Study Guide

Bonnie and Clyde Themes

  • Crime

    Let's not mince words: crime can be both exciting and alluring. In the first scenes of Bonnie and Clyde, Clyde seduces Bonnie, not with his good looks (and certainly not with his sexual prowess), but with his criminal lifestyle.

    She finds it thrilling to break the rules and steal the money that, she thinks, will lead to a life of luxury for both of them. Clyde hates the very idea of honest hard work and is seduced by the ease with which he can make money as a bank robber. In his own way, too, C.W. is also seduced by the promise of thrills and being someone special.

    Questions About Crime

    1. Does Bonnie find being a bank robber sexy? How so?
    2. Do Buck and Blanche join the Barrow Gang for the same reasons as Bonnie? Or are their reasons different?
    3. Why do you think that the Barrow Gang gets so much positive attention? Why do, say, the migrant farmers give Bonnie and Clyde water and food?

    Chew on This

    In Bonnie and Clyde, there's a strong correlation between sex and robbing banks.

    In Bonnie and Clyde, each of the five main characters has his/her own distinct reasons for entering into a life of crime

  • Family

    All of the main characters in Bonnie and Clyde feel super-strong family ties—and these familial impulse usually makes every…miserable.

    After she runs away with Clyde, Bonnie has a strong desire to see her mother. Buck goes against his pledge to go straight in order to rob banks with his "baby brother." When C.W. temporarily takes charge after both Bonnie and Clyde are wounded, his first instinct is to drive to his father's house for help. Also, the gang itself also becomes a family of its own. As Clyde tells Bonnie at one point, "I'm your family now."

    Questions About Family

    1. What are the various family relationships the five major characters discuss in the film?
    2. How has the decision to pursue a life of crime estranged each of the major characters from his/her family of origin?
    3. In what ways has the gang become a family?

    Chew on This

    Becoming an outlaw usually means cutting oneself off from one's family.

    As it becomes isolated from the rest of the world, an outlaw gang can take on make of the aspects of a family.

  • Violence

    Although both Bonnie and Clyde seem like peaceful people, the robberies they pull soon turn violent as others fight to keep their money.

    Very quickly, too, this violence escalates as law officers respond with armored cars and the gang fights back with everything from machine guns to hand grenades. Ultimately, Bonnie and Clyde are gunned down in a veritable hailstorm of bullets—a violent ending to a violent saga.

    Questions About Violence

    1. Is violence a natural extension of crime?
    2. What kind of impact does the escalating violence have on the main characters?
    3. Do the law enforcement officers in the film overreact in their use of violence, or are they justified in employing the weapons and methods that they do?

    Chew on This

    In Bonnie and Clyde, the filmmakers are clearly telling us that crime will often lead to violence…and that this violence can quickly escalate.

    Even though Bonnie and Clyde are both essentially gentle people, their need to protect themselves through violent means hardens them.

  • Justice

    When they start out together, Bonnie and Clyde see themselves and each other as special—people who are too good to lead humdrum lives and who are also clever enough to rob banks, successfully evade the law, and ultimately lead the good life.

    In many respects, the film's narrative is constantly chipping away at this belief. In fact, the first bank they rob together turns out to have no money. Often, other robberies turn out to be disappointments as well. And both our "heroes" greatly underestimate the tenacity and ferocity of the law. As the story proceeds, rather than living the good life, Bonnie and Clyde are constantly on the run, fearing for their lives.

    Questions About Justice

    1. When they begin, what kind of life do Bonnie and Clyde envision for themselves?
    2. Although Bonnie and Clyde never achieve the kind of financial success they want, do they achieve riches of another kind? If so, what?
    3. In what ways do Bonnie and Clyde underestimate the reaction both victims of their crimes and the law have to their actions?

    Chew on This

    In certain respects, Bonnie and Clyde are like Shakespearean heroes that fall victims to their own pride (or hubris).

    Although Bonnie and Clyde are both bright, clever people, they're also quite naïve at first about what the consequences of their actions as bank robbers will likely be.

  • Society And Class

    Bonnie and Clyde shows us the sticky the relationship between crime and celebrity: achieving notoriety as a result of being notorious.

    Almost immediately, our "heroes" become media sensations. People—many of them beaten down by the hard times and angry with those in power—root for the outlaw pair and see them as folk heroes.

    And Bonnie and Clyde both revel in all this attention. It makes them feel important, and, because it means they'll be remembered, it serves as a kind of immortality. Lesser-known gang members have their own reactions to this, too. Buck seems envious that Bonnie and Clyde seem to get all the media attention. On the other hand, C.W. is more like a groupie, someone who's happy just to be close to the celebrities.

    Questions About Society And Class

    1. What are some specific reasons why many people seem to be rooting for Bonnie and Clyde?
    2. How does all the media attention affect the law enforcement efforts to bring the gang down?
    3. Do Bonnie and Clyde actively court media attention in ways other than robbing banks? If so, how?

    Chew on This

    In some respects, Bonnie and Clyde's craving for media attention grows as they continue to pursue their life of crime.

    Even though she's acutely aware that a violent death is near, Bonnie, more than anyone else in the Barrow gang, sees celebrity as a way to achieve a kind of immortality.