In Cold Blood
The Murder Of The American Dream
The American Dream is the idea of creating a life that is more prosperous and joyous, where there are equal opportunities for success. However, the promises of these dreams can cause people to grow resentful against others, creating an American nightmare. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood unfolds the darkness of these nightmare through the murder of a wholesome family, the Clutters. The murderers, Dick Hickock, and Perry Smith, attempt to attain their version of the American dream by robbing the Clutter’s, ultimately leading to the families deaths. The American Dream is twisted through the truths toldAlthough one may achieve success, success is not always everlasting.
The Clutter family is displayed as having achieved the American dream and having a quintessential American family and lifestyle. Not only was Mr. Clutter’s farm prosperous, he was also well respected within his community because of his determination and perseverance. Mr. Clutter “labored eighteen hours a day… but after a decade [his] domain consisted of over eight hundred acres owned outright” (11). In addition to his own success, his children were also greatly accomplished; Eveanna was studying to be a nurse, Beverly was engaged to a young biologist, Nancy was the town darling and Kenyon was the dashing young boy. Yet, all of their achievements are thrown away in a single night when they were murdered by Dick and Perry. Their murder generated fear throughout the city of Holcomb because the Clutter’s were idolized and put on a pedestal.
As a school teacher told Detective Dewey, “Anyone less admired. Prosperous. Secure. But that family represented everything people hereabouts really value and respect, and that such a thing could happen to them” (88). Although they achieved the American dream, their death showed the community of Holcomb that success is difficult to sustain. The greed and jealousy from those who could not achieve success, creates an American nightmare. Dick and Perry came from backgrounds exemplary of the typical American dream narrative. Dick was raised in a stable, middle-class lifestyle, he yearned for more and felt as if anything less was below him. After being involved in a car crash, Dick’s behavior began to change rapidly. His father stated, “After that, he wasn’t the same boy. Gambling, writing bad checks. I never knew him to do them things before,” (166). Perry’s childhood, unlike Dick, was extremely traumatizing as he spent many years in abusive orphanages and foster homes. As he recalls, “it was not long afterward [his] mother put [him] to stay in a Catholic orphanage. The one where the Black Widows were always at [him]. Hitting [him]. Because of wetting the bed,” (132).
However, the two end up in prison where one Floyd Wells told them about the Clutters: how successful, generous and most importantly, rich they were. Floyd recalls,“Dick was talking about killing Mr. Clutter. Said him and Perry was gonna go out there and rob the place, and they was gonna kill all witnesses—the Clutters” (161). Out of hatred and jealousy, Dick had decided to rob and kill the Clutter family. This is because the Clutters portrayed everything Dick and Perry wanted out of their life: wealth and prosperity. Throughout the novel, the American dream is invalidated through the demolished fate of the Clutter’s deaths which symbolizes the obliteration of the dream. Whereas Dick and Perry’s desire of the money and success seems to compel them to commit their crime. Capote demonstrates the corruption of the American dream through the tragedy of the 1959 murder. It depicts how in our society, both those who have and haven’t achieved success can all lose everything out of greed and jealousy.
Parallel Character Development in in Cold Blood: Humanization of Victims and Their Murderers
A majority of the world would agree that random murder is unethical and deserving of severe punishment- especially if this murder is done to an innocent, kind family. However, there is a great debate over the extent of punishment which random murder deserves. Should capital punishment be permitted? What is human life worth, and who has the authority to declare it? In the nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, author Truman Capote fully characterizes the victims, the Clutter family, using dialogue and outside descriptions in order to help the reader comprehend the loss and murder of the family more fully, and to ironically humanize the murderers Dick and Perry using parallelism; this is done in order to subtly suggest Capote’s belief that capital punishment is wrong.
As the reader gets to know the Clutter family members through dialogue and outside description, the characters become more real to the reader, so their deaths feel more personal. First, we read a description of Nancy, “a pretty girl… [whose] eyes… made her immediately likeable, [they] at once announced her lack of suspicion” (Capote 19). Nancy’s eyes stand out, especially because of their reflection of her innocence. She is personified here as a doe eyed gazelle unaware of the huntsman, or an innocent lamb to be slaughtered. This makes the reader feel increased sympathy for Nancy, as the damsel in distress is a familiar character- and the damsel who wasn’t saved is by far a tragic story. Second, the reader sees Mrs. Ashida’s opinion of Herb, as she tells him, “I can’t imagine you afraid. No matter what happened, you’d talk your way out of it” (Capote 36). Herb is the father figure. He is supposed to protect his family. He is, ideally, practically invincible. With the murder of Herb, the reader sees a hero’s failure, and so further comprehends the loss of the family.
Finally, we see the nature of Bonnie and Kenyon. In one of her meltdowns, Bonnie tells Wilma, “I’m missing out on… The best years, the children- everything… And how will [Kenyon] remember me? As a kind of ghost” (Capote 30). All Bonnie hopes for is a chance to connect with Kenyon, who is in every sense “Bonnie’s child, a sensitive and reticent boy” (Capote 39). However, with the murder of the Clutter family, any possibility for a close relationship is taken away with the brutality of chance and a gun. In all of these cases the author plays on the sympathies of the reader using intertextuality, as a familiarity with the types of characters helps further realize the loss of the characters and the value of human life. Further, Capote uses stock characters to develop the reader’s expectations, and then he changes the narrative from the stock character’s traditional role in order to further emotionally involve the reader.
As Capote continually quotes and references the Clutters throughout the book, he also characterizes the murderers. So, while the reader winces upon hearing Perry’s testimony of the final cries of Nancy, which sounded like, “Oh, no! Oh, please. No! No! No! No! Don’t! Oh, please don’t! Please!” (Capote 245), the reader also feels a twinge of sympathy upon hearing of the immense neglect and abuse Perry suffered (Capote 130-136). As Capote himself said, ” If [Perry had] had any chance in life, things would have been different…” The author uses parallelism to humanize the murderers in the same way he had humanized the murdered: with life stories and outside descriptions. In this way, Capote is claiming equality between the murderers and the murdered; both parties are a part of humankind and capable of loving and being loved. This serves to finalize Capote’s subtly written belief that capital punishment is inhumane. The Clutters, Dick, and Perry all had valuable lives and great potential; ultimately, the Clutters, Dick, and Perry all lost this potential.
Capote expresses his disapproval of capital punishment to the readers, simply by employing human understanding. While most would agree the deeds Dick and Perry had done were sick and cruel (to say the least), some are able to read Capote’s narrative of their lives and come away with the slightest compassion for Dick and Perry. Though they have killed and done wrong, they are still a part of humanity. Capote shares his belief that all people are equal- all are surging forward to their goals, all are loving or hating, all are different and yet one coherent whole of ingenuity and hope. Capote wanted the reader to see the truth: human life is valuable.
It is Parents’ Fault: Rough Childhood as a Way to Raise a Murderer
By juxtaposing the childhoods of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, Truman Capote shows that although a solid family structure is the most important influence on a person’s character, it is ultimately up to each person to decide what his actions will be. Factors like home structure, parental guidance, and socio-economic background are often taken into consideration when trying to understand a murderer’s motive, but criminal behavior can come from anyone.
Many people believe that a stable household is the most important factor in raising a stable child however, the contrast between Dick’s secure family, and Perry’s broken home shows that both lives are capable of producing a criminal. Dick was raised in a “normal” home, with a mother, father, and brother. Dick and his family, like the Clutters, had family meals and spent their evening watching television together. Dick had everything he wanted as a child, and when he got married, he and his wife continued to live their lives as if they could have anything they wanted. For that reason, they were always in debt. To fix that, Dick began passing blank checks. If Dick had been taught that you don’t always get everything you want, perhaps he wouldn’t have passed blank checks and ended up in prison where he met Floyd Wells and planned the Clutter murder. Perry’s parents were rodeo stars, so he and his three older siblings were constantly traveling. His mother became an alcoholic and his parents split up, his mother taking the children with her to San Francisco while his father stayed in Alaska. Perry yearned to be with his father, but when he went to live with his father in Alaska it was not as good as he imagined. He hated him for not allowing him to get an education and for treating him like his slave. Perry turned to crime, possibly as an act of rebellion, which landed him in prison where he met Dick Hickock. The way that Dick’s family never held him accountable for his actions, as well as the way Perry’s family always gave him a hard time about his mistakes are both two extremes that could lead to the personalities of Dick and Perry when they committed the crime. Dick’s family was always supportive of
The way that Dick’s family never held him accountable for his actions, as well as the way Perry’s family always gave him a hard time about his mistakes are both two extremes that could lead to the personalities of Dick and Perry when they committed the crime. Dick’s family was always supportive of him, but never blamed him for his faults. He never was held accountable for his actions.When Mr. and Mrs. Hickock tell Mr. Nye about Dick’s childhood they talk about how he divorced his first wife, Carol, for a woman named Margaret Edna. About the divorce Mrs. Hickock says: “Dick couldn’t help that. You remember how Margaret Edna was attracted to him.” (p.166) This shows that despite the fact that they believed his first wife Carol was a lovely girl, they do not believe he is to blame for divorcing her and instead blames his second wife. Later they remark that Dick has “plenty good inside him” and his father says he doesn’t know what happened to Dick to turn him to a criminal. Dick’s mother says “That friend of his. That’s what happened.” (p.167) Dick’s mother blames Perry for changing Dick from the good person he used to be, despite the fact that he was gambling, writing bad checks, and possibly cheating on his wife before he even met Perry in prison. Contrarily, Perry’s family never supported him, and his sister and father are quick to chastise him for what landed him in prison. While Perry is in prison for theft, his sister writes him a letter and says “I truthfully feel none of us have anyone to blame for whatever we have done with our personal lives.” (p.139) This is quite the opposite of what Dick’s parents say when they blame every one of Dick’s mistakes on someone else. Unlike Perry and Dick’s families, the Clutters practiced a healthy balance of encouragement and expectations. Nancy and Kenyon were not forced to do good, but instead enjoy helping others because of the example set by their father. When Mrs. Clarence Katz asks Nancy if she could teach her daughter make an apple pie, Nancy already had a busy day planned, and could have easily turned little Jolene away, but because she decided it was more important to help others first, she rearranged her full schedule to fit Jolene in. All of Holcomb wonders how Nancy has time to be so successful and selfless in so many things, but their answer is “She’s got character. Gets it from her old man.” (p.18) This is not something Nancy’s parents could force her to do, but something they had to teach her with hopes that she would want to make the right choices, unlike Dick and Perry. As shown by the other criminals on death row with Dick and Perry,
As shown by the other criminals on death row with Dick and Perry, socio-economic background is not always an influence on whether or not you become a criminal. While Dick came from a lower-middle class family and Perry was raised in poverty, many of the other criminals they met on death row were from upper class families. Two other prisoners on death row, Ronnie York and James Latham, were from wealthy families and were members of the United States Army. Perry also attributes his criminal behavior to the fact that his father never allowed him to go to school, however Lowell Lee Andrews, a twenty-year-old who shot and killed his mother, father, and sister, was an honors student at Kentucky University. These other criminals are important contrasts to the unstable childhood one might believe caused Perry and Dick’s criminal behavior. These three murderers had no reason other than their own sick motivation to murder their victims, just like Perry and Dick.
As shown by the differing lives of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, as well as the other criminals living on death row with them, no one is accountable for the actions of a criminal besides the criminal themselves. Although a hard childhood or difficult family life may influence those decisions that led to their crimes, no one is responsible for someone else’s actions.
Actual Story Over Fictional Storytelling: Capote’s New Literary Form
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the concept of the nuclear family was a personification of the American dream, the illusion of the perfect life, the perfect wife and the perfect children, all living in a model community. With four staccato shotgun blasts, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood all but irreversibly cracks that quintessential familial mold, sending it on a journey of misguidance, sympathy and greed that Dick and Perry were responsible for. For many, however, their thoughts of the “perfect score” and the subsequent manhunt and trial were adulterated with the grimy hands of the author’s puppeteering and personal bias. Every action in the story was manipulated for his true endgame, to create a tantalizing atmosphere out of a macabre act. For all of its realistic re-creation of dialogue and alternation of arcs to slowly interweave the two plots together, Capote falters in ultimately creating the book’s fictionalized true-to-life atmosphere, the consequence of his failure to separate the intimate aspects of his writing from the set facts of the events that have transpired.
The “nonfiction novel” that Capote introduces to the literary canon successfully creates a layered plot that effectively evokes both conflicted feelings for the antagonists as well as creates a realistic atmosphere that mirrors the actual events of the murder while subtly adding enough elements to include a fictional aspect to it. The book itself is split into 5 different sections, each one another part of the two divergent story threads that contribute to the mythos of the story through the following of both Dick and Perry and law enforcement back in Garden City, developing two distinct layers to what will eventually become a single plot line. As a result, Capote is able to treat each plotline as its own self-contained, multi-faceted entity before they merge and by keeping them separate, fleshes out the development of each character, combining real-life and made-up elements effortlessly to truly portray the person that he desires them to be, not who they were. To many impressed, including the New York Times, “[Capote] demonstrated that reality, if heard out patiently, could orchestrate its own full range” (Knickerbocker 4). This “full range” is exemplified in the conflicting emotions that Dick and Perry bring to mind, sometimes compassion, sometimes anger, all feelings that twist the book’s perception of them and offer different perspectives for how they might be interpreted long after their executions. In doing so, Capote stresses that while his characters are partially his own creation, they are still essentially a product of their own, set actions in reality.
Unfortunately, Capote’s often-manufactured dialogue, designed to hasten the pace of the story, ultimately hurts it by becoming a difficult aspect of it to overcome in relevance to the book’s descriptive diction and the absurdity of the author’s supposed memorization of every word. As a “343-page true-crime chronicle,” (Kauffmann 1) Capote pushed for the story to be as realistic as possible, a decision that was as misguided as poorly executed. Because the story is consistently rooted in the interactions between its characters, dialogue is used heavily to fill in the necessary plot gaps that the author’s descriptions could not fill themselves. Although Capote wanted it to add a degree of authenticity to the novel, each character’s words does little more than break up the quick style of his writing when every stoic sentence is accompanied by lines of hurried speaking. The book’s struggle to balance its use of dialogue with use of complex plot elements is exemplified in dialogue-heavy passages such as Perry’s resigned confession on the way back from Las Vegas, which is so drawn-out that Capote draws doubt about the truthfulness behind it rather than the sympathy he intends to. Indirectly responding to the NYT, a different perspective was found as a result of this conflict of motives, that “Capote demonstrates…that he is the most outrageously overrated stylist of our time” (Kauffmann 7); that, in itself, is a definite point that the book’s over-emphasis on dialogue cannot deny, as it further convolutes Capote’s writing and damages his sense of ethos.
Likewise, for the first half of the book, Capote alternates haphazardly between the arcs of Garden City and Dick and Perry’s escapade, a spontaneous style of writing that contributes more to the compromising of the story’s timeline than its proceedings. Capote lacks a set organizational structure to find plot points where it is appropriate to switch between arcs; along with the added “illumination… [of] vastly oversupplied facts,” (Kauffmann 8) the story never has a clear path to reaching its climax, where the threads of law enforcement and the murders intertwine in Sin City, a point in the book that should be an explosive payoff, the sum of all the built-up tension and mystery in the land of greed and malice. Instead, it comes off as more liberating than gratifying, as if the plot itself is being released from Capote’s manipulation and generously veers into more realistic, true-to-life territory. By switching back and forth constantly between different stories, Capote intended to draw out the process of capturing Dick and Perry as much as possible, showing the intricate workings and careful actions of bold characters such as Alvin A. Dewey. The author never successfully achieves this desire because his syntax is continuously bogged down with “Reddiwip [style] writing, goo that gushes out under…compressed air and that…looks like the real thing,” (Kauffman 7) a caustic point that is in conjunction with the struggle for him to omit the “fluff and filler” from his writing. In republished notes about the book, Capote hypocritically wrote down that “There is a flaw in…your strength and unless you learn to control it the flaw will prove stronger and defeat you” (Wiener 7). As much as he was praising himself and his work, there was an underlying hint of irony, subtly highlighting his general failure to follow the ideology that he himself preached.
Capote’s new literary form of a “nonfiction novel,” to somehow interweave a fictional re-telling of a story with the actual events as how they happened, struggles to achieve its full potential because it cannot escape the difficulty of at re-creating authentic dialogue while incorporating fictional elements as well his misguided shifting between the two divergent story arcs that make up the main plot. As didactic as he was about his philosophy of learning flaws and correcting them before they became too overwhelming, Capote evidently suffered from the same mistakes that he earnestly tried to correct in his writing and his philosophy; the pressure of creating an entirely new genre showed in the cracks of the story. He then became his own hamartia and unconsciously became like the character of Perry Smith in his own book, a person stuck in his own daydreams and misconceptions about reality, a person who was not and could not be cognizant of the actual world that was around him, a person who refused to change and believed he was the epitome of everything that was right in the world. In a sense, with the two worlds that he was tied to, he did not have the courage or capability of merging them together.
Factual and Fictional: Bias Interpretation of Reality in Capote’s In Cold Blood
Nonfiction novels are a genre of book that employ all devices of a fictional piece, however all of the information is completely factual. Though legitimate, the integrity of the writer still can be called into question, depending on the portrayal of the facts. Truman Capote, being the first author to use this style of writing, was the first to twist a true story into his own. He was able to do this in In Cold Blood through his use of bias. Truman Capote shows bias in In Cold Blood through his selective characterization and attention to detail, yet this bias results in a more fair narrative overall.
One way Capote shows his bias in the novel throughout is his clear favoring of Perry over Dick. Capote characterizes Perry in a very positive manner compared to Dick, making readers feel sympathy for him. From the beginning, readers are led to believe that Perry is submissive to Dick. Perry follows what Dick tells him and rarely bothers speaking his own mind. This combined with the contrasting tones Capote uses between the two of them make readers see Perry in a more positive light. For example, using a sympathetic tone while speaking of Perry’s childhood (98) while using a calm, yet humorous, tone just hours before Dick’s execution to make him seem like a sociopath (339). Also, Capote highlights a scene during the murder in which Perry replies to Dick, “Uh-huh. But you’ll have to kill me first” after Dick proposes the idea of raping Nancy (243). This makes readers view Perry as a hero for stopping Dick. Capote’s favoring of Perry over Dick is one of the key ways he displays bias in In Cold Blood and also leads readers to question the integrity of his writing.
Specific details displayed throughout the novel sway the readers’ opinions on who the criminals really are. Capote uses these details to instill is bias into others. One detail from the murder that makes readers question the motives of the criminals, is how pillows are placed under the heads of the victims (64). This detail makes readers wonder why a murderer would go through the trouble of comfort, if they didn’t care about the victim. This gives the appearance that Dick and Perry have compassion. Another thing that makes readers feel sympathy for the killers, is the explanation of their rough childhoods. Perry in particular, had it rough. He was in and out of orphanages, his mother was a drunk, and his father was flaky (132). This coupled with hints of their mentally instability, for example, Dick’s “emotional abnormality” (294) and Perry’s “signs of severe mental illness” (296), pull an emotional response from readers. It makes readers pity the murderers, which typically is not the natural response in a situation like this. This twisting of classic roles makes the novel more fair to both sides.
The bias in favor of the criminals results in In Cold Blood being a more accurate portrayal of both sides of the story. In most murder mystery stories, readers are made to feel more sympathy towards the victims of the crime. The difference in In Cold Blood is that readers not only feel sympathy for the Clutter family, they also relate and hurt along with Dick and Perry. He does this in order to make readers think on a deeper level about capital punishment. Capote evokes these emotions from readers in several ways. One way in which he does this, is he focuses heavily on the pain the criminals face after the murdering. We see Perry “studying” papers at a dinner, reading the article about the murder “fifty times” and questioning what it says (88). Perry is visibly anxious in this moment- he obviously is feeling some remorse. Also, later on, after Dick gets a few drinks in him he exclaims to Perry, “What about Dad? I feel– oh, Jesus, he’s such a good guy. And my mother–” (99). Dick worries about his family and what they will think of him for his crime. Another way Capote pulls readers to feel for the two of them, are by sharing their back story. The story speaks of how Perry had an alcoholic mother who was “strangled to death on her own vomit,” and two of his siblings committed suicide (110). This is a tragic situation for anyone to be in, and it makes readers sympathize for Perry.
Capote makes In Cold Blood a more fair portrayal of the murders by sharing his bias with readers. Capote got up close and personal with the case, allowing him to see all sides of the story and to provide the world with a new perspective. Though his bias is still called into question, it does not change the fact that everything he wrote is completely factual. The mix of fact and bias is what makes this novel as interesting as it is.
Capital Punishment Critique in Capote’s Novel in Cold Blood
Through the use of a carefully chosen epigraph, organization, a non authoritative presence, embellishment, researching the character’s backgrounds, and pathos, Truman Capote is able to tell the story of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith in great detail while also presenting his argument against capital punishment in his masterpiece In Cold Blood.
Before the book begins, Capote sets the tone with a verse of “Ballade des pendus” by Francois Villon, which he composed while on Death Row in 1463. Capote kept the excerpt in its original French, but when translated it reads “Men my brothers who live after us, / have your hearts not hardened against us. / For, if on poor us you take pity, / God will sooner show you mercy.” This poem is very subtly foreshadowing Capote’s intentions of writing the book about the killers and their point of view, as well as attempting to make the reader feel pity for them. The poem also references religion, which plays a very important role in the story with the Clutters and especially Perry. Villon’s backstory also has a surprising amount of similarities to Dick and Perry’s crime spree; he murdered a priest, stole from a strongbox right before a crime spree with a gang, and then was arrested for brawling and sentenced to death. Interestingly, his sentence was changed to a 10 year banishment from Paris. Capote uses this epigraph to give readers a glimpse of what they’re in for without revealing any details about what happens. It’s a fitting reference because both Villon and the Clutter Killers committed somewhat similar crimes but had two very different outcomes.
Organization is a very important aspect of In Cold Blood. Part One focuses on the soon-to-be victims of Dick and Perry, the Clutter family, but Part Two skips over the murders and recounts the events that followed. The specifics of how the murders happened is delved into later in the book. Like everything in Capote’s finely crafted masterpiece, this was intentional and done for a specific reason. Smith and Hickock’s trip after their “score” is described before the gruesome details of the murder. This allows Capote to flesh out Dick and Perry as human beings without the reader’s opinion being tainted by knowledge of their appalling actions. It also establishes the Clutters as a personification of the American Dream and gives details about the family that will give the reader a better understanding of events later in the book. In Cold Blood is credited as the beginning of a new genre, creative nonfiction. By combining real events with his literary technique, Capote is in control of how the reader perceives events and characters, which he uses to his advantage to portray Dick and Perry as complex human beings rather than simple criminals.
Every element of the narrative was chosen to be included by Capote based on how effective they were in convincing the reader to agree with him, but this is done without an authoritative stance. For example, he mentions the doctor crying as Andrews’ “heart kept beating for nineteen minutes” (383). Very faint indications of the inhumanity of the death penalty are sprinkled throughout, but Capote doesn’t explicitly state his personal opinion on the matter and presents the information so the reader can come to their own conclusions. This lack of a dominating presence builds Capote’s ethos as having an equitable outside perspective, as well as him not shying away from the details of Dick and Perry’s awful deeds to keep his opinion unbiased and concede that they were far from innocent. His lack of presence is most notable with “the journalist, who was as equally well acquainted with Smith as he was with Hickock” (386). It’s easy for this detail to slip by undetected, but the journalist is actually Capote himself in the process of taking the thousands of pages of notes he prepared for the book. They’re not mentioned in the book, but his extensive note taking and time spent interviewing the inmates certainly also establishes his ethos as an extremely well informed source. Creative nonfiction can create dispute over the validity of the events it presents, and In Cold Blood is no exception. Many witnesses to the hanging claim that Capote’s account of Perry’s apology was embellished for dramatic effect. Choosing to exaggerate Perry’s last words would match the sensitive man Capote portrayed Perry as earlier in the book. However, somebody who says “I didn’t 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” (281) when discussing a murder he committed doesn’t seem like they would have much remorse. If Capote did in fact embellish Perry’s apology, it would be to prove that no matter what horrible things someone does, there’s still some humanity left in them and perhaps rehabilitation would be better than the death penalty.
It may come as a surprise that family is a central theme of a book about the brutal murders of an innocent family, but it’s significance is obvious once the characters’ backstories are established. Other than the Clutter family obviously playing an important role, both Dick and Perry’s families from their childhood were given a lot of attention. Dick’s parents sound a lot like the Clutters; both were simple farmers who treated their children well, the main difference between the families being the sizable gap in wealth. Perry, on the other hand, had an awful childhood, which appealed heavily to pathos. His parents had a messy split, his siblings committed suicide, his education ended after third grade, and he was treated horribly by pretty much every adult in his childhood, leaving him without a role model. Nuns beat him for wetting the bed and Perry describes what a Salvation Army children’s shelter worker did to him: “she’d fill a tub with ice-cold water, put me in it, and hold me under till I was blue. Nearly drowned” (152). His tragic upbringing could certainly compel readers to be a little more empathetic to him and understand his mental instability. Dick’s background makes the reader wonder how he ended up in the same position as somebody with a past as difficult as Perry’s, but Capote points out that Dick was never punished for his wrongdoings as a child.
While one case was much more extreme than the other, the way they were raised affected Dick and Perry’s psyche. Dick and Perry’s case was wrought with controversy, and Capote shows that it could be seen as very unfair against the defendants. Even though it didn’t ultimately affect the outcome of the trial, Capote highlighted Dick’s effort to argue the inadequacy of their defense. Among those who believed the trial was unfair was Dick’s father, who said: “The judge up there! I never seen a man so prejudiced. Just no sense having a trial. Not with him in charge” (324). Capote not only questions the morality of the death penalty, but in the process addresses questionable aspects of their trial. More than anything, Capote examines the M’Naghten Rule, described as “quite color blind to any gradations between black and white” (339). This law restricted the psychologist at the hearing to answer only “yes” or “no” when asked if the defendants knew the difference between right and wrong and about their mental health. Most people would agree that this doesn’t really make sense and doesn’t give a juror adequate information to come to a consensus. Capote certainly thought so, and goes so far as to include what the psychologist would have said. Giving the reader more information than the jury had access to creates dramatic irony and makes the reader wonder what the outcome of the case would have been if the jurors had known that Perry showed “definite signs of severe mental illness” (342).
Through the use of numerous rhetorical techniques, Truman Capote effectively argues against the death penalty in In Cold Blood. The use of an epigraph, organized structure, a lack of authority, embellishment, focusing the character’s backgrounds, and looking at the case in detail all subtly persuade the reader to take Capote’s side.
Attention to Details as a Way to Manipulate a Reader’s Mind
Famous novelist, Truman Capote, in his non-fiction book, In Cold Blood, recounts the murders of the Clutter family committed by Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. Although this book is considered non-fiction, critics have questioned the authenticity of Capote’s story over the years. Specifically, in two segments of text found on pages 107-113, Capote contrasts the two characters as they recount the same day from each of their perspectives. He manages to distort the reader’s perception of the two main characters in order to support his personal opinions of them. The placement and distortion of the juxtaposed texts allows Capote to manipulate his readers into viewing Hickock and Smith as he intends them to be perceived.
Capote contends with Smith’s hard upbringing throughout the entire book. In emphasizing the tribulations Smith dealt with, Capote appeals to the sympathetic emotions of his readers. “It was ‘painful’ to imagine that one might be ‘not just right’—particularly if whatever was wrong was not your own fault, but ‘maybe a thing you were born with.’” (Capote 110). It is undoubtedly Capote’s own interjections that lead the audience to associate Smith’s actions with his family and childhood experiences. The quotation marks indicate he was directly quoting Smith, while the other words may have been mixed with his own thoughts. Capote continues to appeal to the emotions of his readers by deliberately breaking the fourth wall by directly addressing the readers and Smith in this text, allowing them to directly connect with Smith. Capote is not only conveying his thoughts to the reader, but to Smith as well. This effectively strengthens the narrative voice and the personal connection one feels to Smith. He claims culpability of Smith’s current lifestyle to his childhood, referencing his sister and alcoholic mother who had both committed suicide, “Look at his family! Look at what happened there!” (110). Capote continues to make his own interjections rather than purely narrating the scene. The reader becomes conscious of this and subconsciously agrees with Capote. This tactic continues to evoke sympathy from his readers. In contrast, Hickock is not portrayed as someone who suffered as a child. The immediate contrast between these two characters allows Capote to elicit compassion from the readers and for them to understand Smith’s actions. Dick expresses his normality repeatedly, claiming, “’I’m a normal,” (108). His claims convince the readers that he is ordinary compared to Smith and has experienced no tribulations that have caused his actions. “And Dick meant what he said. He thought himself as balanced, as sane as anyone,” (108). Capote interjects again, expressing his opinion on Hickock, distinctly different from that of Smith’s. As a reader, one’s opinion typically coincides with that of the author due to his use of rhetorical strategies. Capote’s interjections force the reader to become attached to Smith, while becoming disconnected to Hickock. These two clashing personas contribute to Capote’s intention for the readers to sympathize Smith. There is no rationale to Hickock’s actions, but Capote implies a direct correlation between Smith’s childhood and his current behaviour.
In each segment, the characters both recount Smith’s story about killing King, who was “a nigger” (109) friend of Smith. Each point of view allows the readers to understand the story from each perspective and how it develops the character’s persona. Dick recalls the story as it provoked “his original interest in Perry,” and “his assessment of Perry’s character and potentialities, was founded on the story Perry had once told him of how he had beaten a coloured man to death,” (109). Capote addresses Hickock’s intentions for a relationship with Smith were founded on homicidal qualities. This implies Hickock’s objective to kill was premeditated. Smith recalls telling this fib, “because he wanted Dick’s friendship, wanted Dick to ‘respect’ him, think him ‘hard’ as much ‘the masculine type’ as he had considered Dick to be,” (111). Capote directly quotes Smith again, enforcing his own opinion alongside Smith’s. The contrast in stories suggests a difference in character between the two. Hickock is perceived as “hard” and someone who respects others primarily on their ability to kill. The references to Hickock’s masculinity support Capote’s previously expressed opinion. Hickock is not to be sympathized with, as his masculinity reinforces the idea that he is capable of killing, while Smith is weak. Smith suggests that he would never be as “masculine” as Hickock was, thus unable to murder the Clutter family without remorse, making him less of a monster.
From the beginning of the book, Capote’s narration relies heavily on detail in order to set his scene. However, it is the details he chooses to leave out in these two segments of text that allow the reader to perceive Hickock and Smith as he intended. The absence of detail in Hickock’s version followed immediately by Smith’s abundance of detail creates Smith’s persona as that of a more rounded character. In Hickock’s account of the scene, he nonchalantly recalls that he, “saw a dog trotting along in the warm sunshine,” (110), as opposed to Smith’s detailed account containing imagery of the “old half-dead mongrel, brittle-boned and mangy, and the impact, as it met the car, was little more than what a bird might make,” (112). This strong imagery of hitting a feeble dog depicts Hickock as a monster. Despite the frail condition of the dog, “Dick was satisfied. ‘Boy!’ he said— as it was what he always said after running down a dog, which was something he did whenever the opportunity arose. ‘Boy! We sure splattered him!’ (113). Smith confirms that Hickock has previously intentionally hit dogs, but implies he does not approve of these actions. The juxtaposition of these two accounts exemplifies not only the difference between the character’s accounts, but also the contrast between their internal thoughts. Hickock’s narrative enforces the perception that he has little to no discontent in killing, as opposed to Smith, who does. Although Smith ultimately admitted to killing the Clutter family unassisted, (244-245), it was Hickock who had instigated the crime (161). The allegory of the dog indicates Smith’s remorse for killing the Clutter family. Hickock refuses to talk about the murders and does not mention the murder of the dog, where as Smith frequently expresses his guilt and that “there must be something wrong with us,” (110). In Smith’s account of killing the dog, he enforces the idea that it was exclusively Hickock who had done the deed and enjoyed it. The dog scenario itself is significant in portraying Smith as a complex and remorseful character, which implies that Smith is remorseful of the crime he performed and Hickock was the one who initiated it.
Capote subtly manipulates his readers into feeling sympathetic toward Smith through his rhetorical strategies. He conveys Hickock and Smith as complete opposites, despite their shared crime. By influencing his readers through his personal opinion, Capote is able to sway his readers into believing Smith is not as culpable for the murders as his partner, Hickock is.
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote Essay (Book Review)
The Clutter family and how they serve as an example to the All American family
The Clutter family is a symbol of the uppermost honesty of family life. Their decency is associated with the strength of their relations. They lead a thriving and admirable life. They are also famous and valued by neighborhood members (Capote 4). Moreover, they lead a regimented, but enjoyable and well-provided life.
In my opinion, the family is a good example to the American family because it was a disciplined one. For instance, the time the girls got home was by ten during weekdays, and by twelve on Saturdays (Capote 7). In addition, Clutter is known by the neighbors in the surroundings to be a kind boss who ensured that his employees were responsible; hence, they served a good example to the Americans (Capote 10).
Would justice have been served if Smith and Dick had been tried and sentenced separately?
The initial idea of robbing the Clutters came from Dick (Capote15). Despite Smith wanting to back off when they failed to find the safe they had gone for, Dick urged him to hang about and pursue through. He lied to him that there were no witnesses, making him to commit the murders (Capote15).
Smith did not intend to commit the crime. However, due to the hardships and frustrations he had come across in life, he found himself seeking for revenge. To my mind, Dick was more responsible than Smith was; hence, he deserved a harsher punishment. This would surely lead to justice.
Comparison between Dick and Smith
Smith was inventive, insightful, considerate, and smart. However, he comes from a distressed family (Capote 37). His reserved, insightful character contrasts Dick’s pretentious behavior. Dick is a self-confident, eloquent little criminal, who constantly conniving to make quick cash (Capote37).
According to me, Dick is the worst of the two. This is because he had so many advantages in life, which he could have used in order to make his life better. Because of being financially irresponsible, he leads his life away from a firm childhood to a life of insignificant faults. In addition, being the initiator of the robbery at Clutters, he backs off when the time for murder comes. Hence, he avoids being the murderer and lays the blame on Smith.
Rarely do both Smith and Dick endure traditional religion. Dick was never induced by a conception of God, and regardless of Smith being temporarily influenced by the religious Willie- Jay, he could not find in his heart to pardon the nuns hypocrisy (Capote107). In the novel, religion is considered as a convenient tool of the wealthy and influential, and its account of decency excludes people like Smith and Dick.
Hypocrisy can be seen in the sense that the two robbers are malformed from being cruel menaces and merciless individuals, whose dealings seem to disobey human judgment to burdened, sorry, completely civilized persons. The crime is made to look as a fundamental and literally reasonable set of emotional reactions. The novel seems to assert that criminality and wickedness are not different, but usual individual reactions.
It is clear that the American dream is delicate, and it only functions if trivial citizens are absent. For instance, Herb Clutter’s American view would not have been crushed if it were not for Smith and Dick. In addition, Smith’s character would not have changed if his mother were taking care of him well. I would advocate for our courts to be more reasoning and hold everyone responsible for their own actions.
For instance, Smith did not deserve to die because of a crime initiated by Dick. In addition, I would advocate for change in the Child welfare department because, if at all they had been keen on the happenings, Smith would not have been raised by a drunkard mother and would not have been raised in orphanages where he was constantly mistreated, hence killing his vision in life. By doing this, the American dream cannot be shattered by some minor details like security and the aptitude to find out one’s own fate.
Fox’s letter marks the onset of killers. A letter from Mr. Fox portrays a request for forgiveness of the murderous acts. The fact that Perry had shared with Dick the act of killing a black man makes me doubt his allegations, because he ended up killing a dog. Additionally, the letter contains no truth in it because Cluter, who is so close to Mr. Fox, come from a background that does not uphold murder.
However, there is a high possibility for the murderer to be a member of the house since the murderer knew the arrangement of the house. Therefore, this letter creates a gap between writings in the letter and the person’s own culture. This strikes us as naïve, has freshness of information, and a social interest that may prove difficult for us to share.
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences. New York: Random House, 1966. Print.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote Essay
Non-fiction novel is a story about real people and real events, set forth using the dramatic techniques inherent in the book. The founder of this genre is considered the American writer Truman Capote, who in 1965 wrote the first report in the form of the novel In Cold Blood. The author defined his work as a new genre – the novel non-fiction. The book immediately became a bestseller and is still considered one of the best novels non-fiction in the world. Accordingly, this paper strives to outline the author’s biography, summarize the novel, discuss the main characters, and provide a personal opinion to grasp the essence of the story.
The Author of the novel In Cold Blood
Truman Capote was born in New Orleans, where he lived the first eighteen years of his life. He began to write at the age of eight. When Truman was 19 years old, Mademoiselle Magazine published his story Miriam, which was awarded the O. Henry Prize (Bolling, 2016). In 1949, his collection The Tree of the Night and Other Stories was published, and in 1951 was published the story Voices of Grass. In 1948, his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was released, which critics greeted with great enthusiasm.
Truman Capote was a childhood friend of the writer Harper Lee and became the prototype of Dill from her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Capote was an open homosexual and stood out for eccentricity in his manners. He played several roles in the cinema, and in 1977 received a nomination for a film award in the category: Best Acting Debut in a Feature Film (Marsh, 2016). Tumen Capote died on August 25, 1984, from cirrhosis of the liver, which was caused by narcotic toxicosis when he was 59 years old (Caudill, 2016). The body of Kapote was cremated, Joan Carson and Capote’s lover Jack Dunphy shared the ashes. Many of his works were filmed, more than 20 films were shot, and the writer himself often acted in films. In 2005, Bennett Miller made the film Capote, which tells the story of how the novel In Cold Blood was written (Voss, 2015). The premiere of the film coincided with Truman’s birthday.
Summary of the novel
In Cold Blood was based on the stories of real crimes committed 1959 in Kansas, and reveals the nature of violence as a complex social and psychological phenomenon. Once in a calm and picturesque place called Holcomb, there was a terrible murder. Criminals brutally cracked down on a whole family, which enjoyed particular respect among residents, clutters was a sample in every sense. The head of the family, Herbert Clatter, did not drink, smoke, and was an exemplary family man who lives and works only for the sake of the loved ones (Caudill, 2016). Honest farmer, he made a substantial fortune for those places he owned a large estate. The writer did not initially conceal from readers what would happen to the Clatter family and who would commit a heinous crime (Bolling, 2016). However, it remains unknown whether the attackers will be punished. They believe that they have committed the perfect crime.
The New Yorker magazine published a note on the murder of a farmer’s family in the village of Holcomb – a mother, father, and two children (Marsh, 2016). Truman Capote became so interested in this atrocity that he even went to Holcomb, where he studied this matter in detail, talked with those who personally knew the dead. The result of the investigation was 8 thousand pages. However, subsequently, Capote reduced his work, and in 1996 the book was published (Caudill, 2016). This work has become the most significant in the creative biography of the writer.
Discussion of the main characters
Two young men are entirely different, except for prison; in fact, they are not united by anything. One of them, Perry Smith, was deprived of a normal childhood, early learned what orphans with living parents, what bullying is. The injury inflicted in childhood is incurable (Caudill, 2016). He is sensitive, like a predatory beast, and the pain sits like a compressed spring, which all the time due to lack of education, due to debauchery of the mother and many other things, lies in it like a compressed spring.
Nevertheless, another young man is no less dangerous Dick Hickock. He grew up in a family that always teetered on the verge of poverty and misery. However, he had beautiful parents who cared for him, loved him, and always believed in him (Marsh, 2016). His mother until the last day suffered from the fact that she could not understand how he had become such that she had missed. Dick was always interested in women, even more precisely, girls. Unlike Perry, he married early, and even twice (Bolling, 2016). He wanted to live in a big way and hated everyone who lived better than he did.
The name of the novel speaks for itself – In Cold Blood very unusual book format. All the time, there was a feeling that you were talking with these people who were reading about now as if they were sharing thoughts. Moreover, the events are narrated quite informatively, as a statement of facts. There is only one colossal minus presentation style (Marsh, 2016). Despite the apparent dramatic nature of the story, extraordinary and charismatic identities of the criminals, the entire text is a straight line, without any emotional ups or downs throughout the story. Even at the beginning, when the daily life and dreams of Nancy, a beautiful girl, the pride of family and her beloved surrounding, are described, and her brother Kenyon, who was promised brilliant success in science, the author’s speech does not lose its smoothness, even monotony, and absolute indifference. In addition, everything would be fine if the book was positioned as a dry documentary summary.
Capote wrote an excellent documentary novel, processing a considerable amount of operational information, studying the fate and characters of both victims and murderers. At the same time, recreating a holistic and convincing picture of the premises and consequences of this crime. The book of Capote testifies: the price of human life has dropped. Even for those who regularly attend church, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” has lost its literal, indisputable meaning. The determining causes of the crime are the dysfunction of the world and society. Such is the objective, dramatic conclusion of the novel. However, the concept of “conclusion” can be used very conditionally.
Bolling, B. (2016) ‘On the Make: Truman Capote, Seriality, and the Performance of Celebrity’. American Literature, 88(3), pp. 569-595.
Caudill, D. S. (2016) Stories about science in law: Literary and historical images of acquired expertise. New York: NY Routledge.
Marsh, L. (2016) ‘Murder, they wrote’. Dissent, 63(2), pp. 6-11.
Voss, R. F. (2015) Truman Capote and the Legacy of In Cold Blood. Alabama: AL University of Alabama Press.
Analytical Essay for “In Cold Blood” Truman Capote
Analytical Essay for “In Cold Blood” Truman Capote, in his narrative “In Cold Blood”, characterizes Holcomb, Kansas as a dull and trivial town. Capote expresses his views of Holcomb through diction and contrast. In the passage, Capote’s diction helps the reader to understand his view on Holcomb as being insignificant and boring. Words such as “irrelevant sign”, “haphazard hamlet” and “falling-apart post office” portray Capote’s view on the “lonesome” village. A picture of the irrelevant town is also painted when Capote describes different parts of it; “the streets, unnamed, unshaded, and unpaved” is a good example of his choice of words. Capote also describes the people wearing “rawhide jackets”, “denims”, and “cowboy boots”, showing the small, western town style of the village’s inhabitants. Capote’s diction is an important role in expressing his views about Holcomb, and informing the reader of how unimportant the town is. Capote’s choice to contrast certain aspects of the town also helps to convey the “aimless congregation” of Holcomb. At first, Holcomb is described as an ordinary town with “flat land”, being somewhat “out there” and its people having an “accent barbed with a prairie twang. ” These boring qualities of Holcomb are supported by Capote’s allusions to the “ramshackle mansion”, “one-story frame affairs”, and the “peeling sulphur-colored paint” of the depot. After Capote has built this view of Holcomb, he contrasts the town with an unanticipated outlook on the town. He describes the school as “modern and ably staffed”, the people as “prosperous”, and that Finney County “has done well. The contrast of different parts of Holcomb make you wonder what other things about Holcomb are you not aware of. Truman Capote expressed his views of Holcomb to be uneventful and having no significance what so ever. He was able to communicate his views to the reader through his choice of diction and the way he contrasted different features of Holcomb. Capote’s choice of rhetorical devises help to set up the town of Holcomb in the way that foreshadowed an event that will forever change the town.