Truman Capote in his book In cold blood has created allocated the main character varied strengths and intolerance. This is the main character and he is known as Perry Smith. In general Perry Smith has been described as having a disproportionate body with a heavy muscular torso and broad shoulders supported by twisted legs that atrophied following a motorbike crash in 1952. His injuries have since healed but the pain has been sporadic and he constantly chews aspirin in order to take care of the pain in his lower half of the body.
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His is basically illiterate having not gone past the third grade but he is a very creative individual who has taught himself the art of painting and music. He actually achieves a feat that few people can by learning to play an assortment of instruments through his most favorite is the guitar.
Though he is ostracized by both his father and sister, Smith makes an individual of himself and sets to live life to the fullest. Perry Smith is a dreamer and tries to escape the harshness of life by spending time imagining himself taking adventures as well as making easy money.
Initially, it is not easy to like Smith as an independent character in the publication. He comes out as arrogant and abusive and his social skills are pathetic. He does things his way and when he cannot get what he wants, he resorts to violence. Things are either done his way or they are not done at all and in the book he is described as stubborn, violent and impatient.
However, as the story unfolds it becomes easier to admire his character especially when he refuses to be modeled along the social lines expected of him based on the environment in which he lives. For instance, when Dick Hickock (his partner in crime) and Smith are charged with several counts of murder and sentenced to hang, Dick tries to make friends with the people around him hoping to receive some sympathy.
Smith, on the other hand, uses tough measures to get what he wants. This includes going on a hunger strike and earlier in the book stands ground in his opposition to state authority when he claims that no government official is allowed to push anyone on the island. Perry fully understands that he has to stoop down to his commander’s wishes in order to get promoted to corporal but he chooses to stand his ground, “the sergeant we had was tough. Because I wouldn’t roll over.
Jesus, I hate that stuff. I can’t stand it” (Capote 134). Of course, he later turns out to be a cold-hearted murder, though it is easy to blame his upbringing and frustrations for some of his actions. “…Perry Smith’s life had been no bed of roses but pitiful, ugly and lonely progress towards one mirage and then another (Capote 245-246).”
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Perry Smith is not without human emotions. He has a side to him that allows him to feel sorry for others even in the midst of heinous acts (Marlin 53). For instance, he feels sympathetic for Mr. Clutter and puts a mattress under him to protect his body from the hard cold cement floor (Capote 241). In page 242, he feels sorry for Kenyon who is reeling with a bad cough and he (Smith) personally puts a pillow under his (Kenyon’s) head to reduce the coughing.
This is in comparison to his associate Dick who comes out as inhuman who at one point declares his plan to rape Nancy much to Perry’s dismay. Perry actually goes to all lengths to ensure that Dick does not fulfill his intentions and even swears that Dick will have to kill him first before he rapes the girl (Capote 243). We also see Perry feeling disgusted at himself for stealing Nancy’s money. This is one side of Perry that causes readers to have some sense of compassion for him because to some extent he holds high regard for moral virtue.
Even though Perry Smith did not go far with his education, he is presented as refined and has a basic grasp of grammar. Perry corrects wrong English usage by the dailies throughout the book and is also disappointed whenever Dick uses phrases incorrectly. In the early meetings between Dick and Perry, we see Perry correcting his colleague’s grammar when he tells him that the phrase should be “those walls” instead of “the walls.”
In the same chapter, Perry gets worked over Dick’s wrong conjugation of verbs and goes ahead to correct him in a manner that shows how passionate he is about proper usage of language. We are also informed of Perry’s obsession with huge words and the dictionary in general, and that he has tried to improve Dick’s grammar from the time they were called up together in Kansas (Capote 22). Perry tells Dick that he could tell that his parents did not like him because they looked at him in an ineffable way (23).
The proper usage of such complex words makes Dick’s English appear primitive. Aside from word usage, Perry also controls his voice to suit his boisterous talk and this makes him appear even more knowledgeable. This presentation of Perry makes the reader develop some great sense of sympathy for Perry and it is almost suggestive of the fact that Perry would have not turned to the crime was he given a chance in education.
Perry has been presented in the book In cold blood as the tougher man based on the control he has on his sexuality. He spends time talking to Nancy and manages to establish trust between him and her. During this period, Perry comes out as friendly and the reader hopes that the compassion he shows in his talk with Nancy may prevent him from murdering her. however, the scene that best shows Perry’s control of his sexuality is the argument between him and his associate, Dick over the latter’s wish to rape Nancy.
According to Perry, Dick finds it unbelievable that his partner in crime does not support his (Dick’s) intentions even when Dick confirms that Perry can join in on the fun. Perry sticks to his principles and confidently tells Dick to keep off the girl. This is actually seen as a great feat for Perry who we are informed did not have the courage to keep older men from sexually taking advantage of him when he was younger.
Perry is a survivor. He outlives Dick, his colleague, and the Clutters, his victims. This can be accounted to survival techniques he picked up as a result of his difficult childhood. He goes through all lengths to save his life. For instance, when Dick keeps insisting that there were no witnesses or evidence to incriminate them, Perry immediately thinks of shooting Dick just to make sure that there is really no witness left alive (245).
These are thoughts that he carries for a while but later drops them presumably because he cannot bring himself to ‘stab his friend in the back’. Though he does not take down Dick, he fulfills his wish to outlive him on their execution day. He died thirty-eight minutes after Dick (Capote 337).
One weakness in character that has been attributed to Perry is the extreme jealousy towards his sister, Barbara (Marvin 53). Barbara is seemingly successful, comfortable and lives a clean life. She tries to convince Perry to turn over a new leaf in a letter she sends him whilst in prison.
He instead sees this letter as preachy and plans on using his ability murder to intimidate her. When he is informed of her wish not to have him know her residence, he wryly smiles and says that he wishes she would have been in the room where the murders happened, “I wish she’d been in that house that night. What a sweet scene!” (Capote 259).
Perry’s transformation into a ruthless killer can be attributed to the traumatic experiences he went through as a child. His parents choose to abandon him and he grows up at the mercy of other people. He spends some time at a Catholic orphanage where he goes through acts of physical violence because of bed wetting (Capote132). This, much to his confession leads him to have a mixture of fear and hatred for nuns.
This kind of abuse in the hands of people who purportedly work for God also cause Perry to have an aversion for religion to the extent that he ends up questioning the existence of God. Perry’s disillusionment with Christianity is well presented when he does a painting of Jesus, which the author only sees as an act of hypocrisy. The author (Capote) also goes ahead to urge the reader not to judge Perry from a religious viewpoint because he (Perry) does not subscribe to such a belief system.
Other acts of violence in Perry’s childhood have been described in his letter to Dr. Jones where he says, “I was severely beaten by the cottage mistress, who had called me names and made fun of me in front of all the boys” (Capote 275). Still, in the same context but in succeeding paragraphs, Perry describes the extreme levels that the mistress went to embarrass him including applying a stinging ointment to his penis before he went to bed, “every night was a nightmare.
Later on, she thought it was very funny to put some kind of ointment on my penis. This was almost unbearable. It burned something terrible” (Capote, 275). The mistress’s utterances and actions ended up having a damaging impact on Perry’s psychological status. This led him to be excluded from the company of his age-mates.
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He was essentially forced to develop some coping mechanisms including withdrawal and exclusion. This trauma in later years caused him to be predisposed to violence and could probably have been the reason why he participated in the Clutter murders.
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2006. Print.
Marvin, Irving. Truman Capote’s In cold blood: a critical handbook. California: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1968.