Truman Capote was born in New Orleans in 1925, a harsh time in America. He was brought up in an amalgamation of places in the South of America, moving among New Orleans, Alabama and New Georgia. He began writing stories at the age of fourteen, depending on the seasonal changes. He later went on to work for the New Yorker after having left school at fifteen. He soon became renowned as the author of the celebrated Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Finally, he published his masterpiece, In Cold Blood, which is most certainly a work of art that changed the nature of writing for all time to come. The novel is filled with contrasting themes, ranging between moments of sombreness and cheeriness, invoking various emotions when reading the non-fictional novel. The novel revolves around the lives of the infamous murderers, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith and the story of how they murdered four innocent people, known as the Clutter family. This essay will explore the relationship between character and theme presented in In Cold Blood, referring specifically to the characters of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, assessing the question about whether the characters are portrayed empathetically or as ruthless murderers, the theme of light versus dark being represented in each of these two characters. The contrast drawn between Dick and Perry and the Clutter family will be shown with reference to minor characters that influence the reader’s perceptions of the characters, as well as the effect of narrative scope on the novel.
Firstly, Perry was born,
“Perry Edward Smith Oct. 27 1928 in Huntington, Elko County, Nevada, which is situated way out in the boon docks, so to speak... in 1929 [his] family had ventured to Juneau, Alaska” (Capote 274).
He had not had a normal upbringing. His mother left his father at a young age and moved around the country without real love, friends or a proper grounding. Perry lived in a nunnery at one stage of his childhood where he was severely beaten to the stage of near death from drowning incidents caused by a certain nun. Therefore, it is no wonder that he felt as though the world was against him.
Moreover, “Sitting, [Perry] seemed a more than normal-sized man, a powerful man, with the shoulders, the arms, the thick, crouching torso of a weight-lifter” but he was disproportionately structured, “when he stood up he was no taller than a 12-year-old child” (Capote 27). It is this that is ominously foreboding of his personality. At a first glance he seems to be grotesquely large and well-built, but further inspection allows one realise that he is merely, “overblown and muscle bound” (Capote 27). The same thought process is attached to his inner qualities; he seems at first, with his boyishly good-looks, to be soft and sweet, a part Indian and a part Irishmen to be a placid romantic. One would never assume at first that Perry is a cold-blooded killer. Instead, one would think the opposite with him being so caring of animals such a squirrels, enjoying the company of children and being an excellent artist and skilled guitar player –
“With the aid of his guitar, Perry had [often] hung himself into a happy humour. He knew the lyrics of some two hundred hymns and ballads – a repertoire ranging [endlessly]” (Capote 59)
But, through further analysis one finds that, “In some ways old Perry was “spooky as hell”... He could slide into a fury... “He might be ready to kill you, but you’d never know it, not to look at or listen to.”” (Capote 116) What was really going on with Perry, whether he was anxious or nervous, scared or ireful - even with his anxiety causing his blood to bubble, it was almost assured that he would remain cool, calm and collected on the outside, “with eyes serene and slightly sleepy” (Capote 116). Therefore, Perry had a, “doom against which virtue was no defense" (Capote 185). He “had such a rotten life” (Capote 306). In many ways Perry is portrayed in an array of varying...
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