In Cold Blood

How does Capote’s writing develop Dick’s psychological state of mind? How does Capote help readers to understand how power functions or what might contribute to Dick’s rage?


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In Cold Blood’s Central Message

The central idea that In Cold Blood develops is that even when violent crimes seem inexplicable there is always an impetus driving that criminal to commit atrocities. Often, the motivations of these violent crimes are direct consequences of the criminal’s traumatic experiences as a child or in his or her pasts. Furthermore, these traumatic experiences usually cripple the psyche of these criminals so extensively they can be diagnosed with severe mental illnesses. Thus, the violence and carnage wrought by these criminals is not wholly their fault; therefore, in the criminal justice system they should be pitied and treated kindly according to Capote. Capote implies that the court systems should attempt to rehabilitate these mentally ill criminals and not try to murder them off with capital punishment. Thus, many laws will have to be changed and altered to account for the mentally ill.

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In Cold Blood is almost entirely devoted to furthering its central idea. Capote first sets off supporting his main idea by detailing the traumatic childhood of Perry Smith. He discusses how Perry Smith was neglected by his family, put in an orphanage where he was beaten by nuns, suffered a severe falling out with his father, and was permanently maimed by a motorcycle accident. Capote then summarizes Dick Hickock life, which was basically normal until a car crash. The car crash injured Dick’s head and after Dick made thoughtless and reckless decisions. These decisions continued to exacerbate and Dick continued to deteriorate in his moral structure as he became increasingly overwhelmed by the consequences of his decisions. Capote also shows the courts lack of sympathy for victims of severe mental illness by mentioning the strictness and austerity of the laws on determining the mental competence of defendants. Furthermore, Capote also details the lives of many of the inmates of death row in Kansas. From their stories the reader can see that the inmates do not belong on death row because they are suffering from sever mental illnesses. Capote is constantly supporting his main topic throughout his novel.