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Lucas Moore

Colleen Green
American Literature
9 June 2016

The Fine Line


There is a fine line between a sociopath and a cold blooded murderer. In the book In Cold
Blood the author Truman Capote tells the true story of the murderers behind the Clutter killings.
Truman Capote decided to write about the clutter homicide because it methodically shows the
distinct difference from a sociopath and a killer. The book In Cold Blood follows the real crime
of the Clutter massacre. Two men named Dick and Perry in an attempt to rob the Clutter
household got carried away and tied the family up and brutalized them with a 12 gauge shotgun.
The book shows what happens after the killings; Dick and Perry on the run, investigation, and
the prosecution up until the point of their executions. Although people think the main focus of
the book is the crime, Capote is actually trying to define the difference between a sociopath and a
murderer. Capote tries to psychoanalyze the murders by looking deep into their childhoods. As
the book develops, the reader sees a clear distinction between Dick and Perry, Dick is a closed
off but relatively normal man (for a murderer), but Perry is a deeply disturbed man who has built
up rage and anxiety for his entire life. Capote shows how a sociopath like Perry is very
dangerous and vulnerable when paired with a normal killer.

Capote shows how Perrys personality is very misleading, from the outside he looks
completely sane but really he is full with rage. In an interview with Dick he tells Capote his first
impressions of Perry, when they first encountered each other, hed thought Perry a good guy, if
a bit stuck on himself, sentimental, too much the dreamer. He had liked him but not
considered him especially worth cultivating until, one day, Perry described a murder, telling how,
simply for the hell of it, he had killed a colored man in Las Vegas --beaten him to death with a
bicycle chain. The anecdote elevated Dicks opinion of Little Perry; he began to see more of him,
and, like Willie-Jay through for dissimilar reasons, gradually decided that Perry possessed
unusual and valuable qualities.Dick became convinced that Perry was that rarity, a natural
killer--absolutely sane, but conscienceless, and capable of dealing, with or without motive, the
coldest-blooded deathblows. (Capote) This interview is important because it begins to show the
many layers people perceive Perry as. What is interesting is that Perry didnt actually kill the
colored man in Las Vegas, he was lying to Dick to try to prove his power. By him lying and
sounding like a sociopath to Dick, it made Dick more interested in using Perry in his next job.
Even if Perry didnt kill the colored man, just having the ability to lie about killing a man in cold
blood brings up the argument that Perry was a sociopath all along and Dick just brought the
violent side out of him. In addition to Dicks perspective on Perry, he includes sections from
Perrys childhood that shows the trauma he dealt with, resulting in his distancing of emotions.
Perry had a tough childhood which further reinforces the theory of Perry being a sociopath.
According to a study done by the European journal of Psychotraumatology, it is suggest that an
early exposure to relational trauma in childhood can play a relevant role in the development of
more severe psychopathic traits. In Capotes interview with Perrys father he admits Perry
troubles, he was a pretty happy kid until his father started brutally

beating his mother, who took to drinking and promiscuity. Perry saw and heard his mother
"entertaining" a series of men. She eventually dragged her kids to San Francisco, where Perry
was constantly getting into trouble. He blames it on having "no rule or discipline, or anyone to
show him right from wrong. He ended up in a series of orphanages and Salvation Army homes
where he was beaten for wetting the bed and tortured by the overseers. An example of the kind
of torture Perry received from his overseers is There was this one nurse, she used to call me
"nigger" and say there wasn't any difference between niggers and Indians. Oh Jesus, was she an
Evil Bastard! Incarnate. What she used to do, she'd fill a tub with ice cold water, put me in it, and
hold me under until I was blue (Capote 172). It is pretty clear that Perry went through many
traumatic experiences, traumatic enough to classified as relevant towards being a sociopath.

In a weird way, Capote confuses the readers emotions when it comes to Perry, you feel a
smidge bit sorry for him. I guess if you look at any criminals childhood you can find places for
empathy, but I feel like its different when you look at the childhood of a sociopath. When I look
at Perrys childhood, I grasp onto the idea that it isnt his fault for being the way he is, that it was
just the impact of a troubled childhood or the influence of violence Dick bestowed on Perry.
However, in the end it really is all on Perry, he was the one who slit the throat of an innocent
man, and then systematically shot him and the rest of his tormented family. He also was very
close to killing the driver even when he was talking about his wife and children, the only thing
that stopped him was another hitchhiker. He showed no mercy so it shouldnt be that difficult to
show Perry no mercy. Even Perry admits his unmerciful ways in a interview with Capote I
didnt want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman.

Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat. While walking talking to
Donald Cullivan, Smith said, They [the Clutters] never hurt me. Like other people. Like people
have all my life. Maybe its just that the Clutters were the ones who had to pay for it (302
Capote). This confession was one of they key points a psychologist tasked to analyze Perry.

Towards the end of the book, Capote interviews a psychologist that had analyzed Perry
before he was put to death he said that Because of many parallels between the background and
personality of Perry Smith and the subjects of his study, Dr Satten feels secure in assigning him
to a position among their ranks. Moreover, the circumstances of the crime seem to him fit exactly
the concept of murder without apparent motive. Obviously, three of the murders Smith
committed were logically motivated- Nancy, Kenyon, and their mother had to be killed because
Mr Clutter had been killed. But it is Dr. Sattens contention that only the first murder matters
psychologically, and that when Smith attacked Mr. Clutter he was under a mental eclipse. Deep
inside a schizophrenic darkness, for it was not entirely a flesh-and-blood man he suddenly
discovered himself destroying, but a key figure in some past traumatic configuration( 301-302
Capote). At this point what Capote includes confuses the reader even more, the reader can't fully
blame Perry for murdering the poor family because they cant deny the fact that he is a very
troubled man and was screwed over by his family and the system. It makes it a bit harder to fully
back a death sentence when the criminal is determined insane rather than a murder that was
done out of full conscience. What is interesting is that when Perry was being prosecuted his
defence never pleaded insanity probably because the public was very vengeful and wanted him
dead and even if they found out he was mentally unstable it would make no difference because of
the amount of outrage towards Dick and Perry.

Humans cant help feel but feel more sympathy towards sociopaths than murders which is
interesting because a sociopath is incapable of feeling sympathy. It is almost as if others
unknowingly make up for that. Who knows if Perry pleaded for insanity maybe the court
wouldve show him mercy. When insanity is involved in a court case it is a very tricky and often
unclear line to distinguish. Truman Capote knows this and chose to demonstrate it in his book.
He does a good job of showing the difference of a sociopath and a murderer. The Clutter killings
was not just a typical murdering, it was as random as a bolt of lightning. Perry was not aware of
what he was doing until it was too late. What makes this even more interesting is that Dick was
conscious all along. Truman Capote left the reader with some very important questions about the
faults of the killings. Whos is to blame? The people in Perrys life that have done him wrong?
Dick standing by and letting Perry self destruct? Or is it all in Perrys hands? These questions
that Capote has brought up apply to more just Perry and Dick. It applies to our country as a
whole and how they deal with mentally unstable people. If our country tried a lot harder to
support people who struggle just maybe it could prevent killings like the one in In Cold Blood.