In Cold Blood Analysis
Connor Rethman Mrs. Franscell English 3 AP/Dual 2 Dec.
2011 Nonfiction on a New Level Crime and glimpses into the heads of criminal masterminds has always been something that fascinates people. Although crime is a terrible thing, the complexity and intricacy of it is something that people love to hear about. One can turn on the news at any given time and almost certainly hear an account of some form of a crime within ten minutes. In the novel In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, an account to a perplexing crime is taken to a whole new level. The Clutter family was a charming family of four that lived in the little town of Holcomb, Kansas.They were brutally murdered with no apparent motive by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, two men that had been inmates in jail.
This story follows the authority’s attempt to unfold the mysteries of the unexpected murder, Dick and Perry’s journey across North America, and what eventually became of the criminals. Capote pieces the true story together in a way that created a whole new style of writing – the nonfiction novel. No one before Capote had ever attempted to tell the tale of a true story in a way that so effectively captivates the audience through unique use of various literary elements.Detail is an element that Capote uses quite effectively throughout the novel. Whenever a new character is introduced, he makes the reader feel as if they knew that person personally.
When Nancy Clutter, the 16 year old daughter of the Clutter family, is first introduced, the author describes her as “…a pretty girl, lean and boyishly agile, and the prettiest thing about her were her short-bobbed, shining chestnut hair…and her soap-polished complexion, still faintly freckled and rose-brown from last summer’s sun” (Capote 19).The author deliberately gives details about Nancy that make the reader like her. He intends for readers to feel sorry for the Clutters, therefore provides positive details about each of the characters that cause the reader to have the opinion that they did not deserve to be murdered. Capote describes Mrs. Clutter in a similar way to make the reader have pity on her.
The author said that “…Mrs. Clutter, though unrelaxed herself, had a relaxing quality, as is generally true of defenseless persons who present no threat…Mrs.Clutter’s heart-shaped, missionary’s face, her look of helpless, homespun ethereality aroused protective compassion” (Capote 25). The author’s use of words such as “defenseless” and “helpless” appeal to the reader emotionally and make them feel sorry for her. Not only does Capote cause the reader express sympathy for the characters, but also makes them feel a personal connection with them by giving such a great amount of detail. He does the same with detail regarding the criminals, Dick and Perry, except he does it to give the reader a negative impression of them.
When talking about Dick’s car crash, he said it “left his long-jawed and narrow face tilted, the left side rather lower than the right, with the results that the lips were slightly aslant, the nose askew…” (Capote 31). This description causes the reader to develop negative feelings towards Dick. He seems like a stereotypical criminal when paired with this description, and that is exactly what Capote intended. The author’s use of detail when introducing characters gives the reader the appropriate feeling towards the characters right from the start. Another literary element that Capote uses to make his writing effective is imagery.
He uses imagery to give the reader a clearer mental picture of what he is describing and make comparisons that give off the intended impression. For example, when describing Dick’s eyes, Capote says, “…his eyes not only situated at uneven levels but of uneven size, the left eye being truly serpentine, with a venomous, sickly-blue squint…” (Capote 31). This gives the reader not only a deeper understanding of Dick’s appearance, but also a glimpse of his personality. When Capote describes one of his eyes as being “truly serpentine”, he is insinuating the true character of Dick.Anything that has to do with snakes has a negative connotation, and that is why Capote uses that comparison.
The same is done when the reader is introduced to Perry Smith. Capote describes his stature as “…no taller than a twelve-year-old child, and suddenly looked, strutting on stunted legs that seemed grotesquely inadequate to the grown-up bulk they supported, not like a well-built truck driver but like a retired jockey, overblown and muscle-bound” (Capote 15). This description causes the reader to view Perry as a short, stocky, and disproportionate individual – someone that one ouldn’t want to cross paths with. Like Dick, he is depicted as a typical criminal, which was the intent of Capote. Imagery is also used in some cases when describing locations. When we are first introduced to the little town of Holcomb, Kansas, it is depicted very vividly.
The author says that “The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them” (Capote 3). This paints an almost utopian picture in the reader’s mind, and that is what Capote desired.Comparing the grain elevators on the land to Greek temples brings to mind the towering white pillars and the Greek’s prosperous civilization. Capote intends to make Holcomb seem like the ideal town so that when the reader learns of the brutal murder, they are just as taken aback as the other characters in the story. He places the reader into the story in a way that had never been done before. Trenton Hickman, the author of “‘Last to See Them Alive’: Panopticism, the Supervisory Gaze, and Catharsis in Capote’s In Cold Blood” stated that, “Capote imprisons the reader along with the Clutters and the convicts” (Hickman 8).
Capote develops the novel to a point that the reader feels like they are a part of the novel, primarily through imagery. Throughout In Cold Blood, Truman Capote uses multiple points of view. He starts out as an outside narrator that knows everything that is going on and everyone’s thoughts. This is seen especially when introducing the Clutter family to the reader. When Capote was simply introducing the Clutters, he says, “…since his wife’s illness and the departure of the elder daughters, Mr. Clutter had of necessity learned to cook; either he or Nancy, but principally Nancy, prepared the family meals” (Capote 9).
Outside narration allows the reader to know things about all of the characters that another form of narration could not provide. This gives the reader a clear understanding of the nature and lifestyle of these characters. Later in the story, Capote switches to first person narration. He has whole chapters composed of quotes from people that were important witnesses to the story. For example, Susan Kidwell, one of Nancy’s close friends, is the narrator of one of the chapters. When discussing Nancy, she said “We were like sisters.
At least, that’s how I felt about her – as though she were my sister” (Capote 94).Capote provides this quote from Susan to appeal to the emotion of the reader and make them pity the Clutter family and all of their friends. This quote also allows the reader insight into the mind of Susan, therefore they discover more about the nature of Nancy. The same strategy is used in a chapter where Alvin Dewey’s wife is the narrator. When Dewey first found out that Dick and Perry had been arrested in Las Vegas after a lengthy pursuit, he was thrilled.
When commenting on his reaction to hearing the exciting news, she said, “You can imagine what it meant to Alvin to know those men had been arrested…he was so excited…” (Capote 212).By learning about Dewey’s reaction from a first-hand witness, the reader is able to get a better idea of the situation. It emphasizes his euphoria from finding out the great news. Capote uses this unique point of view in order to give the reader a deeper understanding of the crime and everything relating to it. Syntax is another element that Capote uses strategically throughout the course of this novel. The sentence structure is important, especially in dialogue of the characters.
When Perry was talking to Dick about what was on his mind, he says, “…once a thing is set to happen, all you can do is hope it won’t.Or will – depending. As long as you live, there’s always something waiting, and even if it’s bad, and you know it’s bad, what can you do? You can’t stop living” (Capote 92). In this selection, Perry’s sentence structure is very choppy. The use of many commas and short sentences show that his thoughts were not well planned out and he was having trouble putting his thoughts into words.
Again, Capote does the same with syntax when quoting Susan Kidwell. When recalling the time that she was looking at the Clutter house with Bobby Rupp, Nancy’s boyfriend, she states, “I remember—I think it was Monday—we drove down to the river.We parked on the bridge. You can see the house from there—the Clutter house. And part of the land—Mr.
Clutter’s fruit orchard, and the wheat fields going away” (Capote 94). Susan’s speech is abrupt here, which is conveyed through the dashes and short, choppy sentences. This allows the reader to imagine how she would sound if they were hearing her in person. It also shows that she could have been having difficulty discussing the subject of Nancy Clutter and was still mourning from her unexpected and merciless death. Capote is also known for his elaborate sentence structure that is primarily used in descriptions.
When describing the Las Vegas City Jail interrogation rooms, Capotes states that it “contains two interrogation rooms – fluorescent-lighted chambers measuring ten by twelve, with walls and ceilings of celotex. In each room, in addition to an electric fan, a metal table, and folding metal chairs, there are camouflaged microphones, concealed tape recorders, and, set into the door, a mirrored one-way observation window” (Capote 215). This type of sentence structure is used to allow the reader to have a deeper understanding of the experiences of each of the characters, in this case Dick and Perry.Capote successfully portrays the experiences of all the characters through this strategy throughout the entire novel. Capote’s choice in diction is important in order to get his point across successfully.
His diction is especially influential when Dick and Perry are the focus of the story. When the K. B. I. agents arrive at Dick’s execution, Dick greets them “…with his most charming smile; it was as if he were greeting guests at his own funeral” (Capote 339).
Capote’s word choice makes the reader realize that Dick had no remorse and even further develops his personality.It is obvious that he did not regret the murder and was a ruthless killer through his nonchalant manner towards his execution. The same is seen when Perry is about to be executed. He said, “‘It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do.
I apologize'” (Capote 340). The diction in this quote allows the reader to see that Perry did regret his actions, unlike Dick. It causes the reader to think of him as trapped under Dick’s rule – as if he did not actually want to commit the murder, but he did because of the pressure from his companion.Perry’s character is also depicted through the author’s use of diction when he described his encounter with Nancy Clutter shortly before he murdered her. After he tied her up, he said, “‘…I pulled up the covers, tucked her in till just her head showed…I really liked her.
She was really nice…She told me quite a lot about herself'” (Capote 242). Again, this gives the reader the impression that Perry did not actually want to kill anyone. Phrases such as “tucked her in” and “pulled up the covers” make it seem like Perry cared about her, even though he had never met her.It again goes to show that he probably did everything because Dick said so, not because he wanted to. It would not make sense for someone to murder a person that they liked unless another force was acting upon their decision. In this case, the extra force acting upon Perry’s choice was Dick.
The diction that Capote uses in passages about Perry and Dick practically molds the reader’s opinions of the two characters. Hickman states that “…the characters of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock are never exempt from the scrutiny of the narrator, and as a result are readily available to the reader’s gaze as well” (Hickman 2).The reader is almost forced to share the same opinion of the culprits as Capote through his word choice and the way that he portrays the two men. When Capote wrote In Cold Blood, his intent was to give the reader a vivid description of a crime and the pursuit of the criminals. He intended to make the reader feel a personal connection with each of the characters as well as the story as a whole.
Capote was able to successfully achieve this through his strategic use of literary elements and various points of view. Capote’s style of writing could be successfully emulated through immense detail and long, elaborate sentences.The book is definitely worthwhile to read and keeps the reader wanting to know more the entire time. In Cold Blood was indubitably an enjoyable read especially through the intriguing way that Capote pieced together the story. His unique way of incorporating the reader into the story makes for an almost out-of-body experience while reading his novel.
It’s almost as if as soon as the reader opens the book, they have entered Capote’s realm – he guides them throughout the murder story in an intriguing and captivating manner.The way that he crafted the story is what made it into such a great work of literature and an inspiration for many years to come. Works Cited Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Vintage Books, 1965. Print.
Hickman, Trenton. “”The Last to See Them Alive”: Panopticism, the Supervisory Gaze, and Catharsis in Capote’s in Cold Blood. ” Studies in the Novel 37. 4 (2005): 464+. Questia. Web.
25 Nov. 2011. <http://www. questiaschool. com/PM.