Literature Study GuidesIn Cold BloodThe Last To See Them Alive Part 1 Summary

In Cold Blood | Study Guide

Truman Capote

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In Cold Blood | The Last to See Them Alive (Part 1) | Summary

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In Cold Blood is divided into four sections. This study guide breaks each section down into parts for further analysis.

Summary

Holcomb, Kansas, where the Clutter family lives, is a small village with farmland as far as the eye can see. Herb Clutter's River Valley Farm is one of the larger, more successful family farms, growing wheat and raising cattle. Herb Clutter, a man who has always known what he wants, works hard for everything he has. An active member of the Methodist church, he does not drink alcohol or coffee, does not smoke, and is careful about how much and what he eats.

Herb Clutter's hired man, Albert Stoecklein, lives on the property with his family. On the day of the murder, Herb gives Albert the rest of the day off to help his wife care for their sick baby. At the edge of his property Herb encounters hunters who ask if they can pay a fee to pursue pheasant on his land. Herb generously tells them they can hunt as much as they want, but the family dog, Teddy, cowers at the sight of their guns.

In Olathe, Kansas, 400 miles away, Perry Smith waits in a café for his old prison buddy, Dick Hickock. Dick wrote Perry about an idea he had for a "score" that would net them $10,000, after which they would go to Mexico. The half–Native American, half-Irish Perry Smith has a muscular upper body and handsome face, but short, deformed legs and tiny feet. Always a dreamer, Perry, waiting for Dick, thinks about adventures and voyages, from gold prospecting and diving for buried treasure to singing and playing his guitar at a Las Vegas night club.

Analysis

In this first part of In Cold Blood, the author tells readers right away six people will lose their lives, four to shotgun blasts and two—who committed those murders—by hanging for the crime. To heighten suspense, Capote doles out information a bit at a time in his nonfiction novel. The brutal crime affects everyone in the small village in which it occurs, creating fear and distrust among the residents who have always felt safe, given nothing ever really happens in Holcomb, Kansas.

Readers also learn about the way Herb Clutter deals with people, which becomes important later in the novel. Herb believes the best about people, and this proves to be his downfall. He is a man people respect and love, so for him to lose his life in a violent way is unfathomable to everyone who knew him.

While Herb is going about his usual morning routine, readers learn about Perry Smith, who is 400 miles away, waiting to meet up with Dick Hickock, another ex-con. Perry is the kind of person who carries boxes of mementos with him wherever he goes, loves to mirror-gaze, and fantasizes about adventures, voyages, and fame. He lives much of his life in his head. Perry decides to team up with Dick because Dick is the strong, take-charge type and seems to agree to all of Perry's get-rich-quick schemes.

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