Friday, 20 January 2012

In Cold Blood

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In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood is a non-fiction novel based on the murder of four family members, the Clutters, in rural Kansas in 15. The novel, by Truman Capote, revolves around two small time ex-convicts, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, who had recently been released from prison. These two individuals do not seem to be very intelligent and if they were by themselves, they probably would have been the same petty criminals they had always been. Together, they were a deadly duo. Both their lives had been filled with hardships, which had brought them to the life they led. Many social workers say the environment in which a man grows, often breeds his instincts. The reader is mortified by the murders, and yet there can also be something close to pity felt for the murderers. Capote brought to light the complexities of human nature by sharing with the reader the motivations of these two murderers. The turbulent backgrounds of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith greatly contributed to their criminal behavior.

The killers came from the opposite world of rural America at the time. Perry Smiths family was broken and violent. Perry, the more realistic of the pair when it comes to the crime they had been planning, had lost two siblings to suicide and a parent to alcoholism. Half-Cherokee, half-Irish, Smith had a runty build, thanks to a motorcycle accident that left him with disfigured legs, an addiction to aspirin, and glorified daydreams. It was one of those daydreams that sent him out to the Clutter place. He was certain that if the money they made could only get him Mexico, where hed find treasure for himself.

Dick Hickocks ambitions were slightly less delusional; he just wanted to take the money and run off some place he would not be found. Hickock was also scarred. A car accident had put an unnerving asymmetry into his otherwise handsome face. Hickocks family was poor, but relatively stable. Dick was of above average intelligence. He was a practical man who exuded confidence and cruelty, but in reality he was not as ruthless or brave as he seemed. The psychiatrist, a witness to the case, commented on Dick as being, “alert to what is happening around him…he shows no signs of mental confusion or distortion” (4). Which meant he knew exactly what he was doing at the time of the murders. He did things without thought to the consequences; he did not learn from previous experiences. Dick was dissatisfied with his life and that had led to a low self-esteem. He dreamed of being rich and powerful because it was something he had never experienced and subconsciously knew he never would. He had a penchant for passing bad checks, but the Clutter murders left his family confounded. His family, two well-liked parents in his town, were people who lived to please others. They tried to bring their morals onto their son, but his actions clearly reflect that he was not influenced by their good deeds. This, perhaps, shaped his inability to form and hold enduring personal attachments. He had been married twice before, both of which ended in divorce. Dick thrived on using Perry. As their time together grew longer, Dick became more and more annoyed with Perry and his fantasies.

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Perry’s motivations appear much more clearly than Dick’s. He had lived without love, direction, or any sort of fixed morals. Perry’s memories of early childhood are all of being slighted and humiliated. He had grown up beaten, misunderstood, and being taught he was less than others. Perry was first arrested at the age of eight, and never reprimanded. He grew up with brutality and lack of concern from both parents. Herb Clutter represented everything in a father Smith never had. All of Perry’s brothers and sisters had been taught to hate his father, except him. The two had been “lone wolves” together, but at the time of his death, he was not talking to his only remaining sister, and his father had not come to see him in Death Row. Dr. Jones’ description of Perry seems quite accurate, “He is suspicious and distrustful of others, tends to feel that others discriminate against him, and feels that others are unfair to him and do not understand him” (7). He had good reason to feel the way he does towards others. Throughout his life no one had truly loved him. He experienced abuse over and over again in different forms. Any person could have been drawn thin by the life Perry Smith had been forced to lead. Perry was very sensitive and his feelings were often hurt easily. This is probably because of his low self-esteem and that he was self conscious, especially since his accident. He expected to be misunderstood in any relationship he formed because that had always been the case in the past. Smith believed he had been unjustly dealt with and became bitter upon his first stay in prison. He appears to be incapable of having many close emotional relationships. The ones he did have ended after a small crisis appeared on the horizon. This emotional detachment adds to his mental abnormalities. He was unable to control his “easily triggered rage” (7). The authority figures in his life had drawn him to this inability. All his life he had been ordered and abused, from his father, brother, Army sergeant, and state parole officer. Obviously, three of the murders were “logically motivated” according to Dr. Satten (01). When Smith attacked Mr. Clutter he was under a mental eclipse. He saw himself destroying a key figure in some past traumatic relationship. The inability to control his anger mounted ideas of suicide in his mind and reflected his week character structure. “I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice person. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat” (0). All his experiences led to his lack of respect for the value of life. The existence of this killer had been influenced by alcohol, suicide, and anger; he never had the opportunity to be “normal” and happy.

Their backgrounds, though dissimilar, led to them to the same fate. Maybe it is just as Perry put it, “They never hurt me. Like other people. Like people have all my life. Maybe it’s just that the Clutters were the ones who had to pay for it” (0). They had been so mistreated all their lives that now was the time to let the rage out. The Clutters had nothing to do with their anger; they were just the perfect victims.

During a five-year appeals process, Dick and Perry languished on Death Row. Perry tried to starve himself while Dick wrote letters to various appeals’ organization. Both kept with their principles of being misunderstood and unfairly treated during their final stay in prison. They were kept company by various appalling criminals of similar unstable backgrounds. When death came, Dick was awkwardly congenial and Perry was remorseful.

After In Cold Blood was published, Capotes friends and detractors remarked on the parallels between the author and Perry Smith, the more sensitive and guilt-ridden of the two killers. Possibly, Capote felt a physical kinship to Smith. More likely he simply understood that what separated him from Smith, more than anything, was luck.

Themes of abandonment, loneliness and reversal of child/adult roles run through In Cold Blood. Readers learn of the family, the murder, the arrest, the interrogation and the trial. It seems that even though the two men killed that family, the reader begins to almost start to like them, or at least understand them better. Their turbulent backgrounds up to that day had brought them to the situation they found themselves in. Capote shows them as what they were flawed human beings who were unlucky from the start.

Works Cited

Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York Vintage International, 14.

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