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Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Analyze the relationship between Dick and Perry.

Dick controls Perry. Perry, on the other hand, is much braver. The best example of this is the night of the murders. Dick masterminded the crime, and even when Perry wanted to leave, he insisted that they stay and look again for the safe. Of course, it is Perry who prevents Dick from raping Nancy, but the fact remains that Perry was reacting emotionally, on a case by case basis, to Dick's actions. Dick, on the other hand, was operating according to a plan, convincing Perry to go along with him. While Dick is more controlling, he grows attached to Perry and never manages to get rid of him, whatever he may say to himself.

While Dick may have usually been in control, Perry did most of the work. He was able to murder, and during interrogations, Dick cracked first. In many ways, Perry is the more romantic of the two; he is more interesting as a literary character. Dr. Jones, the psychologist brought in by the defense, calls Perry a paranoid schizophrenic. He is crazy; Dick is sane. Perry dreams of a giant parrot; when he tells Dick about the dream, Dick does not listen. Perry catches a huge blue fin fish, but Dick does not fish because he has a headache. While Perry worries about getting caught and wants to talk about it, Dick tells him to shut up. While Dick may be the controlling mastermind, he is a shallow character beside Perry.

How does Capote color the opening section with a sense of impending murder and doom?

First and most obviously, he titles the opening section "The Last to See Them Alive." Additionally, he describes the last day of Clutter family in great detail, always mentioning that it is their last. For example, he writes that Clutter "headed for home and the day's work, unaware that it would be his last." This counterbalances the fact that the reader knows the outcome of the story from the beginning. Because the Clutter murder and the subsequent trial actually happened, they were public knowledge, and so his contemporary readers knew the details of the case before they started the novel. Therefore, Capote emphasizes the coming deaths instead of making them surprises.

Does Capote take a stand on the death penalty?

Not explicitly. However, he does select details and construct his narrative in a way that let the reader become frustrated with the legal system. For example, although he makes sure the reader knows that Dewey believes Dick is ultimately responsible for the crime, this is not backed up by the rest of the book. The rest of the book is ultimately irresolute about whether or not Dick is responsible. So, when Dick complains that he shouldn't be executed because he hasn't killed anyone, Capote has invited us to sympathize with him. Capote also makes the reader sympathetic to Perry's case. Because Kansas law takes a very strict view of pleading insanity, the jury never learns that Dr. Jones has diagnosed Perry as a paranoid schizophrenic. Yet Capote writes a verbatim account of what the psychologist would have said had he been able to speak openly. Thus, Kansas and Judge Tate are implicitly blamed for not letting the jury know the truth about Perry's mental instability.

By poking holes in the condemnation of Dick and Perry, Capote implicitly argues that the death penalty is being used inappropriately, as a means to quell the fears and anger of Kansas citizens. After all, he includes the detail that the Kansas governor does not pardon them because he doesn't feel it would be "in the interest" of Kansas citizens.

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