In Cold Blood: A discussion of Perry Smith

“You cannot create genius. All you can do is nurture it,” said Ninette De Valois. Everyone is nurtured in a different way, so the outcome of everyone’s life is different. Perry Smith’s life from In Cold Blood was more influenced by “nurture,” so it was not how it could have been if had not been abused both psychologically and physically and had a support system.

For the majority of his childhood and teenage years he was abused both mentally and physically because he was often neglected, so he did not develop a sense of morality. A good example of this is a nurse who would almost drown him in a tub of ice-cold water and called him “nigger” just because of the color of his skin, being bullied at school, his dad beating his mom, etc. instead of showing him that harming others in any type of way intentionally was wrong. This is evident throughout the novel when he cannot make a decision based on morals because he cannot distinguish the difference between right and wrong.

For instance, as his death is approaching, Perry says, “Why? Soldiers do not lose much sleep. They murder, and get medals for doing it” (Capote 291) yet he is being punished for murder. He is unable to differentiate the circumstances in which the killing happens in which for soldiers is to defend and protect the country in which we live and unintentional while he ended some of the Clutter’s family lives because he was taking out his anger and frustration on them because they had everything he always wanted and intentionally. This shows that he is unable to understand that he killing someone intentionally was wrong.

Perry never had a support system to encourage him to be successful even though he had the potential, so he feels like his fate is already set even if he tries to change it. When Dick talks to Perry about the possibility as getting caught, Perry responds with, “As long as you live, there’s always something waiting and even if it is bad, and you know it is bad, what can you do?” (Capote 92). He knows that he would go to prison for being involved in the murder of the Clutter family if he was caught, but does not want to face the reality that he would not have to be having that conversation with Dick if he had not committed a crime.

Instead of accepting it, he makes up the excuse that he has used all his life. This shows how he feels that he was never given the opportunity to develop his talents or earn an education to make something out of his life, so he will always be running away from the something, whether it is his past, the law, his mistakes, etc. Had he had a support system Perry could definitely have had a successful career because of how intelligent he was and his thirst for knowledge or been a musician because of how easily he could play instrument, how quickly he learned, his creativity, and ability to write lyrics. However, his father only allowed him to finish up to third grade.

Many could argue that Perry was more influenced by “nature” because his parents and siblings made poor choices such as drinking, using violence, and committing suicide, so it runs in his blood yet he was a happy kid until he saw how his dad would beat his mom for drinking. Perry most likely would not have committed all those crimes, felt lonely, hopeless, resentment, etc. if he had been nurtured in a positive way. Therefore, he might not even have crossed paths with the Clutter family to eventually be involved in the murder. Had he been nurtured in a different way, those six shots would not have gone off.