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Truman Capote

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Introduction

Capote's biographer, Gerald Clarke, has suggested that "In Perry [Smith]... [Truman] recognised his shadow, his dark side, the embodiment of his own accumulated angers and hurts." Given Capote's strong sense of identification with his primary subject, discuss the extent to which the character of Perry Smith can be seen as sympathetically portrayed in Capote's novel. Evaluate the appropriateness of any such depiction given Smith's status as a multiple killer. Smith, an aggressive and somewhat mentally perturbed individual, much like his father, had been incarcerated in 1956 for jailbreak, car theft and grand larceny, in the state of Kansas, and was sentenced to a minimum of five to ten years. In the state penitentiary was where he first met Richard Hickock. In prison together they schemed to raid Herbert Clutter's household for a safe which Hickock had been informed by Floyd Wells (another Kansas State Penitentiary inmate) contained a large sum of money believed to be no less than ten thousand dollars. Wells, who had worked for Clutter, had been adamant that the farmer kept a substantial measure of money in his southwestern Kansas farm home. When Smith became eligible for parole in 1959 he visited his father in Reno, Nevada, and planned to go with Tex, his father, away to Alaska. ...read more.

Middle

Hickock does in fact improve his petty criminal behavior, developing a talent for passing bad checks, bedding married women, and "passing" in the world of decent humanity, while Smith develops an inconsistent aversion to drinking, indiscriminate sex, and unnecessary theft, although he is gripped with a desire to travel that prevents his commitment to anything that might resemble home or family. Once they had fallen off the generic, automated mechanism of upward mobility toward the American dream, the barriers to re-entry were too high to scale again, and, Capote implies, not interesting to Smith and Hickock. In this Capote is somewhat giving the American society and culture a bashing and using it as a scapegoat for crimes that many would have seen unforgivable. The American dream says anyone can be anything they desire, but all too often it is the ones that fall by the wayside that are more accountable than ones that reach prosperity. In the novel Capote includes letters written by Smith's family, the psychiatrist and befriended chaplain's clerk, Willie Jay, which detail Smith's entire life and mental state. Smith is seen from these as a human with genuine intelligence and having a real sense of empathy and social integrity; however over time it has been warped into something quite undistinguishable through his traumatic life. ...read more.

Conclusion

He did not complete his education, barely finishing high school, while Smith left school after the third grade. At the end of his life, Capote had been inducted into the world of fame and high society, but it was a false world of celebrities in which he was only a trophy, fashionable but marginal, and he was ultimately expelled from it for gossiping about them in print. In a sense, his celebrity seemed to make him even more sympathetic to the killers: why should he, also the product of a broken home, an outcast, without a complete formal education, run in such inflated circles while Smith did not? To say that it is inappropriate to sympathise with such a person, being a multiple killer though he is, is in the case somewhat understandable. Capote tries to engross the reader into a world far from that which most will have been a part of, but yet a world that exists perhaps almost behind closed doors. He led a hard life, not too dissimilar to Smith and yet he flourished, it shows that one choice or one circumstance can change who we are at any stage, and I think, like I said early, in another life Capote sees himself as being Perry Smith, so he feels empathy towards the man who he construes as potentially himself in a parallel existence. ...read more.

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