What's In A Name?
Clyde's last name is a word referring to…a burial mound. Yup. This guy basically has the last name "Grave" or "Tomb," and he still decides to pursue a life of crime.
Now we're not actually suggesting that you have to dictate your life based on your last name. If all "Bakers" became bakers and all "Smiths" became smiths, the world would be a boring place.
But we can't help but read into Clyde's willingness to go through with what's a super iffy occupation despite the morbid overtones of his own surname. He's an impulsive, willful dude. At times, he seems like a Tasmanian Devil-type tornado, whirling towards his own destruction.
After, he's a guy who chopped off his own toes in order to get out of work…shortly before being released from jail:
BUCK: I heard up in prison you had a little trouble there. You was cutting on your toes?
CLYDE: I did a little toe-cutting. That isn't half of it. I did it to get off work detail—you know, breaking them damn rocks with sledgehammers night and day? And you know what? The very next week I get paroled. I walked out of that godforsaken jail on crutches. Ain't life grand?
There, ladies and gentleman, is Clyde in a nutshell. He's the kind of guy who will cut off his own toes because he's too lazy to work another week (which is almost like cutting off your own nose to spite your face). And he's also the kind of guy to follow up a story of self-mutilation and self-destruction with the quip "Ain't life grand?"
Is That A Gun In Your Pocket, Or…?
Spoiler alert: Clyde isn't happy to see you. For most of the movie, he can't get it up.
And this is super-duper important, character-wise. Much like Bonnie's lustiness informs her character, Clyde's impotence informs his.
There are a few ways of looking at this, so we'll break them down:
In Freud's sexed-up universe, sublimation refers to channeling your libidinal energy into other channels. We can read Clyde's life of crime as a kind of sublimation—he can't, um, shoot with his pistol… so he shoots with a pistol. He's frustrated to the point of blowing off steam by robbing banks, chopping off his toes, and generally being reckless.
Look at the way he justifies himself to Bonnie:
CLYDE: If all you want's a stud service, than get yourself back to West Dallas and you stay there the rest of your life. […] But you and me travelling, we could cut a path clean across this state. And Kansas. And Missouri. And Oklahoma.
Clyde can't give Bonnie (or himself) sexual gratification, but he can give her a life of crime filled with enough phallic pistols to make Freud blush.
Boy, Oh Boy
But it might not be that Clyde's necessary impotent. It might be that he'd rather have a lad on his arm than a lady.
Check out this exchange:
CLYDE: Looky here. I might as well tell you right off: I'm not much of a lover boy. That don't mean nothing personal about you. I never seen no percentage in it. Ain't nothing wrong with me. I don't like boys.
BONNIE: Boy. Boy, boy.
CLYDE: Huh? Boy what?
Whoa, now. That's a double shot.
We have the classic "the lady doth protest too much" situation happening when Clyde says, "I don't like boys." Who asked, Clyde?
And there's also a bit of nervous reading on Clyde's part: when Bonnie says "Boy," (as in "Oh, boy,") Clyde's ears perk up and he says "Boy what?" Chill, Clyde. No one is talking about dudes.
We also see Bonnie get miffed with Clyde in one crucial scene. When the Barrow gang is in their rental home, Buck Barrow and his wife are canoodling on the sofa. Meanwhile, Clyde is hugging…C.W. This leads Bonnie to grab him and take him into the next room and attempt to seduce him. He leaves, saying that he's hungry.
Even in 1967, overt gayness wasn't portrayed all that often in the movies. And certainly Depression-era Texas wasn't the easiest place to be out. We'll leave it up to you to decide, but there's a strong argument for Clyde's disinterest in Bonnie stemming from a "love that dare not speak its name."
Back In The Saddle Again
Towards the end of the film, however, Clyde's able to perform sexually. And what prompts this miraculous occurrence? What gives Clyde his groove back?
In a word: fame.
After Bonnie publishes her poem "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," Clyde looks positively gleeful:
CLYDE: You know what you done there? You told my story. You told my whole story, right there, right there. […] You made me somebody they're gonna remember.
He then kisses her, and the camera pans away. When the camera returns, they're bathed in a post-coital glow. So was Clyde kind of narcissistic? Did he just feel removed from Bonnie until she'd proven her love by "telling [Clyde's] whole story"? Or is it that the ending of the poem—which states "it's death for Bonnie and Clyde"—made Clyde figure that he should get down as long as he was alive and kicking?
We'll leave that conclusion up to you.
More Than Just A Man In Need Of Some Viagra
But there is, of course, more to Clyde than just a less-than-impressive ability in the sack. He is, first of all, insanely perceptive. Shortly after meeting Bonnie, he's able to tell her her whole life story:
CLYDE: You were born somewhere around East Texas, right? Come from a big ol' family? You didn't take to school much because you was a lot smarter than everyone else, so you just up and quit one day. Now, where you were sixteen—seventeen—there was a guy who worked in a […] cement plant. And you liked him, 'cause he thought you were just as nice as you could be. And you almost married that guy. But then you thought no, you didn't think you would. And then you got you your job in the café. And now you wake up every morning and you hate it. You just hate it. You put on your […] uniform, and them truck drivers come in there to eat your greasy burgers. […] So you go on home, and you sit in your room and you think "Now when and how am I ever going to get away from this?" And now you know.
This shows us that Clyde is phenomenally canny. He's met enough small town girls to know the kind of life they lead… and he's cocky (no pun intended) enough to state back to Bonnie without questioning himself. In fact, he's also brazen enough to finish off this telling of Bonnie's life story with an order for her to fix her hair—he doesn't like her spit curl.
But Clyde's cockiness isn't that terribly interesting: we expect a man who feels entitled to the contents of a bank safe to feel entitled to a lot of things.
Instead, the surprising counterweight to Clyde's hardened criminal side is the fact that he's so devoted to his fam. He loves his brother Buck—so much so that he literally jumps for joy when he sees him pulling up to the rental cabins.
By proxy, he loves his sister-in-law…and protects her from Bonnie's ire:
BONNIE: Get rid of her.
CLYDE: I can't get rid of her. She's Buck's wife.
BONNIE: Then get rid of them both. […] She doesn't have a brain in her head.
CLYDE: What makes you any better? What makes you so damn special? You're just a West Texas waitress…
Yeah. This is coming from the same guy who told Bonnie that she was the "best damn girl in Texas." She may be that, but once she messes with Clyde's sis-in-law, she's downgraded to "just a waitress."
Later, when Bonnie's feeling "blue," Clyde tells her that:
CLYDE: I'm your family. […] I love you.
This is the first time that Clyde's mentioned that he loves Bonnie—it's important to note that he brings it up in terms of familial love rather than romantic love.
So there we have it: Clyde Barrow, in all of his complexity. He's cocky yet impotent, hardened but a total family man, eerily perceptive yet unable to see his own downfall staring him in the face.
In other words: he's one well-rounded character.