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Essay/Term paper: In cold blood

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Composition

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Many writers traditionally use their imagination to fabricate an interesting yet fictional story. Only their creativity and vision limit their writing. They can afford to neglect minor details because they do not base their stories on factual information. There existed a period when this was the only practiced style when writing a novel. However, Truman Capote pioneered the "nonfiction novel", as he called it, when he undertook the writing of In Cold Blood. His book described the well-known murders of the Clutters, a model American family. Due to the fact that Capote was writing a factual account of the crime, he thought it necessary to make his novel correct in even the smallest details. This proved to be a very difficult project, but his perseverance paid off. Capote made use of many literary techniques in order to grab the interest of his readers. He wanted his novel to be more than just a newspaper description of the crime. Finally, In Cold Blood was a great success because it told a true story in an interesting way. Capote overcame a big milestone by discovering a way to write a nonfiction novel, which appealed to everyone.

First, Capote knew that he was creating a new art form when he wrote his greatest work, In Cold Blood. He was a writer for the New Yorker, which gave

him good practice in gathering important facts It took him six years to complete this book because that is the amount of time that passed from the time the Clutters were murdered to the time the criminals were put to death. Truman Capote wanted his novel to be as close to the true facts as possible. He painstakingly gathered information from Holocomb, Kansas, the site of the murders, and various other settings. In reference to Capote"s obsession for accuracy, Gerald Clark wrote

In Cold Blood may have been written like a novel, but it is accurate

to the smallest detail, "immaculately factual" Truman publicly boasted.

Although it has no footnotes, he could point out to an obvious source

for every remark uttered and every thought expressed. "One doesn"t

spend almost six years on a book, the point of which is factual accuracy,

and then give way to minor distortions."(358)

Because Truman had to devote much of his time to the research and writing of this novel, he wanted to be thorough. He was so proud of his work that he dubbed his book "immaculately factual", which implied that the thought his novel to be flawless. Gerald Clarke wrote the following about Capote"s self-assuredness

In October, 1964, Truman went back to Kansas, taking with him

Sandy Campbell who was a fact checker at the New Yorker,

assigned at Truman"s request, to check the accuracy of In Cold Blood

They first flew to Denver where Truman had arranged a party

for some of his Garden City friends, most notably the Deweys.

They drove east to Garden City where Sandy verified such things

as dates and distances. Sandy said that she had worked with many

New Yorker writers, but Truman was the most accurate.(351)

Capote knew that his novel was correct but had someone check its accuracy as a way of boasting. Many people retraced Capote"s steps trying to find a mistake. However, no errors of any substance were ever uncovered. During the six years of research, Capote spent a lot of his time around the people involved with the murders in order to gain more insight. Moreover, he wanted to portray the characters as they really are. Capote was bragging yet again when he introduced Sandy Campbell to the Deweys. Capote wanted Sandy to see that his novel correctly depicted the actual characters. Granville Hicks wrote the following in reference to Truman Capote"s brilliant novel

Capote, by an elaborate process of checking and cross-checking,

has probably come as close to the facts as is humanly possible.

However, it is not the gathering of data that counts, impressive

as that is, but the organization of this massive amount of material.(37)

Due to his endless devotion to his novel, Capote was willing to double check himself to insure that his information was faultless. Truman took his work to a higher level by devising a unique and intriguing way to present this horrific murder. According to an article in Time magazine

Capote, who called the book a nonfiction novel, spent six years

on it, from shortly after the murder in 1959, to shortly after their

hanging in 1965. He had countless hours with the killers in prison,

became their intimate friend, showed them the manuscript of the


Capote had exposed himself to the emotions and personalities of many of the key people entangled within the murders. However, he faced his greatest challenge while attempting to gain access to the two most essential people, the murderers

themselves. Capote was denied the liberty to converse directly with the killers. As fortune would have it, the completion of his novel depended on his meeting with the condemned. In describing this precarious situation, Clarke wrote

But to finish In Cold Blood, the last part of which was mainly

a history of their lives in the cells, he needed regular communication

with them. Gaining the right was not an easy task. Usually only

relatives and lawyers were granted the privilege to come and go

and exchange letters with the condemned men. Prison authorities

refused to cooperate with him and finally, in desperation, he bribed his

way in, he said, paying a powerful political figure to pull the right

strings. "If I had not gotten what I wanted, I would have to abandone

everything. I had to have access to those two boys."(343)

In Cold Blood was affected by the lengthy conversations between Capote and the killers. Truman made it a well-known fact that he harbored homosexual tendencies. Due to his long discussions with Perry, he soon developed strong feelings for him. In fact, these feelings proved to be so overwhelming that Capote felt it necessary to take tranquilizers in order to complete his novel. Helen Garson described this by writing, "The longest segment in the work provides significant information about Perry Smith, the man who interested Capote more than anyone else in the case (144)." In the sections discussing Perry"s background, the reader learns of endless neglect and abuse, both of which he suffered for most of his young life. According to Tom Greene, "The story also reminds us of the frightening shortage of psychological services available to all the confused (142)."

This reveals the fact that Capote"s feelings for Perry compelled him to sympathize with Perry more than the other characters. Capote shows the reader numerous

examples of mistreatment, such as the abusive nun or neglectful mother, which were intended to help the reader understand and sympathize with Perry. If Capote had not had feelings for Perry, then the section describing him would have been abridged considerably.

Secondly, In Cold Blood contains many literary devices, which both intensified its meaning and caught the reader"s attention. For one thing, Capote used fictional techniques by giving the reader false clues, which added a sense of mystery. Also he made good use of symbolism when he described Dick"s face and Perry"s legs as "twisted." This gave the reader a visual picture of the killers as well as the feeling that they are potentially dangerous. In order to create tension Capote did not begin the book with the murder scene. Instead, he gave the reader a view of the Clutters as people and not merely as impersonal victims. There is a chance for the reader to get to know and like the Clutters before they are murdered. And he could very well have given the description of the murders at the point in time that they occurred, yet he waited to give those details until Perry's confession. This creates suspense, and the reader is eager to find out what exactly did happen on November 14, 1959. He shows how other people's lives are affected like Dewey. He introduces delays, such as the introduction of new characters and psychiatric records at the end of the book. All of these techniques successfully held the reader in anticipation of the impending page. In addition, Capote used a form of dramatic irony, meaning that the reader knows the outcome of a situation

before the characters in the book experience it. In accounting for this aspect of Capote"s style, Garson wrote

Structurally, the work is designed to provide maximum suspense,

a masterful accomplishment, in as much as newspaper reports

had given the reader knowledge of the outcome. Capote adds

to the forcefulness of the story, particularly in the first section

by establishing and atmosphere of fatality about the unsuspecting

Clutter family.(144)

Dramatic irony amplifies the tension because the reader knows that nothing can prevent the inevitable murder of the family. Flashback is another vital tool, which was used to create a background for characters such as Perry. Truman Capote also parallels the actions of Dick and Perry to those of the Clutter family, the townspeople, and the investigators. According to Tom Greene "Capote dug to the roots of every aspect of the Clutter crime, to comprehend points of view from the victims, the criminals, and the mourners (142)." In doing this, Capote broadened the reader"s understanding of the crime. Also, he made the characters realistic in that he had them share their thoughts and feelings with the reader. This made the characters more meaningful to the reader. Garson furthered his thoughts about In Cold Blood by writing

Mingling realism with novelistic imagination, Capote gives the

facts, disclosing them not in a straightforward newspaper fashion

but as a creative artist, selecting details, positioning them, and reiterating

them as much for meaning or intensity.(143)

Capote showed his talent for dramatic affect because he was able to time the events in his book almost perfectly. He would frequently repeat himself in order

to give meaning to what he was saying.

Finally, In Cold Blood is a novel that appeals to all types of readers. Alfred Kazin writes

This book dramatizes and adds to the crisis, and we turn to it because

it gives a theme of persuasive social anxiety, the concrete human

insistence that makes literature. In Cold Blood is an extremely stylized

book that has a palpable design on our emotion. It is so shapely and its

revelations are so well timed that it becomes a novel in the form of


People can relate to this novel because it involves many problems, which face society today. Also, the people who read this book find that they are even more intrigued due to the fact that it is based on a true story. In addition, Irving Milan wrote

Capote gives us wrath and laughter. Perry Smith and Herbert

Clutter, the drama of glory and the search for empty coke bottles,

the farm and the prison – these various dualities, although at times

they may seem artificial, are part of our landscape; They signify

daily doom which should not be forgotten. (270)

This quote implies that people should not forget that there exists two sides to everything. A person who chooses not to remember this will leave himself in a vulnerable position. Klausler, in describing the books appeal to readers, wrote

What we have in this book is reporting, highly selective and pertinent

to every event, and the creative vision of an artist who can arrange his

materials in such a manner that the reader is moved to pity, terror, joy,

and sorrow.(237)

Capote proved his excellence in writing by maintaining a firm grasp on his reader"s attention.

In conclusion, In Cold Blood was a pioneer novel because it combined journalism with fiction techniques. It was very difficult for Truman Capote to write this novel because he had to gather massive amounts of data in order to make the book factual. Next, he needed to organize that data in such a way that it would be interesting to the reader. Secondly, Capote used many literary techniques such as flashback and dramatic irony to make his novel more interesting. Finally, this novel was very appealing to all people because it was based on a true crime. Edward Weeks wrote "he is providing the readers with a high-minded aesthetic excuse for reading about a mean, sordid crime.(160)" This means that Capote provided people with an artistic account of the Clutter murders rather than a straightforward, newspaper one.


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