Literature Study GuidesIn Cold BloodThe Corner Part 2 Summary

In Cold Blood | Study Guide

Truman Capote

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In Cold Blood | The Corner (Part 2) | Summary

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Summary

Before the trial, which begins on March 22, 1960, there is an auction of the Clutter estate. Sue Kidwell is devastated to watch as Babe, Nancy Clutter's beloved horse, is led away. A trio of Garden City doctors meets briefly with Perry Smith and Dick Hickock and finds them both mentally fit to stand trial. Hickock's attorney, however, seeks out a psychiatrist willing to interview the defendants in depth. Dr. Mitchell Jones volunteers, travels to Garden City, and interviews Perry and Dick separately for two hours each. While jury selection is taking place, Jones asks each man to write an autobiographical statement for him.

In his statement, Perry describes the abuse and violence perpetrated against him throughout his life. He ends his statement with a hope he can again speak with Jones who, given his "purpose and sense of dedication to carry out that purpose," exhilarates Perry. Dick draws a picture of a fairly idyllic childhood in his statement. He admits having trouble controlling his impulses, and feels his "sickness" may have been "caused from the car wreck." He reveals his tendencies to try to seduce young girls, and admits the main reason he went to the Clutter house was to rape Nancy. He ends his statement with—as if telling the psychiatrist directly—"I need help, as you know."

The first day of the trial ends with Floyd Wells on the stand for the prosecution. He testifies he didn't believe Dick would do what he said he would do—rob the Clutters and leave no witnesses—because inmates make those kinds of threats all the time and no one believes them. Wells will later collect the $1,000 reward for information on the Clutter case offered by a local newspaper and be paroled from jail, but he will quickly land in trouble again and return to prison.

Analysis

Perry Smith's lawyer wants an insanity plea to be allowed because, despite the heinous crime, two lives are still at stake. But thanks to the M'Naghten Rule, by which insanity is not recognized if a defendant can differentiate right from wrong, the trial judge only allows a trio of local doctors to meet with Dick and Perry. The doctors, who are neither psychologists nor psychiatrists and meet the accused men only briefly, deem them mentally sound. Dick Hickock's lawyer finds a psychiatrist who volunteers to evaluate the accused. When this doctor takes the stand—despite his understanding of Perry's and Dick's mental states—he is only allowed to answer "yes" or "no" as to whether the two men had known "right from wrong" when they committed the crime.

Perry's and Dick's written statements to the psychiatrist reveal their differences. Dick tries to elicit sympathy for himself, saying he was ashamed of things he'd done while attributing his "sickness" and troubles to the car wreck he'd had. He is guided by self-interest; his attorney told him if he was "truthful" the psychiatrist could help him, and he ends his statement asking for help.

Perry tells the truth about his life, graphically describing the violence he'd suffered as a child, but he makes no excuses for himself or his actions. He doesn't end his statement by asking the doctor for help; instead, he states he hopes to see the psychiatrist again because being with someone dedicated to a purpose was exhilarating. He continues to be the more complex character of the two murderers and the one who forces readers to wonder, "What if?"

For his testimony, Floyd Wells is given immunity, a monetary reward, and parole. But it doesn't take long for him to return to prison. Neither money nor freedom can keep Floyd from a life of crime. In Capote's portrayal, prison only hardens criminals.

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