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Truman Capote’s Portrayal of Perry Smith

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Truman Capote’s Portrayal of Perry Smith

In Truman Capote’s true story, In Cold Blood, four members of the Clutter family were murdered in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. The book details the events leading up to, during, and after the murders from the perspectives of various characters such as those of the case’s investigators, Holcomb’s residents, and even the two murderers themselves. One of the murderers, Perry Smith, was quite different from the quintessential killer. He displayed a surprising sensitivity and compassion. Despite the terrible crime Smith committed, Truman Capote attempted to make his readers feel sympathetic and empathetic regarding the plight of Perry Smith through his portrayal of Smith’s traumatic childhood experiences, personality, and the thoughts of others towards Smith.

Born on October 27, 1928, in Huntington, Nevada, Perry Smith was the youngest of the four children by Irish rodeo performers, Tex Smith, and his Cherokee wife, Flo Buckskin. Poverty-stricken, the family of six led a marginal existence, always on the move and often living in a broken-down truck on "mush and Hershey Kisses and condensed milk" (Capote 131). Smith was a happy child until his father started beating his mother, who took to alcohol and promiscuity. His parents eventually divorced and for a period of time. Perry Smith was put in an orphanage and then a Salvation Army children’s shelter. There, he experienced atrocious forms of child abuse. “She'd fill a tub with ice cold water, put me in it, and hold me under until I was blue” (Capote 132). By including these anecdotes of Smith’s life, Capote makes the reader feel sympathetic towards Smith since he was a mere, helpless child, who had to deal with many difficult situations. By the time Perry became an adult, the psychological damage had already been done, as the psychiatrist, Dr. Jones, tried to explain during Smith’s trial. And so, Smith’s childhood trauma led to him leading a vagabond-lifestyle, going hungry, and serving prison time for many crimes.

After his childhood, a major part of Smith’s personality was his desire to be educated. During an argument with his sister, “Bobo”, Smith revealed his jealousy towards his siblings, all of whom received a full education. Throughout the book, the readers learn about Smith’s many talents, such as his beautiful handwriting, artistic and musical abilities, etc. Just seconds before Smith’s execution, he said, “Maybe I had something to contribute—something” (Capote 340). This shows how Smith truly believed he could have done better in his life had he been given the proper opportunities and support. To add insult to injury, after being discharged from the military, Smith’s legs were severely maimed in an accident. He became an aspirin addict and was in constant pain. Because of these regrets and hardships, one can understand why Smith was frustrated



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