In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, is widely acclaimed for its masterful portrayal American crime. Also, it is well-known for the creation of the “nonfiction novel” concept. There are many critics to this crossroads between storytelling and real events. Many critics view the book as an attack on capital punishment. Although it is tempting to say otherwise, Capote is clearly presenting a case in favor of capital punishment. The book’s conclusion does not lead readers to feel joy or accomplishment from the hangings of two criminals. But rather, it guides them to experience something in the opposite. The book may not provoke sorrow or grief. However, once the Clutter criminals are introduced as characters, the reader is able to follow their lives from childhood until death row. This allows Capote to make a subtle argument to support capital punishment.
Capote is known for describing the lives, personalities, and actions of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, the Clutter murderers. Capote developed a close relationship with Smith, especially when it comes to Smith. At the beginning of the story, Perry (for the most part, Capote uses first names for the characters) dreams of becoming an entertainer as well as his obsession with finding the lost treasures around the world. Perry’s childlike personality contrasts with Dick’s pragmatic mindset and provides the basis for deeper exploration of the relationships between the criminals. Just by the detail and length of the story, the reader feels a closeness to the characters. It is worth noting Dick’s concern for his family, but Perry Smith’s story is particularly compelling. This helps to develop sympathy. Perry is able to relate to the reader by sharing details about his life, including the brutality of his childhood, the abuse he received from his orphanage nuns, the desire to be “rolled over” by an army sergeant, and the “lack of concern” he felt from both of his parents. Even though the trial is over, Perry (and the reader) still have a lot of questions about the motives behind Perry’s murder. Even though the trial is not intended to be condemnatory, Capote writes information that helps the reader think in a particular way. There is evidence that several jury members, all of them from the same area as the murder scene, had opinions about capital punishment or Clutters. A number of statements made by psychological analysts to the public are available, but they cannot be heard in court. This is due to Kansas’ “M’Naghten Rule,” which states that “nothing more then a no or yes answer” to the question concerning the mental state of the murderer. Capote refers to it as a formula colorblind, which allows for “nothing other than a Yes or No reply” (294). According to Dr. Jones’s analysis, such grades were possible. Jones emphasizes the need to examine Hickock’s “organic brain injury” more closely. Hickock suffered a “serious head trauma” (295). Smith is a case in point. Jones stated that Perry Smith showed “definite signs” of mental illness, but called for a more thorough evaluation (298). This is a strong indication to the reader that the trial was unable to decide the fate of these men. Another character’s opinion supports this view. From a jury member calling it “rabble-rousing,” and the execution “pretty Goddam Cold-blooded too,” to a Reverend declaring that “capital punishment doesn’t provide the sinner with enough time to go to God.” (306) An especially credible opinion–that of a Dr. Satten, a respected authority in psychiatry–identified the murder as one “‘without apparent motive,'” relating to “‘personality disorganization'” (299) and understood that Smith was “‘deep inside a schizophrenic darkness'” (302) while killing Mr. Clutter. This shows Capote’s belief that this case merited more attention.
Capote finally gets to the heart of the matter. He spends the next section arguing that capital punishment can be very arbitrarily applied, but it always ends in the same way as any other death penalty. He discusses how the death penalty is implemented in different states, as well as the differences between them. He focuses on the amount of time that death row prisoners spend, whose variance he believes is largely determined by luck and the severity of the litigation. He gives an example of a Texas robber who was killed one month after being convicted and a pair Louisiana rapists that he waited 12 years. Capote also mentions the fact that all of the Kansas State Penitentiary’s death row convicts were murderers but Hickock had technically “never touched a single hair on a human’s head.” Capote makes the argument that a system so complex and arbitrary may be untrustworthy when it involves human lives. Capote’s final and subtle criticism of capital sentences is Smith’s execution. Al Dewey is the other character that the reader has come to know well throughout the book. The Clutters’ murder is described in great detail. Dewey describes the hanging in detail. Dewey also sees the same childish feet that he saw first in a Las Vegas interrogation hall (341). It would seem that Dewey would be content with the death of anyone, after he had spent so much time solving this crime. The reader is instead surprised to see that even Dewey, who was “certainly capital punish is a preventative to violent crime”, did not feel any sense or completion by watching the execution (340). Capote makes this difficult for the reader, who may not have felt any satisfaction at the end of the investigation which led to the deaths.
Many will argue, and many have, Capote didn’t make any clear arguments. However, he wrote In Cold Blood objectively. No matter what his personal views might be, many people see that In Cold Blood contains a detailed description of a savage crime, Smith’s other crimes and Hickock’s sexual abuse. There is ample evidence to support the fairness of the trial. Finally, there are no strong arguments against capital punishment. The subtext Capote provides is important to understand. Capote’s argument, while subtle and well-integrated in his writing style, is definitely present. This argument may be more convincing because Capote includes details such as a vivid account of the crime. This is a testament to human nature and Capote’s skill in guiding it. This aspect is undoubtedly what makes In Cold Blood so successful. Capote’s portrayal of the murders is sympathetic and creates sympathy. He also offers more logical, but indirect, criticisms of the trial, capital punishment, and the whole book to help the reader form their own opinions. Even if this were not the case many critics wouldn’t call the book “polemic.” Given that Capote is criticized so strongly, his argument must be strong, despite being subtle. However you name it, Truman Capote’s novel “nonfiction” In Cold Blood makes a strong argument against capital punishment.