In Cold Blood

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a book about the nature of violence in America. It tells the story of a family, the Clutters, who were murdered by two former inmates of Fort Levenworth, in Kansas. To me, the two most interesting parts are the buildup to the murders and the trial and appeal process.

The buildup to the murders show two different kinds of lives in America: the lives of a rich, rural family and the lives of two paroled ex-convicts. The Clutters had may have seemed like the all-American family, and in a way I guess they were. The farther was a strict but compassionate businessman. The son as somewhat of a loner, good with his hands. The daughter, beloved by all but told by her father to break off her relationship with her Catholic boyfriend. The mother with some sort of mental illness, perhaps a kind of depression, going off to various mental hospitals. This book could have been rewritten as a study in mental illness, focusing on the mother and the two criminals, especially Perry. The personal life of the criminals is a story of poverty: one criminal, Dick, had a fairly normal childhood, if poor; the other, Perry had both a poor and abusive childhood. Both seem to be trying to improve their station, but the means by which the think to do this is through robbing a rich farmer.

The trial and appeals process delved more deeply into the theme of mental illness. In Kansas at the time, the test for whether or not an insanity defense could be used was called the M’Naughten Rule. This rule stated that if the defendant could distinguish right from wrong, no matter how else their mental illness affected them, they were legally sane and could be tried normally. However, Capote mainly uses this as a way to talk about the law; I wish he would have used it to delve more into the nature of mental illness and America.

It does seem like this book tries to concentrate on too many elements, and is too bound by the exact timeline of how things happened. The backstory, the childhood of the criminals is only revealed when the police are told this backstory. This leads to a 20 page interlude right after the criminals had been captured, which could have been well put elsewhere.  Overall, however, I liked this book.

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