A Literary Analysis of the Novel In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In Cold Blood, a thrilling non-fiction novel in which the readers follow Dick
Hickcock and Perry Smith on their journey of murder, escape, and ultimate death, provides an interesting insight into the minds of the two fascinating criminals. The author, Truman Capote, uses diction to deepen both our understanding of the two and the sympathy we have for them. In this excerpt, Capote primarily uses diction to draw connections between Dick’s and Perry’s individual physical bodies and mental aspects in order to gain insight into their impenetrable minds.
Capote’s usage of diction allows him to mold simple physical descriptions of Dick into a complex string of imageries and an expansive range of hidden implications of his persona. To begin with, Dick’s eyes are described as “truly serpentine.” By comparing them to those of a “venomous, sickly blue” snake and carefully examining every one of his tattoos and its reflections upon his personality, Capote suggests that Dick possesses the sly traits of the reptile as well as a puzzling yet intriguing set of contradicting traits shown through his body art. The “bitter sediment at the bottom of his nature” hints at his veiled, venomous, and ultimately deadly intentions that would later result in the bloody murder of his prey. In addition to his eyes, Dick also shows his rather contradicting personality through his tattoos, which range from sentimental pictures of hearts and bouquets to violent ones of heads of dragons and gremlins with pitchforks. While the images of the “bouquet of flowers dedicated to mother-dad” and the “heart that celebrated the romance of Dick and Carol” reveal a rather romantic and emotional side of
him, his intensely gory tattoos of “the head of a dragon with a human skull between its open jaws” and “a gremlin brandishing a pitchfork” capture an alternate, bloodthirsty side
of him. Such descriptions give the impression that Dick is both a sentimental and violent
character, sympathetic yet murderous.
Similarly, Capote also uses precise diction to expand beyond Perry’s damaged physique and suggest a background of Perry’s tragic and abusive childhood. Perry “had been maimed” since birth and was a rejected child who was constantly abused and neglected by his father, various nuns, workers, and many other people he had encountered during his terrible early years. Without someone to depend on during the years of his youth, Perry was unable to develop a proper sense of attachment and was thus “maimed” and “scarred.” While his physical appearance shows the injuries in his legs from a motorcycle accident he had unfortunately gotten into, his emotional wounds are far worse. Capote often describes Perry’s “truncated legs” and dwarf-like stature. These details serve to suggest two things: a childish vulnerability and a damaged soul. The words imply a wound far worse than those inflicted on his legs, suggesting to readers that the killer may have a whole different reason to murder the Clutters. His tattoos, “more elaborate” than Dick’s, also have clashing illustrations of affectionate name tributes and “snarl[ing]” tigers, chrysanthemums and “spitting snake[s],” showing black and white sides of love and hate through the same perplexing variety Dick had shown through his tattoos. As seen through these examples, by pointing out the similarities between Perry’s physical and mental injuries and highlights the contrast between his tattoos, Capote shines a reflection upon Perry’s nature by manipulating words to match his personal comprehension of it.
As seen clearly throughout this passage, Capote uses diction to convey his
interpretation of Dick and Perry in order to portray their complex personalities through
analyzing their distorted qualities and tattoos, which he was able to create an entirely new
and fascinating creature out of. In conclusion, Capote uses these literary elements to give
readers a deeper sense of the complexity of these two characters and their menace
underneath that ultimately led to the Clutters’ murder.