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By juxtaposing the childhoods of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, Truman Capote shows that although a solid family structure is the most important influence on a person’s character, it is ultimately up to each person to decide what his actions will be. Factors like home structure, parental guidance, and socio-economic background are often taken into consideration when trying to understand a murderer’s motive, but criminal behavior can come from anyone.
Many people believe that a stable household is the most important factor in raising a stable child however, the contrast between Dick’s secure family, and Perry’s broken home shows that both lives are capable of producing a criminal. Dick was raised in a “normal” home, with a mother, father, and brother. Dick and his family, like the Clutters, had family meals and spent their evening watching television together. Dick had everything he wanted as a child, and when he got married, he and his wife continued to live their lives as if they could have anything they wanted. For that reason, they were always in debt. To fix that, Dick began passing blank checks. If Dick had been taught that you don’t always get everything you want, perhaps he wouldn’t have passed blank checks and ended up in prison where he met Floyd Wells and planned the Clutter murder. Perry’s parents were rodeo stars, so he and his three older siblings were constantly traveling. His mother became an alcoholic and his parents split up, his mother taking the children with her to San Francisco while his father stayed in Alaska. Perry yearned to be with his father, but when he went to live with his father in Alaska it was not as good as he imagined. He hated him for not allowing him to get an education and for treating him like his slave. Perry turned to crime, possibly as an act of rebellion, which landed him in prison where he met Dick Hickock. The way that Dick’s family never held him accountable for his actions, as well as the way Perry’s family always gave him a hard time about his mistakes are both two extremes that could lead to the personalities of Dick and Perry when they committed the crime. Dick’s family was always supportive of
The way that Dick’s family never held him accountable for his actions, as well as the way Perry’s family always gave him a hard time about his mistakes are both two extremes that could lead to the personalities of Dick and Perry when they committed the crime. Dick’s family was always supportive of him, but never blamed him for his faults. He never was held accountable for his actions.When Mr. and Mrs. Hickock tell Mr. Nye about Dick’s childhood they talk about how he divorced his first wife, Carol, for a woman named Margaret Edna. About the divorce Mrs. Hickock says: “Dick couldn’t help that. You remember how Margaret Edna was attracted to him.” (p.166) This shows that despite the fact that they believed his first wife Carol was a lovely girl, they do not believe he is to blame for divorcing her and instead blames his second wife. Later they remark that Dick has “plenty good inside him” and his father says he doesn’t know what happened to Dick to turn him to a criminal. Dick’s mother says “That friend of his. That’s what happened.” (p.167) Dick’s mother blames Perry for changing Dick from the good person he used to be, despite the fact that he was gambling, writing bad checks, and possibly cheating on his wife before he even met Perry in prison. Contrarily, Perry’s family never supported him, and his sister and father are quick to chastise him for what landed him in prison. While Perry is in prison for theft, his sister writes him a letter and says “I truthfully feel none of us have anyone to blame for whatever we have done with our personal lives.” (p.139) This is quite the opposite of what Dick’s parents say when they blame every one of Dick’s mistakes on someone else. Unlike Perry and Dick’s families, the Clutters practiced a healthy balance of encouragement and expectations. Nancy and Kenyon were not forced to do good, but instead enjoy helping others because of the example set by their father. When Mrs. Clarence Katz asks Nancy if she could teach her daughter make an apple pie, Nancy already had a busy day planned, and could have easily turned little Jolene away, but because she decided it was more important to help others first, she rearranged her full schedule to fit Jolene in. All of Holcomb wonders how Nancy has time to be so successful and selfless in so many things, but their answer is “She’s got character. Gets it from her old man.” (p.18) This is not something Nancy’s parents could force her to do, but something they had to teach her with hopes that she would want to make the right choices, unlike Dick and Perry. As shown by the other criminals on death row with Dick and Perry,
As shown by the other criminals on death row with Dick and Perry, socio-economic background is not always an influence on whether or not you become a criminal. While Dick came from a lower-middle class family and Perry was raised in poverty, many of the other criminals they met on death row were from upper class families. Two other prisoners on death row, Ronnie York and James Latham, were from wealthy families and were members of the United States Army. Perry also attributes his criminal behavior to the fact that his father never allowed him to go to school, however Lowell Lee Andrews, a twenty-year-old who shot and killed his mother, father, and sister, was an honors student at Kentucky University. These other criminals are important contrasts to the unstable childhood one might believe caused Perry and Dick’s criminal behavior. These three murderers had no reason other than their own sick motivation to murder their victims, just like Perry and Dick.
As shown by the differing lives of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, as well as the other criminals living on death row with them, no one is accountable for the actions of a criminal besides the criminal themselves. Although a hard childhood or difficult family life may influence those decisions that led to their crimes, no one is responsible for someone else’s actions.
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