Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Perry Edward Smith
Perry Edward Smith, a superstitious and sentimental man, an inveterate dreamer with an explosive personality. As a child, Perry was shunted from one orphanage to another, neglected by an alcoholic mother and a father who drifted in search of gold. Perry joined the merchant marine, then the Army, serving a four-year hitch. A motorcycle crash left him with permanently disfigured legs and constant pain. He escapes from a Kansas jail, where he is serving a sentence for burglary, but is recaptured and sent to prison, where he meets Dick Hickock. Dick’s plan to rob and kill the Clutters offers Perry a chance to fulfill his dream of treasure hunting in Mexico, a dream that evaporates when the crime nets the pair no money. Convicted along with Dick of the Clutter murders and sentenced to death, Perry spends his time on death row reviewing his life with a degree of self-pity. As he is about to be hanged, he apologizes for his crime but adds that perhaps he could have contributed something worthwhile after all.
Richard Eugene (Dick) Hickock
Richard Eugene (Dick) Hickock, the twenty-eight-year-old son of poor Kansas farmers. He has been married and divorced twice and has fathered three boys by the time he is sent to prison for writing bad checks. A car accident has given his face an uneven, serpentine look. Intelligent and friendly, he easily talks merchants into cashing checks that later prove worthless. He boasts that, after robbing the Clutters, he will “blast hair all over them walls.” Seeing young women as “blond chicken,” he secretly plans to rape Nancy Clutter before killing her, but at the last minute Perry prevents him. Dick’s wisecracking manner continues through his trial and stint on death row. Only at the foot of the gallows does he turn solemn, politely shaking hands with the four agents who led in his capture and who know that beneath the personable exterior, he is a mean, vicious punk.
Herbert (Herb) Clutter
(The entire section is 834 words.)
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