Capote details the abuse and contempt experienced by the killer Perry Smith from a very young age. Because of this attention to the killer's background, which parallels the author's sensitive depiction of the murdered family, the book makes the readers wonder whether the killer is simply a scapegoat for larger social evil. Were the murders somehow provoked because of the social marginalization experienced by Smith? Could he have turned out different had he grown up in a different family and social context? By referring to the dichotomy between nature and nurture, Capote offers a complex portrait of Smith that goes beyond the stereotype of the cruel criminal.