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In Cold Blood, a
non-fiction novel, was published in 1966 by American novelist, Truman Capote. Truman
Capote’s twentieth century piece of literature was written with a purpose to
create a new genre that would generate a more journalistic style of writing.
The author had become heavily involved in researching the Clutter case, relying
on Holcomb’s testimonies and official police records. The development of his
characters throughout the novel made it difficult for the readers to understand
that they were not just literary characters, but rather real individuals who
had committed a horrendous crime. The non-fiction novel is about a 1959 murder
case of Holcomb’s renowned residents: the Clutter family. The two convicted
murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, had shot and killed the four family
members without motive, murdering an innocent family at the expense of stealing
$43, a portable radio, and a pair of binoculars, exemplifying that each life
was worth approximately $10. Both individuals were tried and found guilty,
being sentenced capital punishment.

The
character of Perry Smith has experienced a large amount of harsh treatment from
the beginning to the end of his life, in no regards justifying his decision to
murder an innocent family as a result of leg pains. The development of Perry,
as described by Truman Capote, shows a child-like individual who never managed to
escape his corrupt upbringing nor accomplished anything, but a life of crime
which inevitably ended with his execution. The motif of the destruction of
innocence indirectly characterizes Perry Smith as a broken individual,
prompting the reader to understand the character’s motivation. 

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The child-like characteristics attributed to Perry Smith
reinforces the grotesqueness of the killer as he was unable to surpass his
wicked and abusive past. Dick and Perry are in Mexico which they arrived to
after the Clutter family had been murdered. Hickock has become irritated as
Perry continues to say, “there must be something wrong with us” foreshowing his
state of guilt and unease. Dick’s perspective of Perry Smith is shown when he
says, “But Perry??there was,
in Dick’s opinion, “something wrong” with Little Perry…Perry could be “such a
kid,” always wetting his bed and crying in his sleep (Dad, I been looking
everywhere, where you been, Dad?), and often Dick had seen him “sit for hours
just sucking his thumb and poring over them phony damn treasure guides,” revealing how he perceives him as a child and himself as the only
adult figure who had to be “taking care” of the kid (108).  Hickock’s reference to his partner as “little” connotes
his diminishment of Perry’s masculinity, as he does not see him as his equal,
rather a more child-like individual that was never able to transcend from his
traumatic upbringing. Dick’s assertion, “there was something wrong” with Perry demonstrates how he identifies
himself as a normal and sane individual. Ironically, he too encompasses the
same evil nature as his partner. No rational or “sane” person would plan and
kill an innocent family with no motive. The buried treasure guides are highly
indicative of how Perry is always searching, whether it be for his father or
for wealth. The motif of lost dreams accentuates how he has an emotional need
to keep on rummaging. The duality of Perry Smith’s character is expressed
through the series of action verbs such as “crying,” “sucking,” or “poring”
which represent his juvenile innocence. The parenthetical syntax discloses the stream of
consciousness of a young boy who is still emotionally connected to a father
that didn’t possess the qualities that a real parent should have, creating a
sense of pity for the juvenile. However, the indirect characterization of Perry
Smith by being compared to a child embodies a grotesque effect.

Perry Smith is about to be interrogated by
Agents Nye and Church. Nye, looking through the one-way mirror, observed the
prisoner: noting the way he was presented and fascinated by the fact that he
did not know the true intentions behind his arrest and what awaits. The agent’s
impression of Perry is revealed as he “was fascinated by his feet??by the fact
that his legs were so short that his feet, as small as a child’s couldn’t quite
make the floor” (224). A child represents qualities
of incorruptibility and virtuousness, which ironically Smith does not possess a
child’s innocence as it has been stripped away along with his morality. The
simile comparing Perry Smith’s “feet as small as a child’s” yields great irony because
there is nothing more terrifying than a killer child. The
effect of this correlation is an image of a murderous youth, creating a
distortion within the being, hinting to the duality of the individual. Nye
describes Perry as “this chunky, misshapen child-man was not pretty; the pink
end of his tongue darted forth, flickering like the tongue of a lizard,” allowing
the KBI agents to understand that they are dealing with a psychotic individual.
The listing of negative adjectives such as “chunky, misshapen child-man was not
pretty” contributes to an ominous and grim atmosphere, portraying a dangerous
and evil individual. The simile comparing Perry to a lizard illustrates a
reptilian image in which the pink tongue illustrates a serpentine and demonic
creature. Through the eyes of the agents, Perry is seen as a person who
possesses a devolved state of being in order to survive. The motif of the
corruption of a child’s image exemplifies how the innocence has been distorted.
The motif of corruption
of character is evident within Perry Smith as a there resides an abnormality
which, through the focus on his feet, heightening the grotesque malformation of
the individual’s physique. The comparison to a child has a profound impact on
the readers as it only furthers the horror and terror of a killer boy, leaving
feelings of unsettlement and unease. Perry Smith was an incompetent, devolved
individual couched inside a sentimental body.

The loss of innocence abruptly
affected Perry Smith’s moral state of mind, resulting in the loss of emotions
such as compassion toward the Clutter family through the exertion of his brutal
and violent nature. Perry Smith reveals the
course of events that took place November 15, 1959 during the murder of the
Clutter family. Duntz and Dewey pay close attention and are shocked by the
words coming out of Perry Smith as he says, “knelt down beside Mr. Clutter, and
the pain of kneeling??I thought about that goddam dollar. Silver dollar. The
shame. Disgust. And they’d told me never come back to Kansas. But I
didn’t realize what I’d done till I heard the sound. Like somebody drowning.
Screaming under water,” describing his perspective of what occurred November 14th
(244). The progression of Perry Smith’s inner turmoil is revealed through the
short staccato sentences which speaks to the state of mind of the character
which is distorted and disorganized. The fragmented syntax heightens Perry
Smith’s disgust and distraught towards himself. Previously, the beginning of
his testimony was a polite observation of Herb Clutter, however, it drastically
shifts to where, syntactically, the grotesqueness is delayed. The fictive
bridge of the auditory effect provided from the sound of the silver dollar
rolling down the floor functions as an elevating of the grotesqueness, showing
how so much was taken for such a small price. The metaphor of the “screaming
under water” has a profound, auditory effect as it heightens the sound of human
misery. The drowning underwater can be bridged to when Perry Smith was abused
at an orphanage and nearly drowned himself.  The act of drowning was
worsened when Perry cut Mr. Clutter’s throat. The
combination of the auditory effects of the rolling of the silver dollar and the
screaming underwater heighten the grotesque aspects and the disrupted state of
mind of Perry Smith, creating an overwhelming effect on the readers. The
advancement of the individual’s internal conflict serves as an exemplar of what
happens to someone’s innocence when confronted with evil, and how the evil can
completely subdue human beings. Dr. Satten was sent to psychologically evaluate
both murderers: Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. The doctor’s findings and studies
reveal a murder with no apparent motive, proving that the murders were done “in
cold blood.” By drawing back to the Smith’s confession, Satten concluded “that only
the first murder matters psychologically, and that when Smith attacked Mr.
Clutter he was under a mental eclipse, deep inside schizophrenic darkness”
metaphorically revealing how Perry Smith’s sense of humanity was obscured by
malice during the murder of the Clutter family (302). The archetypal contrast of
light vs. dark further emphasizes how Perry’s sense of good was overshadowed by
the more powerful sense of evil that resided within him. The rapid firing of
rhetorical questions, “his father? the orphanage nuns who had derided and
beaten him? the hated Army sergeant? the parole officer who had ordered him to
“stay out of Kansas”? One of them, or all of them?” catalogs the series of
individual that have wronged him throughout his lifetime and are the reason why
he ended up the way he did: broken and alone. Mr. Clutter was symbolic of all
of the individuals that caused within him distress and pain. Wasn’t Mr. Clutter
whom he despised, rather the individuals that held an emotional strain within
him. Mr. Clutter, unfortunately, was the one to pay the consequences for all of
the figures that were so detrimental to Perry. In the same way
that Perry’s innocence was stripped away as a child, when he murdered the
Clutter family, their innocence and purity were destroyed as well. The
paratactic syntax of “one of them, or all of them” illustrates how it may have
been either been Perry, figuratively, killing one of his oppressors or all of
them at the same time while he killed Mr. Clutter. Mixed feelings within the
reader because one feels a sense of sympathy for Perry who withstood so much
pain growing up, however, the actual killing prompts a rather disturbing and
disquieting response.

Perry
Smith was taught that abuse and torture were ordinary aspects of everyday life,
which led to the violence exposed onto the Clutter family during the night of
their murders, stripping them away of their innocence. The protection of
society’s evil nature allows for the youth to treasure the innocence that
resides within them for a long time and then, after the slow unveiling of evil,
the child is able to decipher that which is right and what is wrong based off
of the morals they have developed. However, exposure to the corruption and
destruction that is human nature and the savage realities of life have the
power of consuming an individual with no moral compass, leaving them
emotionally marred and on a road to devastation.

 

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