Cold Blood : A True Crime Story

Truman Capote was a prolific writer during the 1950s, having written many novels, plays, and short stories. “Truman Capote was one of the most famous and controversial figures in contemporary American literature” (George).One of his most known work is a novel he wrote in 1966 titled “In Cold Blood”. In Cold Blood is a book written by Truman Capote detailing the murders of the Clutter family, a true story that had happened 7 years earlier in 1959. Capote started his work with an article with The New Yorker. He set with his friends, who included renowned author Harpor Lee, to research what really happened of the murder of four members of the Clutter Family.

Capote and Lee traveled to the city and interviewed people from the town about the crime, as well as eventually interviewing one of the murderers themselves. Such extensive research allowed Capote to include intricate details about the story, and so he was able to write about it in a very interesting way that included insights from the murderers themselves. The novel was praised by many critics, who deemed it as a classic piece of literature to be taught and studied in school. Many others however viewed it as offensive or inappropriate to certain audiences, which resulted in its banning in some schools.

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The novel includes great details about the victims and their lives as well as details and insights from the killers. After carefully analyzing the novel, is understandable why such a novel may be viewed as inappropriate to children in school, as it presents violent themes and vulgar language unsuitable to some readers.

In Cold Blood was that book. In 1959, Capote noticed a small newspaper item describing the mysterious murder of a Kansas ranch family of four. He decided that this might be the perfect story for him to write about (IN COLD BLOOD).The book is based on the true crime of the slaughter of the Clutter household in 1959 Holocomb, Kansas. The horrific crime was committed by Perry and Richard Hickock, referred to as Dick.

The two killers met in prison and became friends, and years later were reunited to commit the crime. Dick, who initiated the plan, was told about the Clutters’ wealth by a one of the inmates in prison, Floyd Wells. Wells worked for the clutters a long time ago. Since he got out of prison, Dick was planning to rob the Clutters and invited Perry to come along for the “score”. The story follows around the two killers as they plan their mission and go through with it. The murder scene is left out of the initial events, to later be described in details through Perry’s confession.

As the accused are caught and are being questioned, they eventually both confess and Perry tells the detectives the details of the murder. Perry informs the reader that the murders were simply a robbery gone wrong. Dick thought that the Clutters owned a huge safe with a large sum of money and became obsessed with stealing it. As he explained the plan to his partner, he made it clear many times that there will be “no witnesses”. Even when Perry suggested to use face masks to avoid being seen, Dick declared that it will not be necessary, because if anyone witnessed the robbery they would not live to tell it. The two men arrive at the Clutter household, park their cars and go inside the house.

They search the office for safe, but are unable to find it and instead go to Mr. Clutter bedroom and ask the man where the safe is. Mr. Clutter denies that there is a safe in the house, but Dick does not believe him and goes on to search the entire house. Members of the clutter family are all awake now. Mrs. Clutter constantly begs for her families’ safety, as they all continue to deny owning a safe. Dick decides it is best to tie the family up and take some time to look for the safe. They tie Mr. Clutter and his son Kenyon in the basement, and tie the Mrs. Clutter and Nancy upstairs. The intruders finally give up looking for the safe and decide it is time to deal with the witnesses.

Perry tells the detectives that he had no reason to kill the Clutters except to call Dick’s bluff and prove to his partner that he is able to go through with it. Perry describes how the murders were committed in an unnervingly detailed way. He tells the detectives that as he slit Mr. Clutter’s throat “I didn 't realize what I 'd done till I heard the sound. Like somebody drowning. Screaming under water.” The way Perry describes the sounds using imagery stimulates sensory experiences in the readers’ minds and enables them to visualize how gruesome the murders were.

This can be viewed as disturbing violence that may be unsuitable for some readers. Perry’s description only gets more graphic and disturbing as the crime goes on. After they “finish” Herbert and Kenyon Clutter, the two men approach Nancy’s room to kill her as well. Until now, Nancy has remained very calm and tried to reassure herself as the intruders break in the house. However, after she hears the gunshots and they enter her room , she is terrified.

Perry recalls what happened as, “Nancy listening to boots on hardwood stairs, the creak of the steps as they climb toward her, Nancy’s eyes, Nancy watching the flashlight’s shine seek the target (“ she said, ‘Oh, no! Oh, please. No! No! No! No! Don’t! Oh, please don’t! Please!’ I gave the gun to Dick. I told him I’d done all I could do. He took aim, and she turned her face to the wall”); the dark hall, the assassins hastening toward the final door. Perhaps, having heard all she had, Bonnie welcomed their swift approach.”

The reader can feel the suspense and change of mood (similar to what the victim felt) as the murders take place. The begging of Nancy Clutter for her life are truly haunting to the readers as they can imagine how she suddenly realizes what is really happening. The opposite happens to Bonnie, who begged for her families’ safety before, now “welcomes their swift approach” because she knows that her family has been killed and she is next. Capote makes the victims’ feelings and change of attitude as the crime is taking place clear so that the readers can imagine what is happening. Such accurate details remind the reader that this crime really did happen and therefore is distressing. 

Another controversial matter in the book is its discussion about sex and rape. Dick has inclined pedophilic attractions, which he struggles to contain. As the pair is searching the house for the safe, Dick announces that he is going to “bust” Nancy Clutter. Dick does not see this as a big deal, and when Perry tries to stop him he replies, “What do you care? Hell, you can bust her, too.” While Dick admits that attractions to young girls was a failing of which he was ashamed, he thinks that it normal and that every man secretly shares the same interest.

This is also mentioned in another instance; while the men are on the run, they stop at a beach in Florida and Dick tries to attract a young child, whom is scared of him. Perry scolds him for it and claims he despises men who cannot control themselves sexually. Capote includes Dick’s own thoughts on the subject, mentioning, “That, to be sure, was something he was certain he was - "a normal." Seducing pubescent girls, as he had done "eight or nine" times in the last several years, did not disprove it, for if the truth were known, most real men had the same desires he had. 

The subject is clearly controversial and can be inappropriate to readers of certain age, as it may rob them of innocence or encourage them to think that pedophilia is normal and most men secretly exhibit it. 

In addition to the vulgar themes of the novel, there is also some controversy around the author’s hidden opinions which he hints at indirectly. When analyzed carefully, it is clear to see that Capote sympathizes with one of the murderers, Perry Smith. The novel presents Perry as the less evil of the two murderers. On numerous occasions, the narrator or some other character suggest that Perry’s rough upbringing is what lead him to commit the murders. Perry’s alcoholic mother left his abusive father and took Perry and his siblings to live with her. However, she died when Perry was 13 years old, so he was placed in a Catholic orphanage where he was constantly beat by the nuns for wetting his bed.

He was also placed in a Salvation Army orphanage, where one of the caretakers tried to drown him. When Perry got a little bit older, he decided to reunite with his father. On his way to go meet him in Alaska, he got in a motorbike accident which severely injured both of legs and left him with chronic pain. All these troubles that Perry faced growing up are seen as a motive to his violent actions. As Detective Dewey questions Perry, he cannot help but feeling some sympathy for him, and so does the reader. Capote also bring Perry’s upbringing into question multiple times hinting that it is what motivated Perry to commit the crime.

As the men are on the run, Perry claims that there must be something wrong with him, and the narrator responds with a striking quote, “after all, it was "painful" to imagine that one might be "not just right" - particularly if whatever was wrong was not your own fault but "maybe a thing you were born with." Look at his family! Look at what had happened there!” This may be conceived as justifying Perry’s actions as an inevitable outcome to any troubled childhood. It can also be seen as stirring readers to think of violence as a way to cope with their psychological and mental problems. Also, unlike Dick, a more human side of Perry is shown even as he commits the murders; he ties Mr. Clutter near a mattress in the basement so he can rest on it. This human side is relatable to the readers and combined with the sympathy and “justified” motives for the crime, can be viewed as not discouraging for readers to do the same.

In Conclusion, Capote’s novel, while very interesting to read, has many themes and language which can make it inappropriate for children in school (bio). The novel presents obvious violent themes and disturbing details of the murder told through the killers’ confessions. The novel moreover discusses the sexual attractions of one of the murderers to young children, and does not refute it, stating that, “for if the truth were known, most real men had the same desires he had.” The novel also contains some vulgar terms and ideas, one being Perry smith killing “only a nigger”. In addition, Capote shows sympathy towards one of the murderers, Perry Smith, for his rough upbringing. This can potentially be motivating for certain to cope with their own problems using violence. These graphic themes and nature of explicit material in the novel are not suitable for certain age groups to read. 



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