What does one gain from murdering a family? Capote wrote, “Then I aimed my gun. The room just exploded. Went blue. Just blazed up” (244). In Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” four shots to four heads occurred in the Clutter home in the isolated city of Holcomb, Kansas on November 15, 1959. The main characters are the Clutter family, and two men named Dick and Perry.
Capote’s novel “In Cold Blood” illustrates the murder of a family and the case to capture the suspects, how mental illness/ psychological states control the actions of individuals, the objective yet soothing style of his writing, and an implication on how Capote views the deaths and the death penalty. The Clutters, Herb, Bonnie, and their two teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy, are a wealthy, well-respected family that own the River Valley Farm in the lonely, isolated city of Holcomb, Kansas.
Dick, one of the two murderers in the novel, was told about the Clutters and their safe by a man named Floyd Wells, a former employee of Herb Clutter, and Dick’s former inmate at Kansas State Penitentiary. Dick tells Perry about the Clutters, both of them decide to rob the Clutter home in search of the safe, and they grab equipment such as a 12-gauge shotgun, a knife, rope, and gloves to aid them in their raid. When they arrive at the Clutter home at night, they pretend to be salesmen, step inside, and keep the Clutters under control as they search for the Clutters’ safe.
They discover there is no safe, so they decide to leave no witnesses and shoot all four Clutter family members in the head with the shotgun and vanish, leaving little clues. Friends of Nancy Clutter visit the Clutter home, only to find Nancy dead. The KBI then launches a full-scale investigation. They find no clues, but the strange thing is the victims are tied up in seemingly comfortable positions. The once quiet, peaceful Holcomb and the nearby town of Garden City are left in a state of shock, panic. Floyd Wells hears about the murder and tells the police about Dick and Perry, which turns the investigation into a manhunt.
After the murderers pass a few bad checks for money, they travel to Mexico to escape. Eventually, Dick and Perry steal a car and return to the United States because they ran out of money, and realize jobs in Mexico do not pay well. They went to Las Vegas, but the local police recognize the stolen license plate number, and arrested Dick and Perry. The police question the two, then Perry confesses and describes the robbery in detail. When Dick and Perry are put on trial, their mental states are investigated. Both have some form of mental disorder.
This does not prevent the court from deciding to put the two on Death Row, even though Dick and Perry have to wait for five years before being executed. In the end, Alvin Dewey, the lead KBI investigator, visits the Clutter graves, along with friends of the Clutters. A major theme in the novel is the concept of mental illness/psychological impacts. Throughout the novel, three psychological states stand out: Bonnie Clutter’s depression, the state of fear and panic of Holcomb and Garden City upon hearing about the Clutter murders, and Dick’s character disorder and Perry’s paranoid schizophrenia.
In the the first few pages, the reader learns that depression loomed over Bonnie Clutter ever since she birthed her first child, possibly due to an issue with her spine. This leaves Mrs. Clutter rgic and unenergetic. She did has occurrences of anxiety and seems to always be cold. In a way, Mrs. Clutter’s state of being almost foreshadows the state of Holcomb and Garden City once the word spreads about the Clutter murders. This left a negative psychological effect on the two cities. What was once a calm, quiet area is now a place full of distrust, fear, and panic.
Capote wrote, “Around here… locks and bolts are the fastestgoing item. Folks aren’t particular what brand they buy; they just want them to hold” (88). This reinforces the utter shock the people of Holcomb and Garden City. Everyone felt unsafe, not knowing where the murderers were located, not knowing who to trust. Perhaps the ones that truly stand out are the murderers, Dick and Perry. Towards the end of the novel, the reader learns that both Dick and Perry suffer from mental disorders.
Dick suffered brain damage from a past concussion, and has severe character disorder. He can only deal with frustration through antisocial behavior, he overcompensates for his low self-esteem by lying, bragging, and fantasizing about being rich and powerful, and he is in able to keep positive relationships (Myers, “Illness in In Cold Blood). Perry suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, making it hard to distinguish reality from delusions. He had a troubled past including abusive caretakers, and has difficulty controlling his emotions (Myers, Illness in In Cold Blood).
Mental illness plays an important role in this novel because it gives information about how these illnesses and psychological impacts control individuals and populations. Capote’s writing style throughout “In Cold Blood” can be considered quite unique. He writes with objectivity, but in a soothing way. His objectivity contributes towards retelling the story of the Clutter murders and the facts about the case. However, this writing style is new, or different, compared to his normal writing style for his other works.
Encyclopedia of World Biography states, “The ornate style and dark psychological themes of his early fiction caused reviewers to categorize him as a Southern Gothic writer. However, other works display a humorous and sentimental tone. ” Again, most of Capote’s works are written in an ornate or humorous style, but not “In Cold Blood. ” For contrast, the style of another one of Capote’s novels, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” is rather blunt and focuses more on the shock-factor of the main character’s dialogue.
Even though a majority of the novel is objective, Capote made sure to add quotes from people in the novel such as, “Just remember: If one bird carried every grain of sand, grain by grain, across the ocean, by the time he got them all on the other side, that would only be the beginning of eternity (69). ” This, and others like this, add the soothing factor to the novel , variety, and attracts the reader’s attention. In John McClain’s article “Faith and Tragedy in In Cold Blood,” Capote always was against capital punishment.
He viewed the deaths of the Clutter family and the two murderers as the same, and subtly attempted to persuade the audience into believing capital punishment is wrong. All six deaths that occurred in the novel bring meaning to the title “In Cold Blood. ” Capote viewed the deaths as a tragedy, and also viewed the capital punishment as a tragedy, especially in a Christian society. He did not use a first-person perspective and only stated facts, but he presented, or arranged, facts in a way that was intended to evoke an emotional response from the audience.
Capote contrasted the lives of the Clutters versus Dick and Perry’s past. Foreshadowing is used to predict the death of the Clutters, the novel constantly refers to the murderers’ pasts, and compares the miseries of Perry and Alvin Dewey. The scene where Perry confesses to the murders to Alvin Dewey is also where the reader may feel sympathy for Perry. Even though Garden City was a religious town, and most of the ministers were not in favor of capital punishment, Dick and Perry were still sentenced to death, despite the fact both suffered from mental illnesses. Perry supposedly attacked Mr.
Clutter because Perry was dealing with “some past traumatic configuration. ” Capote added that Alvin Dewey was not satisfied with the deaths of Dick and Perry. Dewey even said the Perry “possessed a quality, the aura of an exiled animal, a creature walking wounded… ” “In Cold Blood” can be seen as criticism of capital punishment, while not condoning Dick and Perry’s actions. An analogy to the situation is a scene in the Bible where God punishes Cain for murdering his brother by banishing Cain, not killing him. Again, Capote wants people to believe the capital punishment is wrong, and Holcomb endured a tragedy.
Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” recaps the deaths of the Clutter family and Dick and Perry, demonstrates how mental illness and psychological states can control people, implies he is against capital punishment, and has an objective, soothing writing style. Many tragic things happened in such a small, isolated town. The people of Holcomb realized if death can claim the Clutters, it can happen to them as well. Now, a good question can be what does one gain from murdering a family? An even better question is why does one think he or she gains anything from murdering a family?