‘In Cold Blood’ Truman Capote

I did a report on ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote. There may be some spoilers but nothing too bad. It also has a quick biography on Capote as well as what I liked and disliked about his writing. Enjoy!

Truman Capote began with a novel about murder and created a compelling account of two troubled men. The novel reads like a movie screenplay, the scenes are each so vivid.

The novel begins with the Clutter family alive and shows how they lived their lives. Capote describes the property and town intricately. While he is showing the murder victims he is showing the beginning of the murders trip. The first section of the novel continues to build tension by showing each stop the murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, make on their trip to the Clutters farm, River Valley. This is intermixed with the Clutters last night at home. Capote leaves out the murder scene and quickly turns to the town’s reactions to the murders. This allows for the reader to fully understand the family’s ties to the town and how people actually felt about this family.

Capote shows the police perspective of the case as well. In this he describes how the Clutter family had been killed and the killers escape. He also continues to show the townspeople and their reactions to losing friends. The novel takes an interesting switch into paranoia. The townspeople believe it is someone in town and begin to view their fellow townspeople, and friends, differently. Capote spends a lot of time describing the backgrounds of the murderers. Specifically Smith. This gives them an almost human quality that you do not usually get from these types of books. You see why they have been driven towards this place and why they would kill a family.

This is where the novel takes a turn. Hickock had bragged about the killings to his prison roommate, Floyd Wells, and now that was coming back to bite him. An incredibly compelling scene was when Hickock and Smith were hitchhiking.  Their plan was to steal the car but just as they were about to club the man he spots another hitchhiker. This scene is so vivid; you can see it playing out in your head as you’re reading. As the two criminals are finally caught in Las Vegas, you learn exactly what happened that fateful night.  The confessions are horrible, which reminds you again that this is a non-fiction account.

The last few chapters describe Hickock and Smith’s jail time. This was very interesting because you could see how each man responded to their time in jail. It showed a lot of their personality and why they were together in the first place. Hickock was still the headstrong man who concocted this and many other plans, where Smith was still looking for validation and a way to be free from his pain. Capote mentions that the psychologist would have described Smith as a paranoid schizophrenic, although he was not allowed to saw this in court. This is huge.  In the end the men are hanged on April 15th, 1965.

The novel was striking and showed so much detail and research. The most fascinating point is to remember this is a true tale. Capote writes in such a way that allows the reader to become emerged in the story. He does not need to embellish. He played with so many elements of writing and had me turning page after page to find out what happened next.

Truman Capote was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, September 30, 1924 under the name Truman Streckfus Persons. When Capotes parents were divorced he was raised by his mothers family and was moved to Monroeville, Alabama. Here he met “To Kill A Mockingbird’s” Harper Lee. Around the age of nine Capote moved to New York with his mother where he was adopted by her husband, Joseph Capote, and renamed Truman Garcia Capote.  Capote had been writing since he was young, and even had a job at the New Yorker while in his last year at the Franklin School. Capote was an openly gay man and showed this view in some of his writings. This helped him receive a lot of respect from the gay and lesbian groups today.

Upon seeing a brief 300-word article in the paper, Capote decided to write on the murders of the Clutter family. Lee traveled with him and helped him with his research. Truman famously did not use notes to record his interviews. Instead, he memorized quotes and wrote them down after each interview. “In Cold Blood” changed the scope of the literary sphere. No one had written a non-fiction novel before. Although Capote had very intimate relationships with the killers it did not feel like it overshadowed the purpose of his novel. This novel took him six years to write and was eventually adapted into a movie by Richard Brooks.

Capote died on August 25, 1984, after years of abusing drugs and alcohol. Though he is gone, he has not been forgotten. In 2005, a movie was made about him starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, who would go on to win the Oscar. This movie showed Capote doing the research for “In Cold Blood” as well as his relationship with Harper Lee.

In Capote’s 1948 novel ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms,” he writes of a man who falls in love with a transvestite. This showed he was a smart writer who was not afraid to hit the political and social topics in his writing. Although this gained a lot of controversy, it also gained him a lot of success and showed people he was someone to look out for. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” written in 1958 received wide success and was even praised by Norman Mailer. “I would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which will become a small classic,” high praise from an important man.

The novel takes on a very theatrical vibe. Each scene is so vivid that the reader can picture it while they are reading. This is the brilliance of Capotes writing. You can see the research he had to compile and the interviews he must have gone through to get this information. His writing is breathtaking and his showing of these two men is both fascinating and terrifying. In any case this novel is incredibly inspiring and very difficult to put down.

The only thing that really put me off about this novel was some of his word choice. In the first chapter, the first paragraph, I had to stop reading and go back. Within the first couple sentences he describes the Kansas views as “awesomely extensive.” (1) I believe I read that ten times before I moved on. It was jarring because I had heard so many incredible things about this man writings. His use of words and sentence structure that make readers furiously turn the pages.

Again in that first chapter he used strange twice, though different connotations, in one sentence. Just a few words away.

But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy recreating them over and again-those somber explosions that stimulated fired of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers. (4)

Even with this long of a sentence he does not break up the two similar sounding words. For a man who carried around a notepad dictionary as a child, I was surprised by some of the words he decided to work with.

Some of his description, while beautiful, was also a bit much for me. Learning to use short sentences in another class has made this novel a bit bizarre. Capote loves to extend sentences and add as much detail as possible. While this works sometimes, at others it can be a bit exhausting.

The one literary device I particularly liked was the constant switching between narratives. This helped to build suspense and show what each character was doing around the same time. While the two murders are fighting their way across the country, the Clutters are being buried and the town is becoming a paranoid mess. It was fascinating to see how one event could bring the whole town to run scared. In a place where everyone knew and trusted each other, it was interesting to see how fast they turned.

Capote gave each scene just enough time to grasp vital details before switching. He gave just enough but not too much to the readers so as to keep people on their toes. Capote’s many perspectives never became muddled or confusing and his detailed descriptions of people helped to show why we should care.

The description of Smith’s life was particularly intriguing. All he wanted was for his family to love him. Under the control of Hickock, Smith felt safe, even though they were doing horrible things. His nervous energy is felt throughout the novel, as well as Hickock’s controlling and overbearing personality. You really see who the brains behind the operation were.

Capote created an incredible account of the murders of an innocent Kansas family. He shows how these two men came to kill them and why they did so. “In Cold Blood” is horrifyingly beautiful, and a book that will live on forever.

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Categories: Books, Writer


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