In literary characters, but rather real individuals who had

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 broken and 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 destruction of innocence indirectly characterizes Perry Smith as a
broken individual, whose inner turmoil caused external devastation.  

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Perry
Smith’s violent tendencies stemmed from tragic events that he endured as a
child, contributing to the emotional instability he faced in the future. After the murder had
been committed, Perry Smith had trouble accepting what had been done. His
continuous inner turmoil is expressed as he begins to realize what he did was
wrong and it is plausible that there might be something, psychologically, wrong
with him as well. The narrator chooses to give insight into the background of
Perry Smith as he describes, “Look at his family! Look
at what had happened there!” speaking in a sarcastic tone due to the
exclamatory statements (110). These assertions show how it is not completely
out of the ordinary than an individual that belonged to a family like Perry’s,
ended up being the individual he was. The paratactic listing of each death of
Perry’s family members, “His mother, an alcoholic, had strangled to death on
her own vomit. Fern, the other daughter, had jumped out of a window of a San
Francisco hotel. (Perry had ever since “tried to believe she slipped,” for he’d
loved Fern…) And there was Jimmy, the older boy??Jimmy, who had one day driven
his wife to suicide and killed himself the next,” reveal a man who belonged to
a dysfunctional family (111). The paratactic listing of each death of Perry’s
family members shows how they were each a different factor that elevated his internal
struggle, holding the same amount of impact on the development into his
adulthood. The free indirect discourse results in shifts between the narrator’s
and Perry’s point of views, further explaining the pattern of each member’s
downfall, which inevitably lead to his own destruction. The parenthetical
syntax serves to reveal Perry’s stream of consciousness when regarding his
sister, Fern, an individual whom he romanticizes. The fact that Perry continues
to think about the goodness in his sister as he “tried to believe she slipped”
from the balcony reinforces his naivety as he continues to live in a state of
mind where he chooses to neglect the corruption found within Fern. The reader may conclude
to a more universal idea which is that evil resides within a human soul. This
darkness can at times, such as in the case of the Smith family, overwhelm an
individual and drive them to insanity, diminishing all that was presumably good
within them. Perry Smith never had a consistent and stable home,
always going from place to place. During his juvenile years, he was sent to a
Catholic orphanage, where he was physically tortu­­­red and left emotionally
scarred. Perry Smith’s anecdote provides insight of his past inflictions as he
states, “They
hated me, too. For wetting the bed. And being half-Indian. There was this one
nurse, she used to call me ‘nigger’ and say there wasn’t any difference between
niggers and Indians. Oh, Jesus, was she an Evil Bastard! Incarnate. What she
used to do, she’d fill a tub with ice-cold water, put me in it, and hold me
under till I was blue” (132). Perry echoes a tone of
harshness towards the abuser as he characterizes her as an “Evil Bastard,”
demonstrating that he still holds a grudge towards the individual who almost
cost him his life. The capitalization of these two words places emphasis on the
frustration and resentment Perry has towards this woman who mistreated him. The
idea of good versus evil is recurrent as the offender, like Satan, was a
malevolent entity. The religious allusion characterizes the nun as the Devil
incarnated, which emphasizes the irony behind the oppressor. A nun is typically
identified as a caring, pure, religious follower, yet it is ironic how she
would abuse Perry. The paratactic listing of Perry’s qualities through the
elliptical syntax reveals the things that are beyond human control such as
their race or typical acts done by babies. The repetition of the word “nigger” causes
a sense of unease within the reader as one realizes the abusive nature, both
verbal and physical, that this particular “holy” woman possessed. The perpetrator
was symbolic of the prejudice and racist individuals that existed in society. Perry Smith was a
victim of harsh and cruel treatment, however, his act of murdering a family of
four was in no means justified. The information regarding his background gives
insight into who the criminal is and why he would have been influenced to
pursuing a life of crime. The brutality behind being almost
drowned to death in ice cold water creates empathy within the reader for the
progeny who was taken care of by an unfit caregiver. Current societies face
the same kind of issue where innocent children are constantly being taken
advantage of in home shelters, leaving them with emotional problems, and in
some cases, left permanently scarred. During Dick and Perry’s trial, Dr. Jones discloses
his findings after psychologically evaluating both individuals to see if there were
any signs of evident mental deficiencies and issues. His findings characterize
Perry Smith as an individual who “seems to have grown up without direction,
without love, and without ever having absorbed any fixed sense of moral values,”
belonging to a deteriorated family and one who lacked moral righteousness
(296-297). Each of Perry’s losses is cataloged
through the constant repetition of “without” which results in a slow pace in
order to stress each facet of a life that the criminal had to live without. The
paratactic sentence structure shows the progression of “without direction,”
“without love,” and “without love,” signifying how each loss was isolated and
carried an equal amount of weight in his upbringing. The anaphoric statement
accentuates the lack of each of the key qualities such as having a sense of
stable direction, love, and morals, left this human being to develop a life
where the difference between right and wrong was never clearly established.
Perry Smith lived a life of wanting to obtain the basic things he was never
given: love and acceptance; and the inability of being able to have the things
he’s always wanted led to rage and severe anger issues. The absence of
attention, parental guidance, and love caused Perry Smith to not have developed
any sense of moral compass that would help him make the right decisions in
life. If these key aspects were evolved within the individual, then it could
have affected the standing of his future. In some way, it could have plausibly
prevented Perry from meeting Dick and the murder from occurring in the first
place.

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, therefore, he is no better than Perry Smith.
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 constantly
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, who 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 shown 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,” noticing the disproportionality of the
criminal (224). A child represents qualities of incorruptibility and virtuousness,
which ironically, Smith does not possess a child’s innocence as it had 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 utters, “I 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 within his
mind seconds before he murdered Mr. Clutter (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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