In Cold Blood Quotes About Perry & Perry's Childhood

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  • 0:04 'In Cold Blood'
  • 0:45 Perry's Childhood
  • 1:35 Perry as a Young Man
  • 2:44 The Man & the Criminal
  • 4:28 Insanity or Fantasy?
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' paints Perry Smith, one of the murderers of the Clutter family, as a peculiar man. The abuse he suffered as a child appears to have affected him, and Capote's portrayal of the killer shows a broken mind. In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at Perry's childhood and explore what we can learn about him from quotes from the book.

In Cold Blood

Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is the story of the murder of the Clutter family and the two murderers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. Although the murder of the hardworking farming family was the catalyst for the novel, Capote focuses on the killers: who they were, where they came from, and why they killed without remorse.

Capote spent five years getting to know Hickock and Smith. He interviewed them constantly, and they exchanged letters. During those years, he formed a relationship with each convict and learned their story. We realize early in the book that Smith and Hickock experienced horrors of their own, which may have been contributing factors to the life of crime both men pursued.

Perry's Childhood

Perry Smith was born in 1928 in Huntington, Nevada. His mother, of Cherokee descent, and his father, of Irish descent, were rodeo performers. His father beat his mom, so she ran away with Perry and his three siblings. His alcoholic mother eventually committed suicide, and he ended up in a Catholic orphanage at age 13. He was small for his age and wet the bed, so the other kids made fun of him constantly. The caregivers were no different. Perry says, '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.' That's just one account of the kind of treatment Perry received at the orphanage.

Perry as a Young Man

Perry Smith may have been a killer, but in In Cold Blood, we see another side of the criminal. He never really grew up. As an adult, he still had many childlike tendencies. His friend and co-conspirator, Hickock, says, 'Perry could be such a kid, always wetting his bed and crying in his sleep ('Dad, I been looking everywhere, where you been, Dad?'), and often Hickock saw him, 'sit for hours just sucking his thumb and poring over them phony damn treasure guides.' These behaviors seem to indicate that Smith may have had mental deficiencies that were never addressed in the course of his trial. However, his mind was not the only peculiar thing about him.

Perry was quite small in physique, and we learn about an accident that he experienced when he was 24. 'Perry, too, had been maimed, and his injuries, received in a motorcycle wreck, were severer than Dick's; he had spent half a year in a State of Washington hospital and another six months on crutches. Even though the accident occurred in 1952, his chunky, dwarfish legs, broken in five places and pitifully scarred, still pained him so severely that he had become an aspirin addict.'

The Man

Perry Smith used his time in prison to improve himself. Although a diminutive man, he began weightlifting, which changed his shape dramatically. Capote writes, 'Sitting, he had seemed a more than normal-sized man, a powerful man, with the shoulders, the arms, the thick, crouching torso of a weight lifter. . .' Yet, Perry could not get away from all of his diminutive features. 'His tiny feet, encased in short black boots with steel buckles, would have neatly fitted into a delicate lady's dancing slippers; when he stood up, he was no taller than a twelve-year-old child, and suddenly looked, strutting on stunted legs that seemed grotesquely inadequate. . .'

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