That they were recognized as "America's most famous outlaws" ("Bonnie Parker Biography") would have been enough to encourage them to continue for the sake of popularity.
But Bonnie and Clyde did not commit their crimes for psychological reasons alone. Greed, and the desire for wealth, led them to commit their crimes for financial reasons as well. Bonnie's poetry seems to communicate this as well. In her "The Story of Suicide Sal," whose female protagonist can be read as the idealized image that Bonnie had of herself, Bonnie writes that "one year we were desperately happy; Our ill gotten gains we spent free" ("Bonnie Parker"). The association between money, happiness, and love in this stanza can be used to argue that this is what Bonnie, herself, felt towards the gaining of wealth. Further, it is noted that "their motivation was personal greed" ("Bonnie Parker").
Still, Hendley points out that Bonnie and Clyde never committed a robbery that earned them a great deal of money. He remarks that their biggest robber yielded under $10,000, and that they did not spend much of their time in the lap of luxury, as thieves in popular movies like Oceans 11 do. Instead, they "lived like bums, eating and sleeping in their car and bathing in country streams." They were even the butt of other criminals' jokes (Hendley XV). This allows one to suggest that Bonnie and Clyde's crimes were committed for social reasons. Although Bonnie and Clyde did not spend much of their time targeting large banks that were seen as social evils, but rather robbing smaller business owned by people who were not that different from them ("Bonnie Parker"), social reasons behind their murders can be found in Bonnie's poetry. Oppression was a condition of the great depression, and it was common for the general community to feel socially wronged because of the economic conditions. The fact that Bonnie and Clyde felt this is as well is evident in Bonnie's poetry. Probably the most obvious social motivation for their crimes found in Bonnie's lines is distaste for the law and law enforcement. In one stunning Stanza, Bonnie writes about Clyde:
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' ("Bonnie Parker").
Here, Bonnie shows that social motivations for the couples' crimes do, indeed, exist, in terms of rebellion against the oppression of the law. Her poem, "The Story of Suicide Sal," gives readers a similar impression of the police. Although Sal and her gang commit the crimes that they are accused of in the poem, Bonnie portrays the police as the ones responsible for Sal's incarceration. In the 1960s movie version of Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree, the social motivations for their actions are emphasized, Briley writes, suggesting...
While there is little truth to Hollywood's version of events, Bonnie's poetry and other evidence certainly suggests that the couple did engage in crime for some social reasons.
From psychological, to financial, to social reasons, Bonnie's poetry allows students of history to grasp an understanding of the motivations behind Bonnie and Clyde's murderous crime spree. Because Bonnie was a poet and a woman, she is often pictured as the less dangerous of the two. Obviously, she fell in love with Clyde, getting involved in a life of crime partially because of her overwhelming feelings. But Bonnie cannot be characterized as simply the innocent maiden who got carried away by love and redeemed herself by writing about her journey. Instead, her poetry reflects her philosophy -- that a life of crime was correct. Though her poem, "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde" espouses that it was Clyde who committed himself to a life of Crime, she does not seem repentant for what she has done. Even the second to last stanza, which contains the phrase "but they do not ignore/That death is the wages of sin," and suggests that Bonnie knows they will be caught does not give the reader a sense of remorse, but instead, simply fact ("Bonnie Parker"). In fact, her poems suggest that she embraced the gangster lifestyle and say crime and even murder as acceptable. Regardless of how she entered the crime duo, it is clear that Bonnie was as much of a criminal as Clyde.
Thus, Bonnie and Clyde and their story of criminal escapades is a tale that will continue to fascinate Americans because of the Romeo and Juliet aspects, the historical drama, and the action and adventure. Bonnie's poetry, however, provides students of history with an understanding of the motivations for these crimes -- psychological, financial, and social motivations. While this may not suggest that Americans are any closer to reconciling the images of Bonnie and Clyde as murderers and Bonnie and Clyde as Hollywood Heroes, this discovery certainly has implications for the study of criminology and literature, as well as the history of Bonnie and Clyde's murders. A further study of Bonnie's writings as related to the actions that both she and Clyde took is needed for a more in-depth analysis of their characters.
"Bonnie and Clyde." The Biography Channel. n.d. 14 April 2009. <
"Bonnie Parker." The Internet Accuracy Project. n.d. 14 April 2009. <
"Bonnie Parker Biography." The Biography Channel. 2008. 14 April 2009. <
Briley, Ron. "Real History: U.S. History, 1932-1972, As viewed Through the Lens of Hollywood." The History Teacher. 23.3 (1990): 215-236.
"Clyde Barrow Biography." Biography Base. n.d. 14 April 2009. <
"Famous Cases: Bonnie and Clyde." Federal Bureau of Investigation. n.d. United States
Government. 14 April 2009.
Hendley, Nate. Bonnie and Clyde: A Biography. Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2007.
"The Real Bonnie and Clyde." WBUR. 1 April 2009. National Public Radio. 14 April
2009. < http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/2009/04/the-real-bonnie-and-clyde/>
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