In Cold Blood: Characterization of Hickock and Smith
Open up a copy of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and you will find an array of beautiful and poetic language that makes this novel nothing short of a masterpiece. Effective characterization is a key element; and it is through the use of diction and syntax that Capote characterizes Dick Hickock and Perry Smith in such a way that the latter is given the greater amount sympathy than the former. His purpose in doing so is to provide a strong case against capital punishment and Smith is his best asset in doing so.
A major difference in the characterization of Perry and Dick is that Capote delves so much deeper into Perry’s past, revealing a horrific childhood that created a very damaged individual void of any real emotional connections. For example, Perry had on many occasions set out to find his lost father, “for he had lost his mother as well, learned to ‘despise’ her; liquor had blurred the face, swollen the figure of the once sinewy, limber Cherokee girl, had ‘soured her soul’, honed her tongue to the wickedest point…” In this passage, Capote employs negatively descriptive diction. He uses words like “despise”, “soured” and “wickedest”, which all have a pattern of shady and foul connotation. This use of diction helps Capote to reinforce the passage’s purpose of describing Perry’s mother as an unrespectable woman, incapable of caring for herself, much less her children. The absence of a loving and responsible role model in Perry’s childhood builds the reader’s sympathy towards him. In addition, Capote includes a memory of Perry’s in which his family lived off of minimal nutrition: “Hawks Brand condensed milk it was called,” recalled Perry, “which is what weakened my kidneys –the sugar content- which is why I was always wetting my bed.” His weak kidneys led to him wetting the bed and getting beaten by the nuns at the orphanage where his mother placed him. This is an example of the chain reaction of...
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