Objectivity and Sympathy in Capote’s in Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is 1966 nonfiction novel that follows the Clutter killings of 1959; specifically, it is a novel that follows the killers of the Clutter family, Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith. In writing In Cold Blood, Capote intended the novel to be both objective and sympathetic. To write a nonfiction novel in an objective and sympathetic manner, especially one concerning a topic such as murder and the death penalty, is no easy task.In Cold Blood was true to Capote’s intent as it was very much a sympathetic novel, but some objectivity was sacrificed in order to make the novel both sympathetic and interesting. Overall, In Cold Blood was a very sympathetic novel. Capote manages to capture Perry Edward Smith as a whole person rather than a one sided killer. Though throughout the novel, the reader is completely aware of the fact that Smith is a murderer, Capote intertwines the novel with moments from Smith’s childhood – moments that are so terrible they almost justify Smith’s crime as an outlet for emotions built up from his childhood.As a child, Smith had been through his parents’ divorce, and had lived with his mother, who was a heavy alcoholic and eventually sent Smith to a Catholic orphanage, where the nuns were “always at [him]. Hitting [him]” (132). Smith had two sisters and a brother, but by the time of the Clutter killings, only one sister was still living; his other siblings had taken their own lives. Smith represents everything it means to come from a broken family, and Capote’s recount of Smith’s childhood causes the reader to only feel sympathy for Smith.Capote does not portray Smith as a killer, whose crime has elevated him to an inhuman status, nor as a monster, but portrays Smith as normal human being. As a reader, discovering Smith’s horrible childhood made me feel something I never thought I would feel: sympathy for a killer. Whereas Capote excelled in making In Cold Blood completely sympathetic, some of the sympathy present in the novel made it less objective, the lack of objectivity being most apparent in Capote’s clear opposition to the death penalty.His inclusion and deep exploration of Hickock claiming that his and Smith’s lawyers were not dedicated to their case shows his opposition to capital punishment. Capote includes highly detailed segments questioning the prejudices of the jury presiding Smith and Hickock’s trial, and specifically, Capote also includes deep arguments for a change in venue of Smith and Hickock’s trial. Capote’s underlying argument about the death penalty is that capital punishment is a radical punishment that is often unfairly applied due to poor representation or unfair trials.In writing In Cold Blood, Capote wrote a nonfiction novel, with a heavy research base. However, even though the novel was very factual, In Cold Blood was ultimately a creative work. It had to be informative and accurate, but overall it was vital that In Cold Blood be an entertaining piece of solid literature. Because Capote pursued a more creative rather than journalistic approach to writing In Cold Blood, it was not possible to be equally sympathetic and objective. Even though Capote used a factual approach in writing In Cold Blood, it is not possible to prove total accuracy in everything he wrote.Capote depicts Smith as the more moral of the duo, and explores Smith’s broken childhood in order to generate sympathy for Smith, but in doing so, Capote is forced to depict Hickock as the more heartless killer. Though it is by all means possible to combine sympathy with objectivity, Capote had to lessen the objectivity in In Cold Blood in order to generate more sympathy for Smith and to portray the conflicting levels of morality in Smith and Hickock that created a piece of quality literature in In Cold Blood.

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