Upon arriving in Holcomb, a small congregation of buildings on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, Perry and Dick, two men recently paroled for petty crimes, left almost no evidence behind except for a bloody footprint and a radio they stole from the Clutter house. In the investigative nonfiction murder story “In Cold Blood Essay” by Truman Capote, the story of Perry and Dick and the night of November 15, 1959 is relived.
This fast-paced and straightforward documentary talks about the nature of American violence, and details the motiveless murder of four members of the Clutter family and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, but not before the reader gets to know Dick and Perry almost to well at times. While reading Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel, “In Cold Blood,” Capote’s presentation of the facts surrounding the murders of an obscure Kansas farmer and three of his family members becomes almost frightening.
At many times, the author of this paper was left wondering why this book was having such an effect on him and why it seemed so realistic to him. Initially, one may think the answer to be that the book was a true account because these things had actually happened, and they were not simply a fictional story produced by some author’s overactive imagination. However, it becomes apparent it wasn’t just the horrific story of these murders that is troubling, but the aspect of how Capote tells the story that makes reading it uneasy. Unlike many other murder stories, Capote not only discusses the criminals and their role in the crime, but their childhoods, their lives right before the crime, and their lives after the conviction until the executions. This may be because he was able to establish such rapport with these two men through countless hours of interviews over many years.
The reader of “In Cold Blood” is given the cold, hard facts about the murderers, and the effect of their previous lives on their actions and thoughts regarding the matter. This draws the reader closer to the men than they would, perhaps, like to be. Capote talks about the lives of both killers previous to the murders in fairly significant detail. In the case of Perry Smith, his parents divorced early in his childhood and neither his mother nor father really wanted him.
This produced feelings of abandonment and uselessness early on in Perry and affected the rest of his life. Capote brings up a letter written to the Kansas State Penitentiary about Perry, by Perry’s father, who was trying to have Perry paroled for a previous crime he had committed. Perry says that “this biography always set racing a series of emotions–self pity in the lead, love and hate evenly at first, the latter ultimately pulling ahead” (130). Perry didn’t feel as though his father ever knew him very well, or even wanted to know him. He says, “whole sections of my Dad was ignorant of.
Didn’t understand an iota of. . . I had this great natural musical ability. Which Dad didn’t recognize. Or care about.
. . I never got any encouragement from him or anybody else” (133). When Perry’s father threw him out of the house one evening because his father could no longer afford to have Perry live with him, Perry seems to lose his sense of direction in life.
He even says to the truck driver who picks him up along the road right after this incident, “wherever you’re headed, that’s where I’m going” (136). All these childhood wounds caused violent tendencies to develop in Perry from an early onset. Describing a fight with his father, Perry says, “he carried on like that ’till I couldn’t stand it. My hands got hold of his throat. My hands–but I couldn’t control them. They wanted to choke him to death” (136).
Dick Hickock, on the other hand, may have had a decent childhood; however, his anger manifested itself in bad relationships with women. Dick was forced to separate from his first wife Carol, whom he truly loved, in order to “do the right thing by another young lady, the mother of his youngest child” (131). Dick despised his second wife and never recovered fully .