In Cold Blood

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Critical Essay on In Cold Blood In the ongoing debate about whether nature or nurture is the primary force shaping a person's character, Capote comes down firmly on the side of nurture and environment in his book In Cold Blood. His portrayal of Perry Smith, the crippled killer with a nightmarish childhood, is highly sympathetic. Capote argues, none too subtly, that Smith had significant potential for a constructive life had he not been abused, neglected, and disenfranchised. In detailing his sympathies for Smith, it is clear that Capote identifies and empathizes with Smith personally. But Capote's questioning of the relevance and righteousness of small-town values and priorities could be his own angry criticism of the world he himself inhabited: a false meritocracy in which his talents were inadequate unless accompanied by a biting, unrelenting charm. Capote depicts the hypocrisy of Smith and Hickock's trial and execution with similar precision; murder by an individual was illegitimate, but murder by the state was an accepted, even necessary means of satisfying a sense of reckoning and restoring order. Once they had fallen off the generic, automated mechanism of upward mobility toward the American dream, the barriers to re-entry were too high to scale again, and, Capote implies, not interesting to Smith and Hickock. Perry Smith is in many ways the central character of the book. He confesses to killing all four members of the Clutter family, a fact he later denies and then reiterates. Capote is most interested in the trajectory of Smith's life toward this final, fatal deed, and the people, events, and conditions that shape his course. The question of whether Smith is doomed from the start, or whether, as Willie Jay believed, there was something "savable" about him, is answered by Capote through his inclusion of various letters and biographical sketches written by

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