In Cold Blood

WRITTEN BY MILLIE ZHANG IN THE FORM OF A LITERARY LENS PAPER


With the end of World War II, the United States entered a new state of and level in not only international political affairs but also social domestic ones.  The culture of conformity and total sameness prevalent in the 1950s is a result of the transition and alongside its existence was an increasingly growing conscience against the status quo which the two Clutter killers Capote describes represent.  It is through the sustained stress on the socially abnormal intimacy between Dick and Perry, the emphasis Capote places on Perry’s feminine-like dependence on and attention to Dick, and the development of the clear implication of a traditional dichotomy between the sexes that Capote’s In Cold Blood establishes an argument in which the lives of Hickock and Smith and their involvement in the Clutter murders demonstrate gender criticism.

By sustaining and developing the theme of the odd relationship between Dick and Perry, Capote’s work mirrors the literary theory of gender criticism.  This abnormal intimacy is especially signified in the conversations between just the two men.  Whenever Dick refers to Perry, he almost, if not always, uses terms of endearment, such as when “Perry chewed his gum and shivered and sulked.  Dick said, ‘What is it, honey?  That other deal?” (188).  Furthermore, not only Dick but also Perry contributes to this unconventional association with his persistent view of him and Dick versus the world and everyone else.  Although not there was no outright statement made by Capote, there is a development of the theme in the first few chapters in which Perry continually makes note of the fact that “…there must be something wrong with [them]…” (110) since “there’s gotta be something wrong with somebody who’d [murder] like that…” (108), isolating himself and Dick in his head from the rest of the world in that they both must be insane for killing the Clutters.  Despite these indicative actions taken by both Dick and Perry, both continuously deny being sexually “queer” to the extent that being so would be almost worse than death.  Perry, in particular, sustains a firm and resolute stance on his views of deemed-taboo sexual behavior including “…lack of control…‘pervertiness’…‘queer stuff’, rape.” (202).  Throughout the book, Dick, through terms of endearment, and Perry, through mental self-illusion, demonstrate gender criticism.

Through the emphasis which Capote places on Perry’s feminine-like reliance towards Dick, In Cold Blood indicates gender criticism.  Perry is so affected by Dick’s presence in his life that “the sound of Dick’s voice was like an injection of some potent narcotic, a drug that, invading his veins, produced a delirium of colliding sensations : tension, relief, fury and affection.” (194).  By continuously exemplifying this aspect of Perry and Dick’s relationship, Capote indicates that with this woman-like attribute, Perry is weak for he was not as masculine as Dick.  This is due to the fact that with Perry’s past associations with authority figures such as the nuns and his own father, they were abusive and overpowering; Dick, on the other hand, stood as the sole figure who “…was full of fun,… shrewd, a realist, [who] ‘cut through things’…[for] there were no clouds in his head or straw in his hair…he was not critical of Perry’s exotic aspirations; he was willing to listen…” (44).  Furthermore, Perry’s reliance on Dick is so severe and extreme that he is unable to leave his side without feeling “afraid…[for considering] it made him feel ‘sort of sick’, as though he were trying to make up his mind to ‘jump off a train going ninety-miles an hour.’” (124).  The fact that he literally cannot be independent from Dick demonstrates Perry’s mental instability and weakness, most likely brought about by his traumatic childhood in which male authority figures had always not been for his favor.  By focusing on the feminine-like manner in which Perry relies on Dick, Capote mirrors a gender critical view.

In addition, with the expansion of Capote’s assertion of a sexual traditional dichotomy throughout the book, the literary theory of gender criticism is further demonstrated.  This clear distinction between the two sexes are defined not only by Dick and Perry but also by the Clutter family itself.  Mr. Clutter is described to be the perfect Renaissance man, “…educated…successful in his profession, an eminent Republican and church leader…” (100), signifying that he is both goal-oriented and practical, traits that are commonly thought of with traditional masculinity.  On the other hand, Perry’s inclination to artistic interests as well as his woman-like dependence on Dick act as a contrast as Perry is the only character in In Cold Blood to lack various characteristics of traditional masculinity, further demonstrated by the fact that he cried in his jail cell while the other men in the novel such as Alvin Dewey and even Dick dealt with their various grievances more quietly and inwardly.  However, Capote also makes note of feminism throughout his piece, elaborating the strength of many of the women that were, in some way, involved with the investigation of the Clutter murders in Kansas.  This included the mother of Nancy Clutter’s best friend, Mrs. Kidwell, who Capote described to “…live alone with her [daughter]…[teaching] music at the Holcomb School.” (1.52), making note of the fact that she did not need a man in her life to be able to continue living happily and to successfully raise her daughter.  On top of that, Nancy Clutter, herself, is depicted to be traditionally girly, having always “…behaved like [a lady]; curtsying in her hoop-skirted costume…” (8), but is also shown to be entirely capable of handling a multitude of activities just like her father, demonstrating her trait that is usually considered masculine – goal-oriented practicality.  Furthermore, This argument is further demonstrated by Capote through Perry in that he sees this characteristic as what truly makes a man a true man.  

Through the constant stress on the subtle socially abnormal intimacy between Dick and Perry, the emphasis Capote places on Perry’s feminine-like dependence on and attention to Dick, and the development of the clear implication of a traditional dichotomy between the sexes, Capote, in In Cold Blood, establishes an argument in which the lives of Hickock and Smith and their involvement in the Clutter murders demonstrate gender criticism.

So what’s your opinion on the argument of Capote’s In Cold Blood? Do you agree that the argument established is about the negative effects of gender criticism?

What do you think?

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