Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist and poet, said that it is not length of life, but depth of life. Having in mind his words, a reader can definitely see what Truman Capote tried to achieve by writing the book In Cold Blood, a novel that explores the different levels of the essence of life. The story is based on the actual murder of a respected farm family that lived in Holcomb, Kansas in the late 1950s. The inhuman slaughter is done by the two former prisoners Dick and Perry, who gather together, united by the only aim to commit the perfect robbery without leaving a living witness. The story traces the plan of the murderers, the commitment of the crime and the consequences that are left, by going deeper into the nature of the characters who are involved or affected. Truman Capote uses a plethora of literal devices such as parallel constructions, foreshadowing and descriptions that aim to make the reader see beyond what’s obvious and perceive the story not just as a historical record, but as a real account that reflects the collision between the different depths of life. Thus he manages to write a compelling novel that provokes the reader to think and draw their own conclusions about what is worth in life.
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One of the first striking things that make the book catch the attention of the readers is the parallel presentation of new characters who Truman Capote use in order to make the novel richer in respect of personalities. Every new section of the book is marked by the introduction of a new character that adds to the richness of the main characters and the way they are connected to the main event of the book – the murder. This parallel structure of presenting several preceptors brings the idea that one can not be fully and accurately judged just through the eyes of one person. The first section The Last To See Them Alive starts with the narrator’s description of the Clutters. Here the narrator appears as an omniscient witness and says that Mr. Clutter “proved himself a sensible and sedate” considering the design of his house (9). The narrator’s only judgment, however, would not fully convince the reader. That is why in the second chapter Truman Capote introduces the detector Dewey, who says “If Herb had thought his family was in danger, mortal danger, he would have fought like a tiger” (82). The opposition between “sedate” and the simile “fought like a tiger” presents the versatility of Mr. Clutter’s character. Even though he might seem as a calm and well-balanced person, he is actually a fighting personality who is ready to sacrifice himself for his biggest ideal, which is the family. Here the reader sees the real depth of his life values. While in the first section one encounters the hardworking, successful and much respected side of Herb, in the second section his character continues to be developed as Truman Capote presents new perceptions with their unique criticism. Thus the reader is not left with the impression that the characters are exhausted just with the commentaries of the omniscient narrator. In fact this makes the reader continue his/her investigation of finding out the truth about the characters, their real personalities and significance in the book.
Another important literature device that Truman Capote uses is the parallel use of multiple comparisons and allusions that increase the novel’s cohesion and coherence. The first and most obvious example is the comparison between the breakfasts of Mr. Clutter and Perry. While “an apple and a glass of milk” (10) are enough for Herb, Perry has “three aspirin, cold root beer, and a chain of Pall Mall cigarettes” for breakfast (14). Here in this juxtaposition of manners the reader sees the modesty and the decency of Herb Clutter and how spendthrift is Perry. Truman Capote makes this comparison within the borders of four pages and it marks the beginning of one comparison trend between the Clutters and the murderers, which aims to explore and contrast the different levels of their depth of life. Later in the book the author continues with no so direct juxtapositions. Truman Capote creates a lexical cohesion as he uses words with semantically close meanings to create images that allude to the reader of a previous moment of the book. Such example is the comparison between Perry and Mrs. Clutter in respect of the things that they carry. On one hand Dick says that Perry carries “that junk everywhere”, while Perry responds that it is not just a junk, because “one of them books cost [him] thirty bucks.” (14) On the other hand Mrs. Clutter says that the things that she can carry everywhere are the “little things that really belong to [her]” (27). There is an allusion between these two parts which makes the reader think over the reason why Truman Capote makes this comparison. Perry finds only the financial and the material value of the things that he carries, which shows that he is a big materialist, who does not find the spiritual value of the things that he has. Mrs. Clutter, on the other hand, emphasizes that the valuable things are the things that really belong to her. What she means is that she most appraises the sentimental value of things. Perry’s superficiality contrasts her profound thinking. This juxtaposition makes the reader distinguish between the different depths of life. Another parallel that overlaps the story of the Clutters and the one of Perry is Truman Capote’s use of indirect connection between the diaries of Nancy and Perry. While Nancy’s diary is a piece of sincerity that says “Forever, I hope” and “I love him, I do”(56), Perry’s diary notes indifferently say “Dewey here. Brought carton cigarettes.” (255). The allusion between these two parts of the book is created by the diary. Nancy’s notes prove that as a member of the Clutter family, she has inherited the deep spirit of her parents. Perry, on the contrary, proves that he has lost all of his feelings and emotions which have been replaced by his obsession with the material aspect of life. By the usage of allusions and comparisons Truman Capote juxtaposes the values and ideals of the Clutters and their assassins and challenges the reader’s natural tendency to criticize and judge.
Furthermore, another thing that to a great extent contributes to the compelling form of the narration is Truman Capote’s use of many time leaps and changes in the form of the speech. The constant flashbacks keep the reader interested in the details about the murderer’s essence and what made them commit the crime. An example for that is the flashback that presents Perry’s childhood in the orphanage. “She woke me up. She had a flashlight, and she hit me with it. Hit me and hit me. And when the flashlight broke, she went on hitting me in the dark” says Perry about one of the nuns who tortured him (93). In addition to the time leap effect, here Truman Capote also uses direct speech, which is commonly found in the rest of the novel. The direct speech that is parenthetical to the indirect narration helps the reader a lot to evolve a closer view of the character, without being influenced by the biased perception of the omniscient narrator. This gate to the past allows the reader to understand why Perry is always so nervous and has bubbles in his blood. It seems that under the mask of the cold-blooded killer lives a vulnerable and diffident person. This retrospection can entirely change the opinion of the reader about Perry. Thus the flashbacks and the direct speech of the characters do not allow the reader to remain indifferent considering their actions or remain with one and the same opinion from the beginning till the end of the book. Other examples that involve both of these literal methods are the autobiographical statements of murderers. They present to the reader the way the characters define and criticize themselves. With respect to his pedophiliac tendencies, Dick says he is “afraid of [his] people finding” out (279). This is one of the few times in the book when Dick expresses any worry or even fear. He is also concerned of preserving the good reputation of his parents. This passage reveals one different side of Dick. Here he seems to be ashamed of what he has done which shows that he realizes to some point his guilt. That is a small indication that Dick has not degenerated as much as Perry. The reader, however, is still in uncertainty whether Dick and Perry really deserve the death penalty. Every new flashback provokes the reader to adapt his opinion and criticism to the new information.
Truman Capote uses rich descriptive language that makes the novel sound vivid and thus evokes the feelings and the sensual perception of the reader. The book starts with the description of Holcomb as a village that “stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome are that other Kansans call “out there” (3). The description suggests that this is a place that has been forgotten by everyone. In this way just from the first sentence of the novel the reader starts wondering why such a desert place is chosen as the setting of the story. The image also creates the notion that the peace and the order of this place will be broken by something unusual or even disastrous. This foreshadow effect can be also considered one of Capote’s favorite style device to grab the attention of the reader and to provoke his curiosity and thinking about what will happen. The author also uses a lot of animal images that somehow draw the parallel between this deserted place and the main characters. The snake is one of the most used symbols in the novel. First it appears as a “snake, coiled around a dagger, slithered down his arm” (32) and then it comes in Perry’s dream where it “starts to swallow [him]” (92). The snake is a chthonic creature that symbolizes the underworld, or the world of the death. The animal becomes an allusion to Perry, for they are similar in the way both of them creep clandestinely and in a sudden moment bite poisonously. And in addition as a symbol of death, the snake on his arm can also be interpreted as an ironical foreshadow of Perry’s destiny. That is how by using the richness of the language Capote creates interesting images that keep the interest in the readers.
In conclusion Truman Capote manages to keep the novel compelling until its end by using a lot of style, structural and narration techniques that enrich the characters and challenge the reader to distinguish between the different levels of life essence.
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