Study Guide

In Cold Blood Religion

By Truman Capote


He did not smoke, and of course he did not drink; indeed, he had never tasted spirits, and was inclined to avoid people who had—a circumstance that did not shrink his social circle as much as might be supposed, for the center of that circle was supplied by the members of Garden City's First Methodist Church, […] most of whom were as abstemious as Mr. Clutter could desire. (1.13)

Here's our first look at the devout Mr. Clutter and how the social life of a religious family is rooted in their church. Capote doesn't let on how he feels about Herb's "abstemiousness." He just describes it.

Though [Bonnie Clutter] subscribed to several periodicals, […] none of these rested on her bedside table—only a Bible.

We know that Bonnie suffered from severe depression and felt weak and discouraged. We see here how much comfort she took in her Bible. It's what she reads before bedtime, which is probably when she feels most alone and dejected.

Perry decided to speak out; he was sorry, but it was not for him—heaven, hell, saints, divine mercy—and if Willie-Jay's affection was founded on the prospect of Perry's someday joining him at the foot of the Cross, then he was deceived and their friendship false, a counterfeit like the portrait. (1.149)

Perry can't pretend that he's a believer even to keep the friendship of the one person he feels really understands him. It's pretty courageous of Perry to admit that, if you ask us. He refuses to be a hypocrite. He has a certain weird integrity.

But that's impossible. Can you imagine Mr. Clutter missing church? Just to sleep? (1.215)

Herb's that devout—he'd never miss church. That's how Nancy Ewalt knows right away that something's seriously wrong in the house.

For, feeling it their duty, a Christian task, these men had volunteered to clean certain of the fourteen rooms in the main house […]. (2.2)

Herb Clutter's friends didn't just take on this sad job because he was their friend. Capote is showing us how Bible-believing Christians try to live their faith. Christian task or not, going through that house must have been totally horrible and difficult.

"The deed is done and taking another life cannot change it. Instead, let us forgive as God would have us do. It is not right that we hold a grudge in our hearts. The doer of the act is going to find it difficult indeed to live with himself. His only peace of mind will be when he goes to God for forgiveness." Let us not stand in the way but instead give prayers that he may find his peace. "(2.99)

Herb's son-in-law, Howard Fox, wrote this in a letter to the local newspaper. It's a strong statement about how one's beliefs can guide behavior. His wife's entire family has been slaughtered but he asks the community to pray for the killers. Needless to say, not everyone in town was this evolved.

And a tough, strutty little man said, "I believe in capital punishment. It's like the Bible says—an eye for an eye. And even so we're two pair short!" (3.497)

Like we said, not everyone agreed with Herb's son-in-law. To this guy, it was very clear what the right thing to do was. Is it just us, or does Capote seem to imply that this "strutty little man" was somehow less morally advanced than Howard Fox?

[…] Mrs. Meier, a direct and practical woman who nevertheless seems illuminated by a mystical serenity. As the undersheriff's helpmate her hours are long; between five in the morning when she begins the day by reading a chapter in the Bible […] (4.2)

We later learn that Mrs. Meier is really kind to Perry—she holds his hand when he cries, she cooks his favorite food. She grows very fond of him and sees a gentleness in him (which her husband finds pretty laughable). Capote seems to throw out the idea here that this is a result of her living her Christian faith. Do you agree? Unlike others during Perry's time in prison, Mrs. Meier doesn't push her religious beliefs on him.

I am, or try to be, a fairly religious [Catholic]. I wasn't always. I used to just drift along […] I never considered death or the possibility of a life hereafter. And this is why I'm writing to you: because God made you as well as me and He loves you just as He loves me […]. (4.24)

This letter from Don Cullivan, an army buddy of Perry's, is the beginning of Don's effort to bring Perry to God and repentance. Cullivan was also aimless and fell into crime but turned himself around by turning to religion. Perry isn't moved by all the religious stuff in the letter, but he sees the kindness in Don's reaching out to him, so he writes back. Good luck with that, Don.

Hell, Don, don't make me act the hypocrite with you. Throw a load of bull—how sorry I am, how all I want to do now is crawl on my knees and pray. That stuff don't ring true with me. I can't accept overnight what I've always denied. The truth is, you've done more for me than anyway what you call God ever has. Or ever will. By writing to me, by signing yourself 'friend'" (4.123)

If this is, in fact, an "immaculately factual" account, as Capote and the New Yorker magazine swore it was, we gotta say that Capote spills the beans here about his feelings about Perry. Like with Willie-Jay, Perry again shows some integrity, even when it risks alienating the only guy who wants anything to do with him. And later, when Don thanks the Lord for the meal they share together in Perry's cell, Perry remarks that in his opinion, the credit for the meal should go to Mrs. Meier. People, not God, are the source of kindness, according to Perry.