The recent anniversary of the death of Bonnie and Clyde, May 23rd, has prompted a reevaluation of the daring duo, and what they did for the American criminal ideal. The couple Bonnie and Clyde were also known as Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, Clyde Chestnut Barrow, leaders of The Barrow Gang. They were in the business of robbing banks and playing pranks only for two madcap years before they were gunned down by the FBI task force. Their legacy of doomed rebel love lives on in the collective psyche of America, leading many to dream of pushing the limits of legality and going out in idealized bloody splendor. This sample essay demonstrates the advanced writer options available from Ultius ensuring that the most qualified writer available is located to fulfill your needs.
Bonnie and Clyde: glamour criminals
Hidden deep in the American psyche is a cultural guilt about the genocide of the Native American people, a shadow which leads Americans to become fascinated by those who willfully reject the laws of the land. Much like the early settlers, and the cowboy ideal, the American collective psyche longs to embrace freedom which was idealized in the nation’s inception, but has yet to find real expression. Bonnie and Clyde are one of many examples of this criminal celebrity, which has taken many forms much more deadly than theirs as would later be demonstrated in the glorification of gangsters in American cinema. As researchers emphasize,
Possibly the most famous and most romanticized criminals in American history, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were two young Texans whose early 1930s crime spree forever imprinted them upon the national consciousness. Their names have become synonymous with an image of Depression-era chic, a world where women chomped cigars and brandished automatic rifles, men robbed banks and drove away in squealing automobiles, and life was lived fast because it would be so short. (McGasko)
However this interpretation is the idealized mythology, the realities were much different.
The ideal vs. the real
Historical interpretation requires a balanced view of what could have been with what was, and the tendency to over-romanticize history must be avoided in order to have a chance to really learn something. Therefore, those who desire to hold onto the myth alone should stop reading here. The myth of Bonnie and Clyde is that they were so in love bullets could not touch them, and that they lived in luxury as they outwitted the police. However:
The reality was somewhat different. Sometimes incompetent, often careless, Bonnie and Clyde and the Barrow gang lived a hard, uneasy life punctuated by narrow escapes, bungled robberies, injury, and murder. They became one of the first outlaw media stars after some photos of them fooling around with guns were found by police, and the myth-making machine began to work its transformative magic. (McGasko)
However, unwilling to let the myth go, the American entertainment machine continues to retell their story with ever-increasing fantasy. While some elements of their lives were fantastical, others were simply brutal.
Robbery and kidnapping–badly
Fantasy-wise, the couple were easily romanticized criminals not only for their relationship, but for quirks they exhibited in crime. It has long been theorized that the lower class status in which they had both been raised was a major contributor to their turn to crime. While they were well known robbers:
“they were equally known for kidnapping policemen who had caught up to them and then driving them around for hours only to release them, unharmed, hundreds of miles away” (Rosenberg).
However, this is balanced out by the reality that Bonnie and Clyde were responsible for thirteen murders of policemen, bank employees, and other innocent bystanders. Unable to stay in hotels for fear of being recognized:
“Bonnie and Clyde lived out of their car, stealing new cars as often as possible, and lived off the money they stole from small grocery stores and gas stations” (Rosenberg).
For anyone who has ever tried it, living out of your car is about as far from glamour as one can get. While the mythology cultivates an image of Bonnie and Clyde rolling in easily gained luxuries, they were always short of money for the two years their criminal spree lasted. Their robberies were ill planned, rushed, and so they rarely got away with very much. Unable to stay anywhere for long, they could not cultivate friendships or see their family and were isolated and alone. The thrill of the chase was mitigated by the paranoia of being caught, and all in all it was a miserable existence for the couple.
Historians have recorded an instance of Bonnie and Clyde’s sociopathic behavior which help sum up the tenor of their time together. Bonnie cared for a pet rabbit, called Sonny Boy, who lived in the backseat along with the complete arsenal of weapons. Clyde rather detested the smell of a rabbit living in their car, and after some pressure they washed the bunny in a river. However, bunnies do not bathe in water, and Sonny Boy became so stressed out and chilled from the experience he passed out. Terrified she may kill her beloved pet, Bonnie had Clyde build a small fire to warm his bunny bones. Eventually Sonny Boy regained consciousness, and Bonnie cuddled him as Clyde slept in the car. However, their afternoon siesta was interrupted by a cruising police car, and Bonnie’s bunny cuddle was interrupted by the murder of the two policemen (Treherne 18). Seven weeks after this afternoon with Sonny Boy, Bonnie and Clyde would be dead, and their myth would take on its own life.
History before they made history
Bonnie and Clyde were both Texans, born in 1910 and 1909.
Bonnie Parker was:
the second of three children to Henry and Emma Parker. The family lived somewhat comfortably off Henry Parker’s job as a bricklayer, but when he died unexpectedly in 1914, Emma Parker moved the family in with her mother in the small town of Cement City, Texas (now part of Dallas). From all accounts, Bonnie Parker was beautiful. She stood 4′ 11″ and weighed a mere 90 pounds. She did well in school and loved to write poetry. (Rosenberg)
One of the reasons the American public idealized Bonnie was because she was a woman who remained gentle even as she rejected the status quo and supported the crazy murderous whims of Clyde. During their time together Bonnie wrote this poem, “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” which endeared her to the public, and helped solidify their celebrity status. A brief excerpt:
You’ve read the story of Jesse James / Of how he lived and died; / If you’re still in need /Of something to read, / Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde. / Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang, / I’m sure you all have read / How they rob and steal / And those who squeal / Are usually found dying or dead. / There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups; / They’re not so ruthless as that; / Their nature is raw / They hate all the law / The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats. / They call them cold-blooded killers; / They say they are heartless and mean; / But I say this with pride, / That I once knew Clyde / When he was honest and upright and clean. / But the laws fooled around, / Kept taking him down / And locking him up in a cell, / Till he said to me, / “I’ll never be free, / So I’ll meet a few of them in hell.” (Rosenberg)
Not the most accomplished poetry by any stretch of the imagination, but it did capture the spirit of the times during the Depression which was irreverent, brash, and willing to confront the stark reality of death (“This day in History”). Bonnie was out of work, depressed, and ready from some adventure when she met Clyde in 1930 (Rosenberg).
Clyde Barrow grew up desiring to be a famous musician or an actor, and never stopped dreaming about a life in Hollywood. His movie magazines were repeatedly found in the abandoned cars they fled. Clyde’s parents were poor tenant farmers who often could not feed their family through the dustbowl era, and Clyde was moved around relatives. After his parents gave up farming, they opened a gas station in West Dallas, which at the time was a rough town which could account for Clyde’s tendency toward violent behavior. It was noted:
“Clyde fit right in. Clyde and his older brother, Marvin Ivan “Buck” Barrow, were often in trouble with the law for they were frequently stealing things like turkeys and cars. Clyde stood 5′ 7″ and weighed about 130 pounds” (Rosenberg).
Clyde enjoyed a fight, and would continue to push these limits until it killed him.
A fated meeting
Prior to their two-year whirlwind crime spree, the couple already set a standard for rebellion. At their first meeting, it was simply love at first sight, but
“A few weeks after they met, Clyde was sentenced to two years in prison for past crimes. Bonnie was devastated at his arrest. On March 11, 1930, Clyde escaped from jail, using the gun Bonnie had smuggled in to him” (Rosenberg).
After going back to jail he gained early parole through having an inmate chop off some of his toes, and It was then he vowed he would die before ever going back to the terror of prison (Crime Museum).
After an involved manhunt, Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down in Louisiana on May 23rd, 1934 (FBI). Perhaps they wanted it this way, for the life on the run was constant stress and privation. The glamourized ideal they left behind would no doubt make them laugh at the inanity of it all, but this has not stopped generations of criminals from following in their footsteps, forcing a false dream of easy lawless success at the expense of others.
Crime Museum. “Bonnie & Clyde.” Crimemuseum.org. Retrieved from: http://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/bonnie-clyde.
FBI. “Famous Cases & Criminals: Bonnie and Clyde.” FBI.gov. n.d.. Retrieved from: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/bonnie-and-clyde.
McGasko, Joe. “The Real Bonnie and Clyde: 9 Facts on the Outlawed Duo.” Biography.com, 5 Dec. 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.biography.com/news/bonnie-and-clyde-9-facts-lifetime-movie-video.
“This day in History.” History.com, 23 May 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/police-kill-famous-outlaws-bonnie-and-clyde.
Rosenberg, Jennifer. “Bonnie and Clyde.” About Education, n.d. Retrieved from: http://history1900s.about.com/od/1930s/a/bonnieandclyde.htm.
Rosenberg, Jennifer. “Poem by Bonnie Parker Called “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde.” About Education, 16 Dec. 2014. Retrieved from: http://history1900s.about.com/od/1930s/qt/bonniepoem.htm.
Treherne, John. The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000. Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=_I-n_AAuKwUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=bonnie+and&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjh77fDyPjMAhWHjz4KHVYeAkoQ6AEILjAD#v=onepage&q=bonnie%20and&f=false.