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Tragedy in In Cold Blood Essay


In Cold Blood: The Classic Tragedy

In Aristotles Poetics, he describes the common characteristics of tragedies. In Cold Blood has similar qualities that make it fit the criteria of being a classic tragedy. From the central characters Mr. Clutter and Perry who are two tragic heroes, to the heros tragic flaw that leads to their undoing, and lastly with the downfall of the hero brings about a catharsisor a purging of the emotions of pity and fear in the audience.

The tragic hero is a common characteristic of the classic tragedy. Perry does not exactly fit into the criteria of someone in high social standing. I think that he could be classified as someone who has better than average morality. He has a fairly traumatic childhood but was still able to come out as normal as someone in that situation could be (raped by Marines, abused by parents, never loved by anyone). Mr. Clutter, on the other hand, is the ideal tragic hero because of his high social standing and has better than average morality. In the beginning of the book, Herb Clutter is associated with the Eisenhower administration as a member of the Federal Farm Credit Board and respected among many Midwestern agriculturalists. Later, he decides he wants to own his own property and starts River Valley Farm. He is look to as a powerful, prominent figure in his community, almost royal in some ways. Herb Clutter personifies the ideal man. He gets up early works hard all day, has time to spend with his family, goes to bed and starts the same routine all over again the next day. He starts with nothing and pulled himself up by the bootstraps and made a great living for himself and his family. Herb Clutter is living the American dream, but nothing is ever perfect.

With the tragic hero comes their tragic flaw which is our next characteristic of a classic tragedy. Perry has a number of flaws that eventually lead to his downfall. He has a strange fascination for adventure and exploration. This fascination leads him and Dick all over the country, but Perry is never satisfied wherever they end up. Next, Perrys inability to separate his personal feelings about his family from his feelings towards the Clutters which can be seen in this quote: I didnt want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.(244). Then, if he had parted ways with Dick after the murders take place. The chances that Perry would have been caught would be very slim. In fact, Perry would have never been caught, because the only evidence left at the scene of the crime was the boot print and the missing radio. If Perry went on by himself, Dicks boots would have never made it into his box of sentimental items. Lastly, if Perry kills Dick there would be no way to trace it to Perry.

Mr. Clutter has a couple of tragic flaws. One is the way Mr. Clutter gives the appearance of being too perfect. Lloyd, a previous employee of Mr. Clutter, remembers his old boss after ten years. In the time he works for Mr. Clutter, he shows him nothing but kindness, which is unusual for Lloyd. This leaves a lasting impression on him, and if he had never mentions how kind Mr. Clutter was to him to Perry and Dick, then Mr. Clutter would have been still alive. I believe that his niceness was his ultimate downfall.

The last characteristic is the catharsis or purging of emotion. Before the executions take place, Perry shows signs of remorse for what he did. During the oral confessions, Perry accepts the responsibility for all four killings because he says he is sorry for Dicks mother. Said, Shes a real sweet person. (255). It is still unclear who kills who because Perry blacks out at the house for some time, and Dick does not seem to have the fortitude to kill in cold blood.

Mr. Clutter seems to have his catharsis on two different occasions. The first time comes three-fourths into the first book, when Nancy is talking to Kenyon on the phone and keeps saying, It smells like someone was just smoking in here. (55). In reality, Mr. Clutter has started sneaking a puff once in a while to relieve all the stress he is undergoing. The last time comes the afternoon before the whole family is killed. Mr. Clutter is taking out the insurance policy on his wife. I think he had a realization that something was going to happen, something bad.

Herb Clutter and Perry Smith fit all the criteria of a classic Greek tragedy. Surprisingly enough, this story has two tragic heroes, who in some ways are connected. Herb (even though not explicitly stated) wishes he could connect with his son, Kenyon, but that is unlikely to happen because he is not interested with anything his father does. Mr. Clutter is basically searching for that son that he has never had, a son that he can do things with and teach him how to become a man. Also, Perry is never satisfied no matter where he goes; from Mexico to Miami, he is searching for a place he can call his home. He too is searching for something or someone. I believe Perry wishes that Mr. Clutter could be his father, but ultimately kills the one he loves.


Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York:

Random House, 1965.

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