In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood, written by Truman Capote is a supposedly nonfiction novel, described as “New Journalism”, that encompasses the true story of the grisly murder of the four Clutter family members, lives that were gruesomely ended by a finger and the barrel of a shotgun. The criminals that committed this horrible act were two men with different backgrounds that came from completely different families, but both ended up in the same situation and making this dreadful decision together. Capote uses different literary devices to aid in developing the killers’ individual roles and how each of them counterbalances the personality and mental state of the other. Capote keeps us informed bit by bit with precise details on each step the murderers take and decisions the family make that support in the end result, the horrendous murder, and afterward, walk us through the aftermath and the precedents that lead to the capture of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith.
Capote, when describing Perry and his childhood, goes in to very deep detail and is sure to not leave out a thing. He goes as far as to talk about his mother and her history as an alcoholic when he was a child. “Perry’s upbringing was marred with violence, tragedy, and misdirection. His mother and father were divorced, and constantly had issues with each other. His mother became an alcoholic, and eventually died upon choking on her own vomit.”(Capote 106). Capote gives a lot of visual and depth to describe young Perry, this makes it very hard to be against him when you know the crime he’s committed. This backstory seems sort of like an excuse for why Perry did what he did. He obviously lived in a badly broken home and his entire family, him included, had been negatively affected by this. Perry explains most of this by stating, “Jimmy a suicide. Fern out the window. My mother dead. Been dead eight years. Everybody gone but dad and Barbara.””(Capote 134). When he was very young, Perry’s dad walked out on his remaining children and Perry was placed in an orphanage where he was beaten constantly by the abusive nuns for wetting his bed, which was due to his weak liver. After having to endure this torture most his life, Perry joined the army to get away and fought in the Korean War. Upon returning home, he got into a rough accident involving his motorcycle and damaged both his legs which stunted his growth. After recovering, he went to Alaska to live with his father, where he threatened Perry over a biscuit. Perry decided to leave and brought all his belongings with him. “I picked up my guitar and started on down the highway”(Capote 136). Perry had to endure terrible tragedies, a broken parental system, and never having a place to really call home. Dick on the other hand was a completely different story. Perry’s early life and how he was brought up contributed a lot to the murder of the Clutters, but also greatly contrasted with the early life of murderer number two, Dick Hickock.
Dick was a star athlete and a fairly good student with decent grades. His father described his school experience by saying, “Basketball! Basketball! Football! Dick was always the star player. A pretty good student, too, with A marks in several subjects.”(Capote 158). After high school, Dick was offered scholarships, which he refused and began to take part in many small-time jobs, like at a motor company. Dick was later involved in a wreck with one of the company’s cars. “…when I had a had an automobile wreck with a company car. I was in the hospital several days with extensive head injuries”(Capote 278). This accident caused his face some visual damage and, was concluded by a doctor, that some brain damage had occurred as well. After the crash, Dick’s life began to unravel. His marriage began failing and before he knew it, he had two failed marriages, he didn’t have a steady job, so he resorted to his last option and began to steal. He wrote multiple bad checks that landed him behind bars where he met his future “partner in crime”, Perry. Capote kind of indirectly compares Perry and Dick, making Perry seem worse off. Dick came from a good home and chose the path that landed him in jail, whereas it comes off that Perry was set up for failure from the beginning.
The book goes into a little detail about the Clutter family and their lives leading up to the murder. Capote makes it seem as though they are the picture perfect family. Mr. Clutter holds his children and even his employees to strict standards, not allowing alcohol or caffeine. The family holds the respect of everyone in Holcomb, yet were murdered in their own home, causing confusion and and unsure tension among the rest of the town. These family themes show the Clutters family life as opposed to that of someone like Perry who had a much more miserable childhood. A very big theme of this book was mental illness and if the death penalty was the correct punishment for Richard and Perry. Both Perry and Dick’s criminal tendencies are shown to have past experiences that can be linked to cause medical issues. Perry is a schizophrenia and suffers from paranoia, while Dick has brain damage from a concussion that was gained during a car accident. The question of the murder trial is, are Perry and Richard still accountable for their actions or is their mental illness to blame? The book seems to very often to ask the question of whether the same moral standards should be applied to all people, regardless of their past and their life circumstances; or if Perry and Richard are in some way redeemable by the fact that they suffer from a mental illness. Despite this Perry and Richard still faced the Death Penalty. As I see it the punishment fit the crime. This crime scene was planned out from the very start and was done for money. Before the crime had actually even started the “no witnesses” rule was said. To me, although Richard and Perry were suffering from a “mental illness”, they knew what they were doing was wrong, therefore I see no excuses to keep them alive. Although I do believe that there was something mentally wrong with both Perry and Richard, this does not mean they should not of suffered the fate that they did.