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...
(The entire section is 834 words.)
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One hesitates to call characters culled from real life "characters," especially when four of the "characters" were cruelly murdered in reality. "Character" seems to trivialize their complexity as human beings. Nevertheless, Capote treats these people, who were alive and complex and had unknowable depth in life, as characters in his fiction, and, with one exception, as two-dimensional figures at that.
The best of traditional fiction characters have a complexity of desire, motivation and feeling that readers attribute to the often bewildering actions of people. Yet authors sometimes find two-dimensional characters to be more useful for the purposes of their art. For example, in allegory, fables, fairy tales, romances, and some of the best postmodern fiction, three-dimensional characters would be clumsy and obtrusive. Readers don't care that the Wicked Witch had a lousy childhood, gives money to support public television, and has a quirky and rather endearing love of hair nets of which she has a considerable collection. She's a witch. All she need be is a terror. There is a time and a story for two-dimensionality.
That given, one has to ask if Capote's use of two-dimensional characterization is justified. This is difficult to assess. If one sees the book's content highly charged with American myth, then the choice could be justified, for characters in myth are usually flat, more important for their representational or symbolic presence than as...
(The entire section is 1043 words.)
Herbert William Clutter
A hardworking, strict, almost reclusive man, Herb Clutter is a successful farmer and iconic member of Holcomb. He represents what many in the small Kansas town aspire to: material success, a good family, and a reputation for straightforward integrity. With a combination of hard work, foresight, and knowledge, he is able to begin and maintain his beautiful, productive River Valley Farm. Clutter is known for not carrying cash. He is a good cook but not a big eater, often starting the morning on an empty stomach. He is a fair and generous employer, a devout Methodist, a public figure who was known as a "joiner." He attended Kansas State University and graduated with a degree in agriculture, after which he married Bonnie Fox, who hailed from a well-to-do family. To the end, Herb Clutter is faithful and dedicated to his wife, although their marriage has long since ceased to be a complete relationship between man and wife. At forty-eight years of age, he is in excellent health. He was a member of the Federal Farm Credit Bureau during the Eisenhower administration, a fact which draws marginal attention to his death outside of Kansas.
(The entire section is 193 words.)
Richard Eugene Hickock
Dick Hickock has remarkable similarities to his partner in the Clutter murders, although their backgrounds could not be more different. While Perry Smith came from a broken and troubled family, Hickock was raised by two parents in a stable household that was poor, but not destitute. Hickock graduated from high school but was denied the opportunity to go to college, and, like Smith, resents the "haves" who experience success. Although he was intelligent, he performed poorly in school and would rely most of his life on his social, not mental, skills. He embodies a peculiar mix of opposites: he is attracted to young girls, but insists repeatedly ‘‘I'm a normal''; he is openly homophobic but calls Smith "honey'' and "baby''; he is openly racist but partners up with Smith, who heavily favors his mother's Cherokee heritage and is often mistaken for a Mexican; he considers Smith the natural-born killer, but it is Hickock who needlessly swerves toward a stray dog on the road to kill it. Hickock was married twice and divorced twice, the first time at age nineteen. He had three sons with his first wife, Carol, whom he still claims to love. He is the ultimate con man, whose charisma steers much of his course in life.
(The entire section is 209 words.)
Perry Edward Smith
Perry Smith is literally made of mismatched parts. His atrophied, twisted legs, the result of a 1952 motorcycle accident, incongruously support a bulky, muscular torso and shoulders. He chews aspirin constantly in an effort to manage the pain in his legs and knees, and there are repeated references to ‘‘bubbles in his blood’’ when he is nervous, angry, or apprehensive. Although he has had no formal education past the third grade, he has taught himself to paint, play several musical instruments, including his beloved guitar, and to be a competent grammarian. Other aspects of his makeup seem to be arrested in an infantile state; he has weak kidneys and wets the bed, as he did as a child; he sucks his thumb; he cries out for "Dad" in his sleep; and he prefers root beer to alcohol or coffee. In his youth, his bed-wetting was the cause of much abuse and ridicule at the hands of institutional caretakers.
Smith's personality, like his appearance, is a curious combination of inconsistencies. He is superstitious, nervous, and fatalistic, and his worries are so intense that they almost seem to invite his eventual capture by the KBI. He lies to Hickock about killing a black man in Las Vegas to impress him, but is a prude when it comes to dirty jokes. He is dedicated to his father for much of his life, following him around the country as a child and helping him build a hunting lodge as an adult. He joined the Merchant Marines at sixteen and the Army after...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
Mrs. Hideo Ashida
Mrs. Hideo Ashida is the wife of a Japanese tenant farmer in Holcomb who is on friendly terms with Herb Clutter and his family. She respects Herb Clutter a great deal and makes the fateful statement, ‘‘I can't imagine you afraid. No matter what happened, you'd talk your way out of it.''
Roy Church is also known as "Curly," due to his baldness. He is the oldest of the four main KBI agents assigned to the Clutter case.
Beverly Clutter is the second eldest of the Clutter children and, with her sister, one of two surviving Clutters. She is away from home at the time of the murders, visiting her fiancé, a biology student whom her father liked a great deal. Beverly is scheduled to be married at Christmas but moves up her wedding to the week after the funeral services for her family members, since her relatives are all in town for the funeral.
Bonnie Clutter is Herb Clutter's wife, afflicted with a depression, which never lifted after the birth of her last child fifteen years ago. She secludes herself in her bedroom, which she does not share with her husband, and has difficulty functioning normally in even the most mundane situations. Her condition is no secret in the community, and neighbors are kind and understanding, if not sorry for her.
Eveanna Clutter is the first-born child of...
(The entire section is 1839 words.)