In Cold Blood | Study Guide

Truman Capote

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In Cold Blood | The Corner (Part 6) | Summary

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Summary

Dick Hickock tells "a journalist" (Capote) whom he corresponds with and who is allowed to visit him about Lowell Lee Andrews's hanging, which he, Perry Smith, and the two other death row inmates watched. Dick tells the journalist "Andy" took a long time to die; "his heart kept beating for nineteen minutes." Dick liked Andy, who was goofy and "innocent as a little child." Dick also gives the journalist his thoughts on capital punishment—he's not against revenge and believes in hanging, "just so long as I'm not the one being hanged.

Three more years pass during which two more lawyers bring the Smith and Hickock case before the U.S. Supreme Court. After Perry and Dick have been on death row for five years, the Kansas Supreme Court sets a date for their execution: April 14, 1965. The governor of Kansas denies a clemency appeal. KBI agents Roy Church, Clarence Duntz, Harold Nye, and Alvin Dewey attend the executions.

Waiting for the executions to begin, Dewey listens to the casual conversations going on around him. A death penalty supporter, Dewey is upset to learn death by hanging is neither instantaneous nor painless. Hickock arrives first. When asked if he has anything to say, he replies he has no hard feelings for the men who captured him. He feels he is being sent "to a better world than this ever was," and shakes hands with the four KBI agents. Hickock is hanged and pronounced dead 20 minutes after the trap door opens beneath his feet.

When Perry appears, his final statement reveals he feels taking a life this way is "a helluva thing," and he doesn't "believe in capital punishment, morally or legally." His final words are "I apologize." Dewey closes his eyes before the trap door opens and Perry drops. Dick's execution doesn't affect Dewey, for Dick was "a small-time chiseler ... empty and worthless." But Perry was different, and seemed like "a creature walking wounded."

Dewey expects but doesn't feel a sense of climax or release with the executions. Instead, he is reminded of running into Susan Kidwell a year earlier at the Holcomb cemetery. She was visiting the Clutter graves while Dewey was visiting his father's. They spoke, and Dewey learned she was in her third year at the University of Kansas and was happy. Then she rushed off, reminding Dewey of Nancy Clutter and the young woman she "might have been." His brief encounter with Susan Kidwell at the cemetery is the end of the case for Dewey.

Analysis

Capote's stance on capital punishment—"state-sanctioned murder"—comes through vividly here. The executions of not only Dick Hickock and Perry Smith but also of Lowell Lee Andrews are described in detail, including how long it takes a victim's heart to stop on the gallows. Dewey overhears execution observers blithely discussing whether or not victims feel anything, struggle for breath, or are given sedatives.

In his final statement, Dick, who seems aware he lied and cheated his way to the gallows, says he has no hard feelings against those who pursued and caught him and knows he is being sent to a better world. Perry, who has been hurt by so many people throughout his sad and painful life, states that hanging is "a helluva way to die," but his last words are an apology. At the very end, his hidden humanity shines through, only to be snuffed out by the death penalty.

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