daughter of a prosperous wheat grower named Fox, the adored sister of three older brothers, she had not been spoiled but spared, led to suppose that life was a sequence of agreeable events—Kansas autumns, California summers, a round of teacup gifts. (1.86)

Sounds like Bonnie Clutter had led a pretty charmed life as a kid, plus she landed the dashing Herb. Don't you love the irony: "a series of agreeable events?" Poor, poor Bonnie. Still, this is another of Capote's suggestions that, with a loving family, all things seem possible.

A belief in God and the rituals surrounding that belief—church every Sunday, grace before meals, prayers before bed—were an important part of the Deweys' existence. (2.93)

A lot of family life in Holcomb was centered around faith, which people believed strengthened the family. Mrs. Dewey is moved to say grace at every meal because she's so grateful for her close-knit family.

On their way, and never coming back—without regret, as far as [Perry] was concerned, because he was leaving nothing behind, and no one who might deeply wonder into what thin air he'd spiraled. The same could not be said of Dick. There were those Dick claimed to love: three sons, a mother, a father, a brother […] (2.97)

Pretty strong statement about Perry's utter isolation in life. No one would even know if he totally disappeared. Does Capote's statement about the family Dick "claimed" to love suggest that he thought Dick incapable of love, even for his family? Dick's stints in prison sure didn't give him much "quality time" with his kids. Capote hardly even mentions Dick spending any time whatsoever with his sons.

I don't know what to say," said Mrs. Hartman, her voice indignantly astonished, and also despairing. The Ashidas were part of the Holcomb community everyone appreciated—a family likably high-spirited, yet hard-working and neighborly and generous, though they didn't have much to be generous with. (2.131)

The close-knit Holcomb community is often presented in this book as a family. If you live in a small town, you'll know what that's like. People look out for each other and know each other well. So anytime someone moves away, like the Ashidas plan to do after the murder, it's a huge loss to the community.

He "loathed Barbara, and just the other day he had told Dick, "The only real regret I have—I wish the hell my sister had been in that house." (2.194)

Admit it—you've sometimes wished your pain-in-the-butt big brother or sister would just disappear. Somehow, though, we get the feeling that Perry might actually kill Barbara. (Barbara does, too.) We know what sets him off is envy and resentment, and he resents his sister for getting an education and being pretty successful. Do you think Perry would have actually harmed his sister?

[…] her husband—by profession an insurance salesman, by inclination a carpenter—had built around [the garden] a white picket fence, and inside it a house for the family dog, and a sandbox and swings for the children. At the moment, all four—dog, two little boys, and a girl—were playing there under a mild sky […] (3.101)

Capote as narrator only refers to Perry's sister as "Mrs. Johnson," even though we already know her as Barbara or Bobo. This is how he lets us know which family she wants to be a part of—the one she created with her husband. Can't quite blame her for wanting to distance herself from the crazy Smiths. She has secret fears that she's going to end up just like them—suicidal or a criminal.

He missed Dick. Many thoughts of Dick, he wrote in his diary. Since their arrest they had not been allowed to communicate, and that, freedom aside, was what he most desired—to talk to Dick, to be with him again. (4.21)

Dick's all Perry really has left—he's his family at this point. It's obvious that he doesn't have a clue what Dick really thinks about him.

His parents—and a slightly older sister, Jennie Marie—would have been astounded had they known the daydreams Lowell Lee dreamed throughout the summer and autumn of 1958: the brilliant son, the adored brother, was planning to poison them all. (4.210)

Lowell Lee Andrews never actually poisoned his family. He shot them all point-blank. What does it mean when your family doesn't have any idea of your murderous fantasies? Aren't they the people supposed to know you best?