?nd is not a subject; it is a
?nd values through emulation of parental conduct (Lickona 21). The moral guidance we offer to
them is added up and imitated by what they see (Coles 7). I believe that morality is the result of
a triad of developmental qualities. Our emotional development makes us feel guilty when we do
wrong. We experience social development that results in specific actions toward others and,
finally, we gain cognitive development that permits us to empathize. Our morality comes to the
forefront early in childhood. In elementary school, “a child becomes an intensely moral
creature” (Coles 98).
We develop a moral imagination, a capacity to reflect upon what is right and wrong with all the
emotional and intellectual resources of the human mind (Coles 3). This is where we decide
what we ought to do or not to do and why (Coles 7). Our moral thinking is also shaped by
influences outside the home, by class and race, by social events, by cultural forces, and the
assumptions that are fostered as a result of these influences (Coles 3). And we cultivate a moral
intelligence from our imagination and our thinking. Our moral intelligence is a consequence of
learning to be with others (Coles 5). Children will absorb what they observe (Coles 7). Morality
is not a subject; it is a life put to the test in hundreds of moments. August Aicchorn, a noted
psychoanalyst, believed “waywardness of ‘antisocial adolescents’ is in direct proportion to the
peculiarities of their moral education” (Coles 32).
I feel we should remember, however, that although we possess these developmental qualities
through emotional, social and cognitive development, there is no guarantee that we will become
a wise, contributing member of society. I think that professed but insincere values are worthless.
We must be honest with ourselves, recognizing the difference between pretended, verbalized
values and operational, acted upon values. Of course, no one lives up to all of their ideals, we
are simply not capable of perfection. Values that only make us look or feel good do not help us
act more morally. This is self-serving hypocrisy.
In the book, Capote makes you almost sympathetic to Dick and Perry by making you privy to
the thoughts behind their actions. He brings the realization that they, too, are human and some
circumstance(s) in their lives has reshaped them into these monsters capable of this crime. We
begin to wonder why Dick and Perry choose the Clutters, we wonder why they murdered them,
instead of simply robbing them. We feel for them because of their physical defects which
Capote details both literally and figuratively in his writing.
Although Perry was portrayed as an “amateur psychoanalyst” (Capote 302), he is viewed as
introspective. He did not seem willing to face his imperfections openly. Even viewing his
bodily imperfections was performed within small closed places (like a cheap hotel room and a
men’s room at the gas station). He did not like even his close friend Dick to discuss his disability
with him. He frequently swallowed aspirin, more out of habit than out of need (Capote 53-55),
as though the aspirin would cure that which ailed him internally. We can deduce that his
twisted, mangled legs represented a part of his inner psyche that also was twisted and mangled.
Although premeditated, he, when paired with Dick, could have murdered anyone.
Perry needed Dick because he was the planner, the con artist that could defy
circumstances, but Perry actually slashed Herb Clutter’s throat and shot all four of the family
members in their heads. He resented the “all American family”, the morality that they
represented. The rage of his inability to measure up to this level, to achieve this type of morality
is what permitted him to kill.
Dick’s background was also a train track to immorality. He grew up in a poor family,
experienced family trauma through his divorces and eventually turned to a life of petty crime.
He became embittered toward life in general and Capote believed this was even evident
externally with Dick’s disfigured face. Capote felt that even Dick’s faade warned us of the
bitter sediment that formed the basis for his nature. However, I do not think that Dick would
have committed this crime on his own. Dick was viewed as a small-time crook compelled to act
out this crime because Perry viewed him as macho. Dick needed Perry’s violent nature to
complete the bond that almost seems to develop into a third person when they were together.
A leading researcher of values, Milton Rokeach, believes that it is often necessary to become
dissatisfied with yourself before you will change your behavior, attitudes, or values. I feel that
this means that one has to create a problem before you will solve the problem of morals. For
example, we have to become dissatisfied with our behavior toward others before we will admit
that we should become more considerate of others. Usually, we avoid dealing with these types
of issues because we are unsure exactly what our values and morals are and we may feel that by
“facing up to them” we will be forced to air our imperfections. Perhaps this random murder was
Dick and Perry’s expression of their dissatisfaction with themselves and their lack of moral
Both men exhibited changed behavior at some point in their lives which also lends credence to
their dissatisfaction. Dick’s external behavior changed radically after he was discharged from
prison in 1950 (Capote 292). Perry’s childhood was marked by brutality, a lack of direction, love
and a fixed sense of moral values (Capote 296). We can reason that their actions were “born out
of previous and now unconscious, traumatic experiences (Capote 299).
I also feel that the elements of the tragedy were beyond control simply because this murder was
the result of the random chance telling of a fabrication about Herb Clutter by a cellmate (Floyd
Wells) of Dick’s. One is given to believe that this type of storytelling within the prison walls is
commonplace. I believe that the randomness at which the parties became involved makes this
beyond control. Even Floyd didn’t think that Dick would do anything to the Clutter’s and when
he did realize that they had actually committed the crime, he became their nemesis, he provided
the tip that resulted in their arrest. Upon their incarceration, Perry drew pictures of Jesus,
exhibiting his expressive, gentle side. Dick simply did not show emotion or remorse. In prison
they were separated and that “person” that was borne of their joining forces could not evolve,
could not murder. Separate they were purposeless. “Mental health is based on the tension
between what you are and what you think you should become. You should be striving for
worthy goals. Emotional problems arise from being purposeless” (Victor Frankl, 1970).
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Vintage International, Vintage Books, A
Division of Random House, Inc., 1994.
Coles, Robert. The Moral Intelligence of Children. New York: Random House, 1997.
Frankl, Victor. “Quote of the Day.” Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. 1998 ed.
CD-ROM. Cambridge, MA: The Learning Company, Inc., 1998.
Lickona, Thomas. Raising Good Children. New York: Bantam Books, 1983.
Neumann, Erich. The Child. Boston: Random House, 1990.