In Cold Blood: The Imagery And Symbolism Used

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the novel, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote uses a murder case to symbolize the overall theme of good and evil. The killers, Dick and Perry, are examples of how he develops their characterization to contribute to the theme. The author juxtaposes the killer’s backgrounds to society and the line that divides insanity or wrong judgement. He used this to show how society looks down upon the convicted without knowing the full intent of such actions. The audience understands that the author resembles remorse for one of the killers towards the ending of the book. Perry Smith is portrayed as the feminine, easily influenced person and relied on anyone else to take charge in most situations. It draws him to others not like him in order to feed that sense of power that he never had. The initial characterization of Perry Smith of a malleable, easily influenced person is a stark contrast to the fundamentally flawed murderer the audience sympathizes by the end of the book; this contrast highlights society’s foundational view of morality which plays an important role of insanity.

In the beginning of the book, Capote portrays Perry Smith as a quiet, sensible person but in reality he was the core reason everything happened. When the audience discovers this, the perception of him drastically changes. His companion, Dick, turned from the masculine and influential guy into the weak-minded individual who may not have been in the right mental state. In order for individuals to understand the view of the world through these two characters perspectives, Capote utilizes this throughout his writing. Towards the end of the book, both characters settle with the fact that people will forever look at them for what they did and not why they did it.

Everyone is raised to know the difference of what to do and what not to do. For example, “They grant those who embrace them a shortcut to superiority: average people believe what they hear on the evening news or read in the papers, but you are smarter, you know better, you see patterns and plots behind these events, the ‘globalists’ pulling the strings, the ‘deep state’ undermining your mission” (Gibbs 90-91). In making this comment, Nancy Gibbs justifies that people feed into the evil doings of others because they know the event was wrong and it’s something they would never do. Feeding into drama makes others feel they are apart of it creating biased interpretations.When it comes down to what each individual interprets as the “right thing to do,” others will readily agree that the Clutter Family murder could have been avoided. Where this agreement usually ends, however, is the question of why the killers decided to make that choice.

There can be many reasons as to why the good in people fade because of trauma from their childhood or experiences. Perry experienced a lot from his childhood which affected the relationships he had with his family. With the feeling of not having anyone to turn to, he sought for a sense of companionship anyway he could get it. Capote uses Perry to let the audience have a look into the life of the murderer’s point of view to the crime. This relates to the events that have happened in real life and how the cycle never seems to die. People’s grasp of good and evil can change depending on how one looks at it. The true meaning of just doing something bad and being evil is the question that the author opens for the audience to interpret. The underlying thought of how anyone could do such incriminating actions without remorse. These actions have begun before civilization and still occurs now in our society. Do our ancestors play a part in the way things have happened or does it have something to do with how people are raised?When people are good and experience bad things, those good people often go astray. Their instinct of surviving on their own takes over and how they were raised goes away. The Holocaust is a perfect example of this. The knowledge and love for being who they are was taken away because of their race. When you grow up a certain way, anything outside of that becomes a struggle. Adolf Hitler killed 6 million Jews died from this tragic event. Losing both of his parents at a young age, going from orphanage to orphanage, put rage in his heart. That rage was the fire to his thoughts about Jews and the decisions he made towards others. The things that he went through as a child contributed to the name of the deadliest man in history. Perry was not nearly as terrible as Hitler, but both situations are very similar. These actions should not be justified and there must be a solution to ending this vicious illness.

The environment and authority surrounding certain situations are biased. Because of the way someone may look or how the person feels at that moment can alter a person’s good and evil understanding. The authority figure called judges are supposed to use their power for good but are blinded by their own morals to see the good and bad things of situations. Their judgement is clouded by outside influences while others may think this is the right decision because of the power that one person may have. When authority takes over, others may follow along with these orders for they can feel their voice has no say so. Both Perry and Dick knew this throughout their trial. When the audience sees this, it shows how society converts their own beliefs into what the right thing needs to be. It changes the view of morality depending on who’s in charge and the people are around. The community plays a big part in these things, as well. For instance, when a person hears something from someone or on social media they instantly want to know everything about the event. The drama filled situation draws people to it and adds their commentary to such. In the book, the views of people in the community impacted the story, too. The people of Holcomb felt as if they needed to insert their opinions on the murder. The community expressed different thoughts on the murder and how they felt for the family. Some felt empathy for the Clutters but few knew something like this could happen to a family such as them. Perry knew that everyone heard of the killing and were looking for him and his companion throughout the novel. This goes to show how society impacts how anyone may feel because having different beliefs can create conflict.

The impact that Truman Capote utilizes throughout his book can be interpreted in many ways. The theme of good versus evil taken from his novel leaves the readers to think of the bigger picture of morality. There had been debate of a biased view of one of the killers in his writing. He presents as being unbiased and presenting facts from the case. When the audience finally realizes as he continues to write, the connection for Perry is shown. The stories of Perry become in question and how it may be related to Capote’s own life rather than the killer. An emotional attachment is revealed creating an atmosphere of how good can be a part of a person even when evil takes over. Every person has a good and evil inside them constantly fighting for control. “ Evil versus good is not a question of them and us and when. It is a question of us and us and now” (Leder 87). Emotions and morality challenges the war between good versus evil and the role of society and power. The line of criminally insane or evil taking over in that certain situation is in question. Insanity is considered as the root of all evil and the way it affects one’s choices is differentiated in everyone’s own morality.

As shown throughout the ending chapters of this novel, the M’Naghten rule did not allow the jury to hear the entire case. The Kansas M’Naghten rule was around until 1996, becoming the fourth state to get rid of the insanity defense (Mental Health Law Report 107). This rule allows certain facts to be presented to the public. Without being able to elaborate further doesn’t let everyone know the full extent of the killers actions. “This test focuses on whether a criminal defendant knew the nature of the crime or understood right from wrong at the time it was committed” (FindLaw). The M’Naghten test also ties into the insanity and the knowledge of right or wrong. The state believes that any criminal defendant is not in the right mind state to explain how they felt or why they decided to do these bad things. Our judicial system is a major factor as to why everyone is not created equal even if it is everyone’s God given right. One person holds the key to what can be included in testimony. The jury are everyday people but even their thoughts could influence cases for the right or wrong reasons. The way Perry Smith never had the chance to voice his opinion solely on the fact of his actions. Everyone in Holcomb knew the motives they both may have are not relevant because of their mental struggles. The readers develop that the root to insanity is a struggling topic between each individual. Each person has a different belief system and can convey those beliefs into their own morals. Anyone can develop that each of the killers portray signs of mental illness but are those signs proven? The author relates to Perry and what he has been through to his own life to open his readers minds into understanding their point of view. This begins the contradiction Truman Capote experiences as becoming biased in his novel. Characterization of Perry Smith and how it contributes to the empathy the author feels for him takes part in the role of insanity. Insanity or mental illness is used in most criminal cases and has been the most controversial conversation to sweep the nation worldwide.

The Insanity Defense

The Insanity plea began in 1256 by English judge Henry de Bracton originating the `wild beast test”. Anyone convicted with insanity is not held responsible for a crime because of the lack of mental reasoning. Studies have shown that in most cases, 30 to 40 percent of criminals plead insanity(Shaul 51). The requirements to determine someone with insanity has changed over the centuries and future generations. For example, Ronald Reagan’s assassionator pleaded not guilty while showing signs of mental illness. The tactic that has been used by attorneys to argue that an individual was not in the right mind to plead their case. This became the starting point of a stricter version of rules in our government system put in place for these cases. Perry Smith was a convicted criminal that never really show signs of insanity but was soon characterized as being the mastermind behind the murder. Any person in society can be labeled insane for doing wrong or not considered normal in the eyes of others. The history of the insanity defense was not purposely created but has evolved over the years. Any person can commit murder so suddenly still amazes individuals for decades. How severe the event may be and the evidence given determines if a person is considered guilty. The insanity defense is the basis for insanity cases and can be known to not be beneficial to morality of society.

The M’Naghten law is the perfect example of the insanity defense.

There are many attributions to the insanity defense and what really makes it up. The irresistible impulse defense involves the defendant having or diagnosed with a mental disorder similar to the M’Naghten rule. This can also be easier to prove for more mentally disturbed defendants. Resulting in the defendant’s reasoning to be automatically excused. Even when they know the action was wrong, this is still put into place. In some instances, the conduct can be hard to establish between controlled and what cannot. It all started with the substantial capacity test which was completed in 1962 and adopted in 1980. Making it easier than any of the other defenses known because of its flexibility. This test is more emotional to the defendants making the evidence relevant to their personality. This supports their case in any defensive criminal case.

The interpretation of insanity has changed and still continues to evolve as more events continue to happen. Diagnosis of insanity contributes to mental illness disorders. Each mental disorder is different and can have become a major problem. Defendants can fake this to get out of a sentence and can be hard to differentiate from other disorders. Personality or identity disorders have been the basis of insanity defense. In most cases, brain function has been an issue including injury, tumors, and epilepsy. In Perry’s case, he never experienced physical trauma but his childhood experiences could have greatly influenced his mental capacity. I feel he was fully aware of what he was doing but he decided that what was done needed to be done. This was the point of insanity he suddenly shows in the book. He is fully capable of controlling his actions before when did his mindset change? The biggest issue for Perry was the individual war he continued to battle with throughout the book. To feel needed or wanted by anyone was solely the only thing keeping him sane until he couldn’t control it anymore. The underlying struggle of knowing that the evil within him was wanting to show but continued to think of how others would view him. Until he realized that no one was there to confide or point him in the right direction. In this case, insanity won this battle resulting in becoming one of the most cold blooded killers in history. No one would have ever expected someone like Perry Smith to commit such a crime but even everyday people can have problems.

The insanity liability and punishment is ineffective in our society today. Once presented insane can lead to immediate death when dealing with the action of killing others. Which completely makes sense but anyone could be presented with a mental illness. The punishment for being mentally should be different. The confinement “punishment” is a result of isolation from the world and others but still given the royal treatment. For someone who has killed innocent people should serve punishment but not immediate death. In comparsion to the Clutter Family murder, the two killers were sentenced to hang months after trial. This action was considered necesssary as the state laws enabled the death penalty during that time period. The insanity defense underhandedly prevented the killers of rights to speak on their behalf of the crime. Would this have changed the mind of the jurors or the judge? Killing should not have to be the result our judicial system jumps to.

Lifetime imprisonment can be a way to solve this problem when there is a serious issue at hand. In reality, the insanity defense is rarely used because of how ineffective it is in society. Depending on the case, determines the severity of punishment. Things have changed in some states and others still keep the same tradition. The verdict should not always be the ultimate death but a life sentence of imprisonment which is considered the best process. Not given the same special treatment as once a long time ago. Instant death gives the killer the chance to live lavishly before they are sentenced to death. The insanity defense is not always a certified way to get out of a crime. In some cases, some have presented to be insane but only perceived to be to get out of any type of punishment. This is why the insanity plea can be fraud and I am glad that the basis has changed. Nonetheless, how unnecessary the circumstance may be. Understanding how the topic is important can be a problem. Not only for the judicial system but for the common people as well. 


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