Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


Throughout the book, wheat symbolizes prosperity, abundance, and life itself. It also separates the people of Holcomb from the less wholesome world beyond. The first line of the book establishes that Holcomb is situated in fields of wheat, which separate neighbors from each other and the town from the rest of the world. Capote repeatedly describes the golden color of the wheat, and Herb owes some of his success to this thriving crop, which suggests wheat is a kind of currency for the Clutters, helping them prosper. Wheat is one of the commodities that helps establish the Clutters and gives them a place in the world, but the vast expanses of wheat also separate them and make the land of Holcomb “lonely.” The wide spaces between neighbors separated by these wheat fields are, in part, what allow Dick and Perry to succeed at their crime. In contrast to the Clutters, who are at home in the wheat fields, Perry is described at his trial as “looking as lonely and inappropriate as a seagull in a wheat field.” This suggests Perry is like a species of animal that doesn’t belong anywhere near Kansas, which emphasizes how out-of-place Perry looks within the wholesome town of Holcomb.


Blood symbolizes death and a violation of the sanctity of life. Those who encounter the Clutters’ bodies in the aftermath are shocked by the scene, as blood covers the walls, soaks the linens, and pools on the floor. Nancy Ewalt, the teenager who finds Nancy Clutter’s body, and Larry Hendricks, the English teacher who is early to the scene, both emphasize in their testimonies how much blood there was, a sign of something terribly wrong. In his closing arguments, the prosecuting attorney argues that the crime was committed for money, trading money for blood and taking lives cheaply, which connects the shedding of blood with the disregard for the true value of a life. The title, In Cold Blood, suggests an act that is done without emotion, humanity, or regard for the irreparable damage of the action. Variations on this titular phrase are used only twice in the book, once to describe the murder itself and once to describe the act of putting Dick and Perry to death for their crime. Thus, the symbol of blood casts Dick and Perry but also the criminal justice system as perpetrators who don’t value human life and spill blood carelessly. 

The Golden Parrot

The golden parrot that appears in Perry’s dreams throughout his life represents an illusory savior for Parry. The golden parrot visits Perry whenever he is in trouble, from when his caretakers at the orphanage abuse him up until he’s on Death Row for murder. The yellow bird battles Perry’s enemies, killing and maiming those who harm him, and flies him out of trouble to “paradise.” Twice, Perry compares the bird to Jesus, first describing the bird as “taller than Jesus,” and then, when he’s delirious from his hunger strike on Death Row, he yells out “the bird is Jesus.” This suggests that for Perry, who has been abandoned by his family and rejects religious faith, the bird is the closest thing he has to a savior. This is a creative adaptation, born out of a lonely, painful childhood, and the fact that it remains with Perry up until his death suggests that, in many ways, he remained the child he was when he was first saved by the bird in a dream. He continues hoping, against all odds, that something miraculous will come and save him from his reality.