In Cold Blood by Truman Capote Literary Analysis

Categories: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood, written by Truman Capote, is a book that encloses the true story of a family, the Clutters, whose lives were brutally ended by the barrel of a 12-gauge shotgun. The killers were 2 men, each with 2 different backgrounds and personalities, each with his own reasons to take part in such a harrowing deed. Capote illustrates the events leading up to the murder in sharp detail and describes its aftermath with such a perspective that one feels that he is right there with the culprits, whose names are Dick Hickock and Perry Smith.

They had very critical roles in the murder and how they themselves were caught, and in many ways they were foils for one another. Through Capote’s extensive descriptions of Dick and Perry, and his use of dialogue, imagery, and point-of-view, he makes their individual roles in the story evident and makes clear the fact that they counterbalance each other, with their opposite personalities playing major parts in the Clutter murder case.

Dick and Perry’s upbringings were vastly contrasting, and their effects were evident as the men grew and developed.

Capote illustrates Perry’s childhood with explicit detail and does not hold back. Perry’s upbringing was marred with violence, tragedy, and misdirection. His mother and father were divorced, and constantly had issues with each other. His mother became an alcoholic, and eventually died upon choking on her own vomit(106). He lived in, by all means, a broken home. His entire family, save for one sister, had suffered in some sort of way.

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Perry gives the gist of his family’s status with saying, “Jimmy a suicide. Fern out the window.

My mother dead. Been dead eight years. Everybody gone but dad and Barbara. ‘” (Capote 134). Perry’s sister Fern had fallen out of a hotel window to her Khan 2 death, with police finding a bottle of alcohol in her possession. Perry’s other brother shot himself, and Perry’s father walked out of his children’s lives when they were all quite young. Not long after that, Perry was put in an orphanage run by nuns. They would whip him constantly for wetting his bed (Capote 93), which was due to Perry having a weak liver (Capote 210).

Because of his experience in the orphanage, Perry gave up on God and religion. When he was still a teenager, he joined the US Army and fought in the Korean War. After he came home, he got into a grisly motorcycle accident, mangling both his legs and stunting his growth. When he recovered, he went to go work with his father up in Alaska, which, after several years, ended in an argument from a biscuit, Perry’s father aiming a gun at him, and all of Perry’s possessions being thrown out of the house. So Perry decided to leave. “I picked up my guitar and started on down the highway” (136).

Through all of his early life, it is evident that Perry had to deal with terrible tragedies, a lack of parenthood, and the fact that he never truly had a true home. He never fully learned compassion, mercy, respect, or the value of human life. None of these values were ever shown to him, nor was he ever required to show them to anyone, and in addition, it made him resent many people in his life. As Dr. Jones, a psychiatrist who studied Perry, concluded: “His childhood,…. was marked by brutality and lack of concern on the part of both parents.

He seems to have grown up without direction, without love, and without ever having absorbed any fixed sense of moral values”(297) Perry’s upbringing played a major role in carrying out the murder of the Clutter family, and contrasted sharply with Dick’s early life. Dick Hickock’s upbringing was more structured and fortunate, the opposite of Perry’s. His parents had been there to support him, and he did well in school. When asked about his son’s school life, his father responded by exclaiming,”Basketball! Baseball! Football! Dick was always the star player.

A pretty good student, too, with A marks in several subjects” (Capote 158). Dick had a fruitful education, and was even offered a scholarship, to which Dick simply says, “… but I never attended any of them” (Capote 278). After high school, Dick took several small-time jobs, including working at a Khan 3 motor company, “when I [Dick] had an automobile wreck with a company car. I was in the hospital several days with extensive head injuries” (Capote 278). The car accident caused his face to be slightly maligned, and, as concluded by Dr. Jones, caused residual brain damage and instability in his personality (Capote 286).

Dick’s father also confirmed that Dick had changed after the crash, expressing that “He just wasn’t the same boy” (Capote 255). After experiencing the crash, many parts of Dick’s life began to go downhill. His marital life twisted woefully, and when all was said and done, he had gone through 2 marriages. He did not have a steady job anymore, and he began to commit petty crimes, such as writing bad checks and stealing. The latter resulted in him being in jail, where he had met Perry, who was behind bars for burglary as well, among other charges.

Dick and Perry had both agreed to kill the Clutters, however when the time came, Dick showed signs of doubt and lingered, while Perry had almost no hesitation. This seems to point back to each man’s past, where Perry, who had a rougher childhood, did not seem to think twice about killing the family. His scarred adolescence points to a more cold-hearted, bitter, and lonely person, while Dick’s more favorable youth showed signs of mercy and conscience. Perry and Dick’s relations with other people shaped their own respective character and personalities, including their tendencies towards other people.

Dick is a self-assured, commanding and charismatic person who seems to think of himself as quite masculine. He’s had a few girlfriends, and more than one wife as well (Capote 277 – 279). He was a distinct athlete in high school, and was by no means anti-social. He is a very smooth-talker, and does not have any trouble using people to his advantage (Capote 97). His ease with people as well as the large amount of people he had befriended made him more sympathetic towards the Clutters, and, if anything, made him more understanding towards other people. Perry, to contrast, did not have the self-assurance or confidence Dick had.

Since he was a child, he essentially had no one, as his family was essentially gone, and he moved from place to place. He had been abused by the nuns as a child (Capote 25), had essentially no friends throughout Khan 4 his short time at school, and was bullied often, in which cases he references the “Big Yellow Bird” carrying him away form his oppressors (Capote 265). Perry himself once expressed, “My friends are few; those who really know me fewer still” (Capote 225). He has relations with a small amount of people, and among the people who he’s ever interacted with, Perry has ended up resenting a great many of them.

With so much dislike for such a large number of people, Perry has a distinctly negative view of people and society in general. This leads to him essentially having no mercy for the Clutters, rather treating it like it had to be done, and that there was nothing he could do about the murders. Additionally, Perry had been a lonesome individual for most of his life, so as he travels with Dick, he becomes quite attached to him, even after their relationship sours a bit. This seems to point itself out when Perry mentions, in a potential escape plan, “What about Hickock?

All preparations must include him” (Capote 265). If Perry was planning to escape, adding another individual to worry about and the risk of getting caught is much higher. Yet Perry is too attached to simply let Dick go, but Dick in on another floor regretting that he didn’t kill Perry when he had the chance. Both Dick and Perry’s relationships with other people reflect in their personalities and attitudes towards contemporary society. Perry’s passive, dainty nature and Dick’s reckless, aggressive, asserting nature serve to offset each other’s behavior to an extent.

Perry does not try to assert himself, but rather conforms to what other people, who he deems ‘larger’ than him, tell him. He is the one to worry about everything, as shown when he is concerned about wearing stockings so that no one will recognize them (Capote 37), if a torn glove is a bad omen (Capote 65), and in addition to the countless times afterward that he’d talked about the authorities tracing the crime back to them, that somehow they did have a witness (Capote 109). Dick is the more daring individual. He frequently acts upon a notion and carefully considers the consequences AFTER the deed has been done.

He does tend to be reckless sometimes, as he became when he was writing bad checks, and used his real name in the same city he committed the murder of the Clutters in (Capote 213). With Dick nudging Perry on in whatever scheme they were Khan 5 plotting, and with Perry holding Dick back and thinking it through, they seemed to get both a bold plan along with attention to detail. In the book, Capote gracefully shows how Perry’s actions and tendencies function and respond with Dick’s personality and habits, making it clear that they are foils for one another. Works Cited Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. Boston, MA: G. K. Hall, 1993. Print.

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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote Literary Analysis. (2016, Jul 30). Retrieved from

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