What is the main theme of the book and its connection to the title?Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The main theme of Truman Capote's jounalistic novel In Cold Blood is Nature vs. Nurture. Working as a journalist for The New Yorker, Capote noticed the article about the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, a small farm town in which people were so secure that they did not lock their doors at night, and became intrigued by the crime. When Capote went to Kansas with a ‘‘meaningful design’’ of his own in which he originally intended to find out why the crime was committed, he soon discovered that he became more interested in the personalities of criminals. During his jounalistic investigations, Capote was intrigued by the one murderer, Perry Smith, who shot the members of the Clutter family in what was labeled as a psychological accident. 

To some critics, In Cold Blood examines the critical role of psychological accidents in the recreation of the crimes. However, critic Phyllis Frus, holds that Capote's method affords the murders' explanation and rationalization within a framework of middle-class ideology and psychological analysis.  Thus, Capote's method used for the writing of his book is "interpretive journalism."  Intrigued by the background of Perry Smith, Capote explored the idea that the half-Irish and half-Indian Smith was a tragic formula, concluding from information that he gathered that Smith was innately intelligent, talented, and sensitive, but his psyche was 

warped and eroded by neglect, abuse, humiliation, and unresolved emotional trauma.

Perry Smith's mother was an alcoholic who died as she aspirated, his siblings committed suicide, his father was a transient who kept Perry from establishing himself and acquiring friends at any school.  Capote's account of Perry's having taught himself to paint, play the guitar, and speak with impeccable grammar, along with his repulsion of any vulgar literature while incarcerated leads the reader to believe that Smith was, indeed, victimized by his horrible environment.


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