Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

A Non-fiction Novel

Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood as a literary experiment, elevating its status to that of a “non-fiction novel.” He believed himself to be among the few creative individuals earnestly engaging with journalism. Nevertheless, the ongoing debate among writers, scholars, and artists revolves around whether the book should be categorized as journalism, a work of creativity, or a novel.

First and foremost, readers can discern the artistic elements within the book. Capote was compelled to make choices concerning the book’s structure, selecting a starting and ending point, and determining the subject matter and sequence of each chapter in between. For instance, in the opening chapter, he alternates between detailing the activities of the Clutter family and describing the preparations for the assassination carried out by Hickock and Smith. Readers also encounter scenes of Nancy Clutter baking a cake juxtaposed with accounts of a montage-style murder, creating a distinct impression. At the time of its release, the book was truly unique as no newspaper article exhibited such a creative and structured narrative.

The Clutter Murder

Herbert Clutter inspected his ranch on the morning of November 14, 1959. On that very morning, Perry Smith met up with Dick Hickock on the other side of Kansas. The two of them were preparing their car while the Clutters went about their daily business, running errands and baking cherry cakes. After a long journey, Hickock and Smith stopped at Clutter’s house with knives and rifles in hand. Susan Kidwell and another of Nancy’s friends discovered the bodies that morning. Initially, the police suspected Bobby Rupp until he passed a lie detector test. In charge of the investigation, KBI agent Alvin Dewey believed that the murderer must have been someone close to the family. Rumors ignited in the small town of Holcomb, with Hartman’s Cafe at the center of many theories.

Meanwhile, Perry and Dick had returned to Dick’s hometown of Olathe. Dick had engaged in several check frauds until the two fled to Mexico. Perry had always dreamed of finding treasure in Mexico. However, while the Kansas investigation methodically followed up on dead-end leads, Perry and Dick spent time entertaining wealthy German tourists until they ran out of money in Mexico City. Perry packed his personal belongings and reminisced about his childhood while preparing to return to the United States. His parents had traveled the rodeo circuit until their decline. Perry had been shuffled from house to house as a child, and two of his three siblings had committed suicide.

Dick and Perry

The Clutter murder investigation seemed to be going nowhere. However, a man at the Kansas state prison in Lansing, Floyd Wells, heard about the murder case. Convinced that Dick Hickock was responsible, he began talking to the authorities.

On the other hand, Dick and Perry were hitchhiking in the American desert, attempting to steal a car but failing. By this time, Floyd had confessed, and Dewey and his team initiated an elaborate manhunt. Dick and Perry managed to steal a car, drove back to Kansas City, passed more hot checks, and ended up in Miami before they were apprehended. They eventually fled to Las Vegas, where a policewoman recognized their license plates. Dick confessed after intense interrogation, and Perry followed suit. The trial proceeded smoothly until both were sentenced to death. Dick and Perry languished on Death Row during a five-year appeals process. Perry attempted to starve himself while Dick wrote letters to various appeals organizations. They were accompanied by various notorious criminals. When the day of their execution arrived, Perry felt remorseful, and Dick felt awkward.

The Capote Hidden Meanings

Hickock and Smith had been dead for less than a year when Truman Capote, known for his reliability, published In Cold Blood in 1966. The trial and the murder were major issues, and many readers may have known the novel’s details before reading it. Capote, therefore, needed to make it appealing even to people familiar with the outcome. The book had to be not only accurate and informative but also good literature.

The novel was meticulously detailed, and Capote amassed more than 8,000 pages of research. The book was a selection of descriptions and facts, edited with great care. For example, Capote suggested that the facts of the Clutter case served as the building blocks for what ultimately became a creative work. In compiling the Clutter case facts into a novel, he added hidden meanings. The novel touched on major themes such as the American Dream and America’s fragility, extending beyond the author’s opinions.

The Neutral Montage

The use of the phrase “electoral” in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood may be related to the challenges he faced and his innovative approach to writing fiction. According to critics, the book demonstrates how journalists can adapt fictional techniques to create new forms of storytelling. Capote employs techniques such as alternating montages in time, interior monologues, stream of consciousness, composite characterization, and typology to craft his narrative.

Furthermore, the book synchronizes events effectively, with Capote using this method to create a balanced narrative between the murderers and the victims, supported by additional details. However, a crucial aspect of contemporary journalism is for writers to present themselves as neutral observers, adopting a persona that doesn’t interfere with the story.

In simple terms, the book brings together themes of death and destruction, while Capote provides a dual reciprocal convergence. The descriptions of the Clutter family’s daily lives are vividly portrayed, with the writer emphasizing that it is their last day. This is followed by a description of the assassins preparing for their journey, which ultimately leads to the Clutters’ tragic fate as the day unfolds.

As the murders occur, the narrative shifts to focus on the killers’ escape to other states while the police begin to uncover clues. The readers are introduced to a prisoner who possesses knowledge about the killers and why they targeted the Clutters as part of the convergence. This convergence involves three or more elements, with Hickock and Smith moving away, the police closing in on them, and a third party with crucial information initially concealed from view.

The Perversion of In Cold Blood

Truman Capote made an effort to challenge these voices and disrupt the reliability of In Cold Blood. Critics also argue that he was not attempting to maintain neutrality. While personally, it seems that he aimed to satirize the victims and the concept of normalcy while showing sympathy for Perry Smith and his complex personality, the Clutter family comes across as genuinely touching.

Despite certain stiffness in other aspects, the Clutters’ fundamental courtesy and generosity shine through. If they are meant to symbolize the American Dream, Capote presents them as such. He may not have liked them, but he does show respect for how they manage their lives, except for Nancy, whose tragic death is profoundly saddening.

On the other hand, Capote also takes a liking to Perry Smith, a strong man with tiny yet stunted legs who constantly relies on aspirin for headaches. Perry is uneducated but has a thirst for knowledge, yet he remains a remorseless killer.

Furthermore, since In Cold Blood is a novelistic work, the portrayal of the Clutter family receives a fictional treatment. Amidst all the stability and regularity, it suggests that there are other underlying dynamics at play within the family. In a sense, Mrs. Clutter becomes an example of a form of sacrifice within the family when Hickock and Smith move her to an upstairs room, which she keeps as if preserved for visitors, turning Bonnie Clutter into a haunting enigma within the household.

The Fictional Dimension

Similarly, Hickock’s upbringing and education were far from conventional. However, he transformed into a ruthless villain. He wasn’t just a potential killer; he was also a rapist and pursued young girls. Although he married two sixteen-year-olds, his appetite was for girls half their age. Yet, he remains an enigma.

Perry Smith, whom Capote favored, provided more details and potentially became a character with distinctly novelistic qualities. The parallel narrative paints a picture of two criminals alongside the healthy Clutter family they ultimately killed. By creating the impression that the criminal and the victim hail from two vastly different worlds, the stark contrasts within America are laid bare, exposing the presence of parasites and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

The fields that introduce a fictional dimension are often overlooked by people. Capote’s achievement in writing In Cold Blood is significant and highly regarded. However, some critics argue that it is not a traditional novel but something else entirely. Capote had to make choices, realizing that he couldn’t have it all.


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