Perry Smith: The Serene Man With The Explosive Temper Essay, Research Paper
Perry Smith: The Serene Man with the Explosive Temper
Perry Smith is perhaps the nicest, most gentle-hearted man I’ve ever met in my life. If he and I were to have met under different circumstances, I would never have hazarded a guess that this kind man could be a cold-blooded killer. He’s such a gentle man that it startles me to think that a man such as he would ever so much as touch a hair on a human head. However, it is the story of his past that lends credence to the fact that he slaughtered four members of the Clutter family. Built up emotions of hatred and rejection have been bottled up inside of him for so long, that he sometimes explodes with little cause. Although he appears soft on the outside, it is the build up of emotion within that causes him to behave so irregularly and explode without warning. Perry Smith’s troubled personality comes as a result of the polarities of his two sides.
As an experienced psychiatrist, I have dealt with many cases such as this case involving Perry Smith. I have diagnosed personality disorders such as schizophrenia, and I believe that Perry shows several signs of this disorder. My diagnosis comes from the fact that Perry has emotional reactions that are unpredictable and inappropriate, he has disturbed relationships, and he acts withdrawn, always “a loner without any real friends.” His inability to communicate with his family is a warning sign of schizophrenia. Poverty and a disorganized family life are often looked at as causes of the disorder; Perry Smith’s family was not, by any means, wealthy, and they were unarguably disorganized. Perry Smith has a split personality; he’s a schizophrenic.
Perry’s schizophrenia seems to stem from a disturbed childhood and erratic family life. Perry had a normal birth, and he remembers his childhood as “treasurable- a fragment composed of applause, glamour.” His early childhood was comfortable, but having rodeo performers for parents took its toll on the lives of Perry and his siblings. They enjoyed seeing their parents perform, but they were forced to live in a truck with little to eat as they traveled the country hunting work on the rodeo circuit. During the Depression in the 1930s, the family moved to Nevada in search of work. Tex John Smith, Perry’s father, began moonshining for money. It was around this time that Flo Buckskin, Perry’s mother, began drinking. The marriage ended in a huge fight “in which horsewhips and scalding water and kerosene lamps were used as weapons.” Flo ran away with the children. John later went to San Francisco to get his children back. Perry was the only one that showed any love for his father.
After the divorce, John was granted full custody, but he took only Perry and put the other children in foster care because he could not care for all of them. Perry got into trouble in school and was in a fight. His father summarily removed him from the school, and they left town. Perry says that although he wanted to go to school, his father wouldn’t let him, “because he didn’t want [him] to learn anything, only how to tote and carry for him.” Perry joined the Marines in the Second World War, and he went to Korea, where he displayed signs of his sinister side by throwing a Korean man over a bridge for no reason. He returned from the war and went to find his father in Alaska, where they built the Trapper’s Den Lodge. John began to blame his son for the unsuccessful business venture. They got into a fight which ultimately ended their relationship. They got into a fight over a biscuit. They yelled at each other, and John said he didn’t want Perry to stay with him anymore. Perry grabbed John by the neck, and John threatened to kill Perry with a shotgun. Perry returned to the house later that night after a walk to find all of his possessions in the snow. His father had thrown him out of his house.
Perry’s mother died as a result of alcohol abuse, choking on her own vomit. Perry’s sister Fern, whom he’d loved dearly, jumped out of a hotel window after drinking a bottle of whiskey. His brother Jimmy, whom Perry had admired for graduating from high school and being top in his class, shot himself after accusing his wife of promiscuity to the point that she took her own life with a gunshot to the forehead. The trauma caused by suicide and death in his family, along with the strained relationship between him and his father, whom he’d once loved, is the main cause of Perry’s schizophrenia. The pain that he endured during his adolescence, his hatred for Bobo, his older sister who wouldn’t help him when he was in jail, the loss of half of his family, and his father is what causes him to break away from his kind-hearted appearance and occasionally snap. When Perry snaps, and the hatred and rejection within him surface, anything is liable to happen.
Most people see him as kind and gentle, but only those who get truly close to Perry Smith can see his other side. Perry’s deranged accomplice, Dick Hickock, saw something wrong with Perry. In my interview with Dick Hickock, he revealed to me that he saw several sides to Perry Smith. As a cellmate, Dick saw how Perry could be “such a kid?wetting his bed and crying in his sleep.” Dick also saw the side of Perry that was “spooky as hell.” Part of this side of Perry was his temper. Perry could “slide into a fury ‘quicker than ten drunken Indians,’ and you wouldn’t know it.” Dick said that no matter how extreme Perry’s inner rage was, he would remain “a cool young tough, with eyes serene and slightly sleepy.” Dick felt he had reason to be afraid of Perry because Perry’s inner emotions could not be brought under control by himself or others. Dick was once disturbed because Perry wore mirrored glasses, concealing his eyes. He found it “unpleasant having Perry’s eyes hidden behind the privacy of those tinted, reflecting surfaces.” Dick’s hidden fear of Perry Smith came from his knowledge of Perry’s other side.
Perry shows both of his sides in his stories about the war. He tells how he really liked “some queers?as long as they didn’t try anything.” Perry said, “the most worthwhile friend I ever had, really sensitive and intelligent, he turned out to be queer.” Perry tolerated and befriended homosexuals, a minority that is often discriminated against by heterosexuals. This shows Perry’s compassionate side. However, he tells another war story about how once, in Korea, he was crossing a bridge and tossed a stranger into the water. This shows Perry’s other side, the side that is subject to explode at any time without warning or reason.
As a child, Perry was closest to his older sister Barbara, known as Bobo. She treated him as if he were her doll, baby, or toy. They got along great and loved each other very much. They grew apart when their parents split-up, but even though their love dwindled, her fondness still was apparent in the letter she sent to Perry while he was in prison the first time. Although she didn’t directly display love and concern, it is apparent. Perry still “loves her after a fashion” as Willie-Jay, Perry’s only friend, points out in his Impressions of Bobo’s letter. Perry’s outrageous side surfaces again in his repetition of his wish that Barbara would have been in the Clutter house the night of the murders, so she would be dead too.
Perry’s emotional side was shown in the fight he had with his father before being thrown out of the house. Tex had been dumping his problems on his son and called Perry names, finally telling him he wanted him out of the house. Perry’s reaction was out of the normal. He jumped up and grabbed his father by the throat. Looking back, Perry is astounded at his reaction and says that it was his hands, acting independently, that wanted to strangle his father. He looks back and sees the side of him that killed the Clutter family.
Perry’s vicious side is shown in the ordeal with Mr. Bell, the kind man who enjoyed picking up hitchhikers. Mr. Bell tells Perry and Dick about his family and his five children, but Perry’s only response is “too bad.” The three men carry on a gentlemanly conversation, but all the while, Perry is preparing to kill Mr. Bell. Perry refers to the kill as “the party,” and he is most disappointed when another hitchhiker appears in the distance, spoiling the fun. In one instant, Perry goes from attempted murder, to laughing at a lame joke. The polarities of his troubled personality are shown in this quick transition.
The greatest display of the two sides of Perry Smith is, of course, his behavior the night of the murders. He made all the members of the Clutter family comfortable before he killed each one of them. Up until the murders themselves, Perry acted like a nice guy, often irritated by Dick’s crudeness. He rebuked Dick for punching Kenyon for his slowness of movement, and Perry instructed the young boy to put his clothes on before coming out. Perry escorted Mr. Clutter to the basement and provided a comfortable mattress box for him to lie on so he wouldn’t have to lie on the cold floor. Kenyon got tied up next, and Perry took him down to the basement where he eventually tied Kenyon to the couch, propping his head on some pillows for comfort. He tied Mrs. Clutter to her bed, and she told him how she doesn’t trust Dick but feels Perry is “a descent young man.” This proves that those who don’t know Perry Smith deeply can’t see his two sides. Nancy Clutter was the next to be tied up. While he was binding her, Perry carried on a civilized conversation about Nancy and Bobby and her plans for the future. Perry played humanitarian by keeping Dick from taking advantage of Nancy, but his next actions appear as a huge double standard, as he proceeded to kill the entire family. In his last dialogue with Mr. Clutter, Perry told him that the events of that night would all be forgotten in the morning. Perry and Dick then went to the corner to discuss the predicament. Perry pleaded with Dick to let the family live. They decided that they couldn’t afford to leave any witnesses, and this is where Perry’s other side comes out. When Dick couldn’t kill Mr. Clutter, Perry took the knife and the gun and killed Mr. Clutter. Dick wanted to leave when Mr. Clutter began struggling to get out, but Perry wouldn’t let him go. Perry made Dick stay with him and follow him from room to room as he killed three more members of the Clutter family.
Perry shows his concern and care in his confession when, instead of passing half of the blame on to Dick, he admits he killed all four Clutters so that Dick’s mom wouldn’t worry about her son being a murderer when he really wasn’t. Perry once wondered if there was something wrong with them that they could kill four people for a little money and get away with it. Perry Smith shows remorse for killing the Clutters.
In summation, Perry Smith is a man of several personalities. He is schizophrenic. He may have many sides that he keeps hidden, but the most prevalent one is the cold-blooded side that he displayed in killing the Clutter family. Only his closest friends can see the other sides behind the gentle, kind-hearted Perry Smith when the emotions he’s kept bottled up for years explode in an out-of-sorts physical reaction. Perry’s troubled past has caused him to have a troubled personality, and that is what made him kill the Clutters in cold blood.