In Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, he embarks on a journey of presenting a non-fiction story of a well-respected but “inconsequential” (Amy Standen) family who was slain for unknown reasons. He does so by creating four parts of a book that include the details he accumulated from multiple interviews. Capote establishes credibility with his audience by providing factual evidence, recurring themes, symbolism and oxymorons.
It is often argued that Capote has a “failure of imagination” (George Plimpton) within In Cold Blood because he used factual evidence rather than first-person literary techniques. I disagree that Capote was not creative. He includes strong imagery within the factual evidence which provides readers a chance to envision everything that happened in the time frame prior to the murder, the actual murder, then the trial and execution. Capote said, “Also, it is necessary to have a 20/20 eye for visual detail–in this sense, it is quite true that one must be a ‘literary photographer,’ though an exceedingly selective one” (Plimpton). Capote selectively adds detail where it is fitting in this book, such as including the thoughts of the murderers, Perry and Dick, as they ended all four lives of the Clutters. Out of empathy, it is more than readers want to know, but have to know because of human nature. Because Capote interviewed all of the characters without a recorder, he nails the description of being a “literary photographer” as an author.
Alvin Dewey is a character within the book who is labeled as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s lead detective in solving this murder case. “Furthermore, for all Dewey’s experience, some Garden City, Kan., residents are critical of his relationship with Capote and how that affected what ended up in the book” (Kevin Helliker). Because Capote was able to build a well-established relationship with Dewey and his family, critics believe the relationship may have altered the way Capote wrote In Cold Blood. I do not agree with this, but rather I think Capote was an individual who built relationships with all interviewees out of a place of empathy for the trauma that was occurring during this case. Critics also said that Capote seemed to be the only one “…in belief that Dewey was the case’s hero” (Patrick Smith). I find this statement incorrect because a lot of the public knew the amount of stress Dewey went through to find the murderers. Dewey was admired by many and not alone by Capote because he was known for solving 14 of 16 murder cases he worked on (Smith). The details integrated within this book from the work between Capote and Dewey helped readers comprehend this murder case even more- not only did we see what the family was going through, but the investigators as well. Capote includes detail of how Dewey studied the images of all four Clutter members intensely for a period of time. At one time, Dewey’s wife sees the photos in their home setting, to which she responds, “I wish I’d never seen them” (Capote, In Cold Blood). Capote also goes on to explain how not only the Deweys, but other Holcomb families were uneased by this murder and extra paranoid of their own safety at the time of not knowing who did it.
Throughout In Cold Blood, Capote uses recurring themes of religion that are symbolic of stories in the Bible that readers are able to relate for better insight. While critics claim the “immaculately factual” (Helliker) evidence in the book is less than imaginative, I find the parallel between religion and the secular world to be brilliant. For example, Capote repeats that Mr. Clutter starts the day with an apple, which is symbolic of knowledge that Eve would acquire in the Bible by eating from “the tree of life.” When Mr. Clutter would eat an apple, he was inviting evil into his life. This means he could see right from wrong.
Capote included a lot of oxymorons for the characters. For example, the two murderers’ upbringing tells readers opposite of what we would think. Perry, who was the more delicate murder of the two, grew up in a rough home life of alcohol and abuse. At the time of the murder, he tried to make the deaths more delicate for the family members. He put a mattress box under Herb. When his partner wanted to rape Nancy, he drew the line there and would not allow it. “His (Capote’s) accounts of Perry’s small, paradoxical kindnesses to the doomed Clutters, like when he places a pillow under Kenyon’s head before putting a gun to his temple, are a hundred times more effective in describing the tumult of emotions in a criminal’s mind than an expert’s analysis could ever have been” (Standen). This explains that this detail of Perry’s original rough life proved itself opposite during the murder. For Dick, he had a safe upbringing. He was smart, athletic, had offers to play college ball, had a couple of girlfriends but never did more than kiss. Now at the time of the murder for him, he is more ruthless and is sexually attracted to young females and wanted to harm Nancy. After all, he is the main leader of this murder because he was determined to find Mr. Clutter’s safe. He was stable in his younger days, and now a traumatic head injury has turned him astray.
Another oxymoron that Capote cohesively included was the establishment of how the Clutter family was well known in Holcomb. He explains how Mr. Clutter is a religious man who is committed to his ill wife. Mr. Clutter represents a “man’s man,” (Capote) while his daughter is a role model for younger girls. Nancy is discussed as a respected female who does well in school and is notorious for her baked apple pie. The murder of the family was a bad thing that happened to good people.
Capote provides credibility with not only factual evidence, but literary techniques that broaden the horizon of a non-fiction novel.