Truman Capote’s Use Of Alternating Perspectives Of The Murderers In ‘in Cold Blood’

In Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Capote recounts the tragic Clutter family murders of 1959, while intently analyzing the men who carried out the crime. Capote narrates the story by alternating between those that commited the crime, Dick and Perry, the people of Holcomb, those involved in the investigation, and the facts of the case. Normalcy and the achievement of the “American Dream” are the underlying themes carried throughout the novel. These themes seem to be what drove the murderers and the people of the town. By using alternating perspectives, emotional appeals, parallel time frames, and a non-authoritative presence, Capote is able to tell the story behind the murders in great detail while also presenting his contention of showing readers that everything isn’t black and white, cultivating sympathy for Perry, and none for Dick.

To begin with, Truman Capote shows great differences in the characters of Perry and Dick by using parallel time frames. For example, in Part 3 of In Cold Blood, Capote allows the reader to have insight into Perry’s thoughts as he begins a conversation with Dick. Capote writes from Perry’s perspective,“...he knew he was beginning a conversation that would displease Dick, and one that, for that matter, he himself would just as soon avoid. He agreed with Dick: Why go on talking about it? But he could not always stop himself”. By incorporating Perry’s acknowledgement that he would also like to avoid the topic it shows Perry’s unableness to hide from his problems. Perry’s inner thoughts continue to be displayed as Capote writes, “Spells of helplessness occurred, moments when he “remembered things” — blue light exploding in a black room, the glass eyes of a big toy bear, and when voices…,start nagging his mind: ‘Oh, no! Oh, please! No! No!...’”. In contrast to Dick, Perry acts in a rational manner. The “remembered things” are all significant details given when the murder of the Clutter family is killed. Capote’s description of the flashbacks as “helpless” displays his intention to create sympathy for Perry from the readers. This allows readers to understand the effect the and recognize how much more unstable Perry is as he is haunted by these memories and reveals the remorse Perry feels about the murders he and Dick committed.

In opposition to Perry, Dick was not haunted with guilt. Capote includes Dick’s perspective, “He was annoyed. Annoyed as hell. Why the hell couldn't Perry shut up? Christ Jesus what damn good did it do, always dragging the goddamn thing up?...Especially since they'd agreed, sort of, not to talk about the goddamn thing. Just forget it”. By including this quote of Dick as being “annoyed as hell” Capote emphasizes that difference between Dick and Perry. In contrast to Perry, Dick feels almost no remorse. Dick would prefer to have Perry 'shut his mouth' then go on about the murders. By conveying Dick’s quick frustration with Perry, Capote illustrates Dick as an irascible man. When Capote wrote that Dick said he wants to “just forget” about the incident, he depicts Dick as a man who would rather escape his problems than talk about them. Both accounts of this event change the manner in which persons regards the two men. They cause one to identify with Perry, because of his guilt from the crime, yet in addition feel a loathing towards Dick as a result of his mercilessness.

Truman Capote continuously shows his presence through the intertwining of his intention for readers to have sympathy for the killers, specifically Perry, into the story. He documents Perry’s statement of, “I think there might be something wrong with us” into his writing continuing with “... it was ‘painful’ to imagine that one might be ‘not just right’ — particularly if whatever was wrong with you was not your own fault but ‘maybe a thing you were born with’”. Capote includes Perry’s statement to show readers that Perry doesn’t believe he and Dick are “normal” but that there is also the belief that it’s not Perry’s fault for the way he is. Capote makes his presence known stating, “Look at his family! Look at what had happened there! His mother and alcoholic strangled to death on her own vomit”. He continues, telling of all the tragic deaths and problems in Perry’s family in detail. By giving insight into Perry's unfortunate past, Capote proposes that those hindrances influenced Perry's temperament, therefore clouding his judgment..doing this he’s giving the reader context into Perry’s background evoking sympathy from the reader. It makes the reader ponder if Perry is truly accountable for the crime he and Dick committed. Seeing as, unlike Dick, the murder is having an affect on Perry’s mind and his family appears to have a history of horrific doings.

After stating there had to be something wrong with them, Capote shows Perry hearing Dick say, “Deal me out baby. I’m a normal”. Perry ignored this and stated, “Deep down, way, way rock-bottom, I never thought I could do it. A thing like that.” Again Perry’s guilty conscious is being displayed as he continues to think about his actions. Not only is guilt shown but also his devalument of himself or his moral standings. Readers are allowed more insight on Perry and Dicks differences because Dick thinks there is nothing wrong with him or what they did. Perry “recognized his error” once he made his statement and knew Dick would bring up “the nigger”. Capote writes Perry “...told Dick that story because he’d wanted Dicks friendship, wanted Dick to ‘respect’ him, think him ‘hard’, as much as the ‘masculine type’ as he had considered Dick to be”. Capote illustrates Perry as someone who has the need to fit in with what other people consider to be better or “normal”. Perry knew Dick would not accept him unless he had a characteristic that would benefit Dick. Perry is simply searching for somebody to take him in and cherish him, and he imagined that the best way to do that is to oblige what Dick needed.Perry uses Dick to feel accepted while Dick uses Perry for his own personal benefits. For example Perry’s story about the “nigger” allowed Dick to use Perry in his plot to murder the Clutters. Perry is for somebody to take him in and cherish him, and he imagined that the best way to do that is to oblige what Dick needed. Perry then goes on to state he “didn’t believe he could do it” Dick questions if Perry really did kill the “ nigger” like he told him. Dick is now doubting who he thought Perry really was which will cause the relationship they have to weaken.

Dick then goes on to say, “Deal me out, baby. I’m a normal.’ Dick thought of himself as balanced, as sane as anyone — maybe a bit smarter than the average fellow, that’s all. But Perry — there was, in Dick’s opinion, ‘something wrong’ with Little Perry”. This quote comes after the murder of the Clutter family. By including this quote Capote shows Dick’s debilitated mental state, as those that commit murder do not consider themselves “normal” by society’s standards, yet normality is something that Dick esteems, and one that he feels he has, regardless of Perry's attestation to the contrary. Dick seems to strive to achieve the “status” of being “normal” through Perry. Dick believes that Perry isn't “normal”. Dick continually compares himself to Perry and refers to Perry's fixation on fortune chasing and immaturity, as examples of why he is “better” and more “normal” than Perry.

Another way that he does this is by calling Perry pet names. He calls him “baby” and “honey”, names for small children, and in a way undervaluing Perry. By referring to him with these names, Dick likens being with Perry as dealing with a child. In doing this Dick improves his perception of himself, causing him to believe that he is 'normal', and something is wrong with Perry. However, Dick's journey for normalcy is his form of fortune chasing dream. Both are desires that influence their actions, and are unreasonable as, because of the conditions both men are in, neither one of them can ever accomplish such fantasies. Each man is using the other for his own gain, Dick uses Perry for his 'killer instincts,' and Perry wants Dick to view him as 'hard' and 'masculine' as he views Dick.

All in all, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood presents consecutive representations of the same segment of time from the perspective of each killer to show the difference in the character of the murderers Dick and Perry. Through the alternating perspectives he allows his readers to understand the true relationship between Dick and Perry. Capote also achieved his intention for the readers to have sympathy for Perry by giving context to the his background. Through alternating perspectives, emotional appeals, parallel time frames, and a non-authoritative presence Capote gives his readers a detailed non-fiction novel that makes them question their own moral standings as they see murder through the eyes of different viewpoints.  

16 December 2021
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