The novel In Cold Blood, written by Truman Capote introduced a journalistic style of creative writing using antirealism. This experimental approach to factual reporting required years of gathering research through first hand interviews, analyzing court records, and personal evaluation. The novel was intended to convey the case of the Clutter family, by honing in on the murderer’s mental states and thought processes, and highlighting the themes of nurture vs. nature and criminality, while staying true to the events that took place. Although Capote was adamant in claiming that he didn’t directly fabricate or invent the facts in the novel in an interview done with George Plimpton, his perspective on the outcomes and dynamic of the case were made obvious through the use of characterization, emotional appeals, and selective detail.
It wasn’t until after Capote narrated the Clutter murder scene, and began to narrate the convict’s actions and thoughts that his rhetoric became more evident. Dick’s essence was captured by his pedophilia, apathy towards killing, and cowardice tendencies. Capote portrayed Dick in a negative light based on his actions. When offering Perry’s point of view of Dick, it was said that he would spend any money he received “right away on vodka and women” (Capote 86). The insight given by Perry makes Dick seem irresponsible, as opposed to insane. Spending one’s money on partying directly correlates with immorality, which doesn’t necessarily equate to a mental disorder, but rather a character flaw. Dick was also made out to be a coward, who used Perry’s low self esteem to execute his grand murder plan. In the beginning of the novel, Dick tells Perry that he was going to “blast hair all over them walls”, referring to how they were going to kill the Clutters (Capote 47). However, towards the end of the book, Capote unfolds Dick’s true objective when discussing how he was “convinced that Perry was a rarity, “a natural killer”, which alludes to the idea that Dick was leading Perry on, knowing that he will commit the crime (Capote 96). The progression of Dick’s statements helped the reader think on the same terms as Capote did, which was that Dick was the one to be blamed, since he was shown to have had the mind of a criminal. In contrast to this, Perry was blatantly characterized as a victim, since Capote offered more quotes from him that would sway the reader into sympathizing with his character. For example, after committing such a vile crime, Perry remarked how it, “was painful to imagine that one might be not just right,” and, “if whatever was wrong was not your own fault but maybe a thing you were born with” (Capote 175). From this, the reader perceives Perry as a person who emotionally wounded and not in control of his own actions. Dick, on the other hand, as Capote stated in the interview “had a very natural criminal instinct towards everything” (Plimpton). This statement Capote made proves that he believed Dick to be a criminal at heart, which was translated into how he illustrated Dick’s nature.
The recurring emotional appeals in the novel revolve around the stark differences between Perry and Dick’s upbringing as well as Perry’s childlike personality. Capote did not offer a complete analysis of Dicks upbringing, nor did he mention any adversities in Dick’s life, other than the fact that he had served time in prison. Instead, Dick was portrayed as an ordinary boy with a loving family, who, as his mother put it, was “always the star player” in basketball, graduated from highschool, and planned to “study to be an engineer” in college (Capote 251). Dick’s family’s description exuded normalcy, implying that any flaws that Dick possessed were as a result of his nature, furthering the notion that readers should find him completely guilty and assign him the role of the antagonist. This directly juxtaposed Perry’s traumatic past, from his mother and father separating, abuse by the nuns, humiliation, his brother committing suicide, and his falling out with the only family member he loved. Narrating Perry’s life story was a way for Capote to convince the readers that Perry was undeserving of his punishment, and it also insinuated that the murders could have been evaded, if it wasn’t for his “abysmal past” (Plimpton). Capote gives the reader a first hand look into these events by including the biography Perry’s father wrote about him titled “A History into My Boy’s Life”(Capote 197). In the document Perry was described as “touchie”, with his feelings being “easily hurt,” indicating his childlike tendencies which served as an emotional appeal (Capote 201). These tendencies are depicted on multiple occasions, such as when Dick and Perry had picked up a sick grandfather and his grandson on their way to Galveston. Dick proposed the idea of leaving them stranded since the grandfather seemed like he was going to die, to which Perry replied “Go ahead. Put them out. But I’ll be getting out, too,” which was something that a child would say in a tantrum (Capote 317). In another case Detective Al Dewey, who attended the hanging of both convicts recounted Perry’s lifeless body by saying that he says his “same childish feet, tilted, and dangled” (Capote 513). Capote intentionally rendered Perry as a child to evoke a sense of pity and sadness around his death, by indirectly comparing the tragedy of his hanging to the death of a child, which any human would find gut-wrenching and morally wrong. The childlike spirit of Perry was a focal point in influencing the readers to view him as a character of innocence, and ultimately acted as an excuse that the reader could make for his inexcusable actions.
Dick and Perry’s psychiatric evaluations, which were performed to assess whether the mental health of the convicts played a role in their crimes, were undeniable examples of how Capote used selective details to promote his opinions. Capote made sure to assert that Dick was “above average intelligence” and that he seemed to be “in good contact with reality” (Capote 443). These findings undermined any of Dick’s mental issues as a result of an accident he had years ago, or the “severe character disorder” that was also diagnosed, since the reader would have already assumed Dick to be capable of deciphering right from wrong and completely aware of his fault in the crime. Considering the fact that the assessment was not actually reported in the trial, the addition of this information merely presented another reason that Dick was far from innocent. Parallel to this was Capote’s mention of the article “Murder without Apparent Motive- A Study in Personality Disorganization”, as it explained the distinction between sane and insane muderers, indicating that Perry fit the ‘insane’ mold, which entailed “primitive violence, born out of previous, and now unconscious, traumatic experiences” (Capote 450). Including this information compels the readers to associate Perry’s convoluted state of mind with his actions, making him seem like someone who is unfit to be considered for capital punishment. Capote addressed this same rationale in the interview when he said that Perry’s “life was a constant accumulation of disillusionments and reverses” and that on the night that the murders took place “he found himself in a psychological cul-de-sac” (Plimpton). A cul de sac is a metaphor that Capote used to have the audience understand the mental “dead end” that Perry had reached, and in turn helps to lessen the severity of his crimes in the reader’s mind, because he was depicted as a helpless sole. The correlation between Capote’s personal beliefs and the selected information fed to the readers in the novel is clear cut.
All in all, Truman Capote utilized a tone of contrast and juxtaposition between Dick and Perry to help shape the opinion of characters within the audience and push his agenda on the injustice committed against Perry. As he admitted in his interview with George Plimpton, he had “often thought of a book as being something reduced to a seed”, and that he makes “ [his] own comment by what [he] chooses to tell and how [he] chooses to tell it”, which is apparent in the manner that his narration detailed each character (Plimpton).