The Effects of Ones Environment in In Cold Blood
On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, a family of four was brutally murdered by shotgun blasts only a few inches from their faces. The protagonist of the story, Perry Smith, a man with a troubled past, is the one responsible for committing these murders. In framing the question nature versus nurture, Capote’s powerfully written account of the Clutter family killings asks whether a man alone can be held responsible for his actions when his environment has relentlessly neglected him; Perry Smith is a prime example. He is an intelligent, talented, and sensitive human being, who has been warped and rejected by society and his environment, and therefore cannot be held accountable for his actions. Throughout his life Perry suffers through many circumstances including abuse, having a limited education, and family difficulties. It is through these circumstances, which are beyond his control, that send him down a path of crime.
Throughout his childhood Perry is beaten and abused on many occasions by numerous individuals. He spends most of his childhood living in orphanages, children’s shelters, and detention homes where he is beaten not only for being half – Indian, but for wetting the bed as well. While spending time in a California orphanage run by nuns Perry is beaten ruthlessly for wetting his bed: “She woke me up. She had a flashlight, and she hit me with it. Hit me and hit me, and when the flashlight broke, she went on hitting me in the dark” (Capote 93). After a couple of months, Perry is tossed out of the orphanage and his mother places him in a children’s shelter operated by the Salvation Army. Here he is once again beaten brutally by the nurses: There was this one nurse, she used to call me ‘nigger’ and say there wasn’t any difference between niggers and Indians…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. Nearly drowned…I caught pneumonia. I almost conked. I spent two months in the hospital. (Capote 132) As he grows older Perry repeatedly gets into trouble and starts to associate with gangs. He is in and out of Detention Homes many times for stealing and running away from home and at one such place he was, Severely beaten by the cottage mistress, she had called [him] names and made fun of [him] in front of all the boys…She would throw back the covers & furiously beat [him] with a large black leather belt – Every night was a nightmare. Later on she thought it was very funny to put some kind of ointment on [his] penis. This was almost unbearable. It burned something terrible. (Capote 275) As a result of these terrible experiences Perry is reluctant to confide in others and when he does, he expects to be misunderstood or even betrayed. This abusive environment he is subjected to as a child and the hateful people he is surrounded by influences how Perry grows and develops. When it comes to killing the Clutters he does not murder Mr. Clutter for any personal reason or gain; he murders him because he believes he is killing one of the hated figures from his past. The orphanage nun, the evil nurse, the hated cottage mistress, any or all of them, could be the ones Perry believes he is acting revenge on while he is killing Mr. Clutter. According to Dr. Joseph Satten of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, in an article of his, Murder without Apparent Motive – A Study in Personality Disorganization, he states, “When Smith attacked Mr. Clutter he was under a mental eclipse, deep inside a schizophrenic darkness, for it was not entirely a flesh-and-blood man he ‘suddenly discovered’ himself destroying, but ‘a key figure in some past traumatic configuration” (Capote 302). The disorder that Dr. Satten believes Perry suffers from, called schizophrenia, “is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal...
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