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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote illustrates that human nature is represented with both sides (good and evil) - Essay Example

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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote illustrates that human nature is represented with both sides (good and evil). Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood was based on the real murder in 1959 of a wealthy Kansas farming family by two men who were at the time on parole: Richard (Dick) Hickock and Perry Smith…
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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote illustrates that human nature is represented with both sides (good and evil)
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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote illustrates that human nature is represented with both sides (good and evil). Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood was based on the real murder in 1959 of a wealthy Kansas farming family by two men who were at the time on parole: Richard (Dick) Hickock and Perry Smith. The form of the book is what Capote himself called a “nonfiction novel” (Norden: 1987, p. 111) because it was based on a long process of gathering all kinds of factual evidence to build up into a narrative about what happened on that fateful day. Nowadays there are many thousands of “true crime” books on the market, but back in the mid-1960s when the book was finally published, this was a startling innovation. A notable feature of the book is its dramatic characterization of the key characters, both victims and perpetrators, and its presentation of moral issues through an exploration of the crime and the criminals. The book illustrates that human nature is represented with both sides (good and evil). The book opens with a comforting and novelistic scene-setting section: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of Western Kansas, a lonesome area… (Capote, 1965, p. 3) Several pages of description end with an account of the customary noises of the locality “the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles” and the “four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.” (Capote, 1965, p. 5) The language used here, and continued throughout the book, reveals an elaborate and curious hybrid of fact and fiction. Coyotes, tumbleweed and locomotive whistles are archetypal symbols of rural America, but Capote gives them a sinister touch by the addition of emotive words like “keening hysteria”, “scuttling” and “receding wail.” The contrast with the shotgun blasts is then dramatic, but it contains a subtle twist because it cites six deaths, and not four. Only four people were killed on that day, but later the two killers were executed for their crimes. In this small detail, Capote introduces one of the main themes of the book: the perpetrators and the victims are to be seen as sharing basic humanity and a tragic fate. The Clutter family are introduced sympathetically, and Mr Clutter is depicted as a kind man who takes care of his trees, his dog and his workers in an exemplary way (Capote: 1965, pp. 9-13). Capote confounds expectations by stressing the similarity between Mr Clutter and Smith: “Like Mr. Clutter, the young man breakfasting in a cafe called the Little Jewel never drank coffee.” (Capote: 1965, p. 14). The implication is that murderer and victim are both ordinary human beings with habits, likes and dislikes, just as everyone else does. Smith and Hickock are described as ordinary men, who act in this extreme way because of extraordinary pressures upon them. There is an inevitability about the murder, as if it is all part of the familiar but sinister American lifestyle. The reader is at one and the same time horrified by what they did, and intrigued by the personalities that are revealed step by step in the book. There is no suspense in terms of plot, because the murders had been comprehensively covered in the press and everyone knew the basic facts of the case. The skill of Capote is in making these two murderers into characters that people could at least in some ways identify with and understand. They are ordinary working class men who represent a part of American society that is excluded, resentful and prone to violence because of inner conflicts that arise in childhood through poverty and poor parenting. In this book readers are given “not only an angle into the criminal mind, but a catharsis…” (Hickman, 2005, p. 470) which draws the readers, too, into this world of co-existing extremes of good and evil. The book insists that good and evil are both part of human nature and destined to interact through the actions of individuals. Capote himself explained this in an interview: “Here you have the Clutter family on one hand – such the perfect prototype of the good, solid, landed American gentry, as you point out – and on the other hand you have Hickock and Smith, particularly Smith, representing the dangerous and psychotic element, empty of compassion or conscience. And these two extremes mated in the act of murder…” (Capote, 1968, quoted in Norden, 1987, p. 133) The novel quotes Perry redefining the act of murder: “When you kill a man you steal his life. I guess that makes me a pretty big thief” (Capote, 1965, p. 290) The implication is that all crime is relative, and that all people are destined to be caught in this dynamic of good and evil, suffering together an inevitable and tragic fate. References Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Random House, 1965. Hickman, Trenton. “The Last to See them Alive”: Panopticonism, the Supervisory Gaze, and Catharsis in Capote’s In Cold Blood” Studies in the Novel 37 (4), (2005), pp. 464-476. Norden, Eric. “Playboy Interview: Truman Capote.” (1968) Reprinted in M. Thomas Inge (Ed.) Truman Capote: Conversations. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 1987, pp. 110-163. Read More
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