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A Review Of In Cold Blood Essay

, Research Paper Upon arriving in Holcomb, a small congregation of buildings on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, Perry and Dick, two men recently

, Research Paper

Upon arriving in Holcomb, a small congregation of buildings on the

high wheat plains of western Kansas, Perry and Dick, two men recently

paroled for petty crimes, left almost no evidence behind except for a

bloody footprint and a radio they stole from the Clutter house. In the

investigative nonfiction murder story “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, the

story of Perry and Dick and the night of November 15, 1959 is relived.

This fast-paced and straightforward documentary talks about the nature of

American violence, and details the motiveless murder of four members of the

Clutter family and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and

execution of the killers, but not before the reader gets to know Dick and

Perry almost to well at times.

While reading Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel, “In Cold Blood,”

Capote’s presentation of the facts surrounding the murders of an obscure

Kansas farmer and three of his family members becomes almost frightening.

At many times, the author of this paper was left wondering why this book

was having such an effect on him and why it seemed so realistic to him.

Initially, one may think the answer to be that the book was a true account-

because these things had actually happened, and they were not simply a

fictional story produced by some author’s overactive imagination. However,

it becomes apparent it wasn’t just the horrific story of these murders that

is troubling, but the aspect of how Capote tells the story that makes

reading it uneasy.

Unlike many other murder stories, Capote not only discusses the

criminals and their role in the crime, but their childhoods, their lives

right before the crime, and their lives after the conviction until the

executions. This may be because he was able to establish such rapport with

these two men through countless hours of interviews over many years. The

reader of “In Cold Blood” is given the cold, hard facts about the murderers,

and the effect of their previous lives on their actions and thoughts

regarding the matter. This draws the reader closer to the men than they

would, perhaps, like to be. Capote talks about the lives of both killers

previous to the murders in fairly significant detail. In the case of Perry

Smith, his parents divorced early in his childhood and neither his mother

nor father really wanted him. This produced feelings of abandonment and

uselessness early on in Perry and affected the rest of his life. Capote

brings up a letter written to the Kansas State Penitentiary about Perry, by

Perry’s father, who was trying to have Perry paroled for a previous crime

he had committed. Perry says that “this biography always set racing a

series of emotions–self pity in the lead, love and hate evenly at first,

the latter ultimately pulling ahead” (130). Perry didn’t feel as though

his father ever knew him very well, or even wanted to know him. He says,

“whole sections of my Dad was ignorant of. Didn’t understand an iota

of…I had this great natural musical ability. Which Dad didn’t recognize.

Or care about…I never got any encouragement from him or anybody else”

(133). When Perry’s father threw him out of the house one evening because

his father could no longer afford to have Perry live with him, Perry seems

to lose his sense of direction in life. He even says to the truck driver

who picks him up along the road right after this incident, “wherever you’re

headed, that’s where I’m going” (136). All these childhood wounds caused

violent tendencies to develop in Perry from an early

onset. Describing a fight with his father, Perry says, “he carried

on like that ’till I couldn’t stand it. My hands got hold of his throat.

My hands–but I couldn’t control them. They wanted to choke him to death”

(136). Dick Hickock, on the other hand, may have had a decent childhood;

however, his anger manifested itself in bad relationships with women. Dick

was forced to separate from his first wife Carol, whom he truly loved, in

order to “do the right thing by another young lady, the mother of his

youngest child” (131). Dick despised his second wife and never recovered

fully from the pain of having to leave his first wife. Capote has a

definite reason for devoting so much space in his book to the lives of the

killers, as he regards the killers’ previous lives as one of the chief

motives for the murders. Because of these things, it is not unreasonable

for the reader to wonder if the real driving force behind Dick and Perry’s

seemingly senseless murders was to get back at people in their past. F or

Dick, as revenge against his second wife and for Perry as revenge against

his father.

Another discomforting aspect of “In Cold Blood” was the fact that

Capote informed the reader of exactly what the killers were thinking during

and immediately following the murders. It is disturbing to the reader, who

feels that these criminals have just committed an unspeakable crime, that

the criminals place no value on human life and consequently, are more

concerned with getting caught than with their guilty consciences. While

Perry is reading an account of the murder two days after it happened in the

Kansas City Star, Perry is more concerned with the money aspects of the

Clutter funeral than anything else. Perry remarks, “A thousand people…He

wondered how much the funeral had cost. Money was greatly on his mind”

(96). Perry seems to have no remorse for his actions, whatsoever. Dick,

too, showed very little concern over his participation in the murder of

four people. After Perry’s concern that they might be caught for the

murders, Dick says, “‘Deal me out, baby. I’m a normal.’ And Dick

meant what he said. He thought of himself as balanced, as sane as anyone-

-maybe a bit smarter than the average fellow, that’s all” (108).

After Hickock and Smith had been in prison and were now facing

their own deaths, they still had little value of even their own lives. As

Smith was being brought into the workhouse were he was to be hanged, he

recognized Alvin Dewey, the lead investigator of the Kansas Bureau of

Investigation for the Clutter case. Smith “grinned and winked at Dewey;

jaunty and mischievous” (340). After the chaplain finished his prayer for

Smith’s soul, “the prisoner spat his chewing gum into the chaplain’s

outstretched palm” (340). Furthermore, Hickock sees it as another day when

one of the inmates whom he had become friendly with while on Death Row hung.

Hickock remarks, “Old Andy, he danced a long time. They must have had a

real mess to clean up” (331).

Over the six years that elapsed from the murder of the Clutter’s to

the death of Hickock and Smith, interviews show that Capote spent much time

with these criminals, talking with them and observing their behavior.

Capote is definitely convinced that these two men were products of the

anger, rage, and isolation they felt from a very early age. The author of this paper believes that

this was one of the main contributors to their low emphasis on human life,

including their own, and therefore what enabled them to take the lives of

four innocent people. Capote’s emphasis on the lives of the criminals and

how their lives related to their actions is what makes “In Cold Blood”

disturbing to the reader. While Capote became somewhat friendly with the

two killers, he, too, was disturbed by some of their thinking. Shortly

after their executions, Capote admitted to having become an alcoholic and

an addict of tranquilizers to help him deal with the stress.

The murder story, “In Cold Blood,” by Truman Capote truly gives a

new meaning to the term gut-wrenching through its unconventional retelling

of events and its possible motives passed in childhood.

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