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In Cold Blood By Truman Capote English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1688 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is a 1965 non fiction novel which details the brutal murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. Capote after hearing about the quadruple murders went to Holcomb personally and interviewed people connected to the murders, such as police officers and residents of Holcomb. The novel explores the lives of the victims and the ripple effect it had on the community; also in comparison, it explores the complex psychological relationship between the two mass murderers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. The novel is written from Capote’s narrative perspective as he re-tells the story of the murders, and the events that followed; right down to Smith’s confession of the murders. In comparison, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein from the mindset of Victor Frankenstein: the creator of The Monster. She, like Capote, accounts the protagonists life and events which create the novel; from the creation of the ‘daemon’ to Frankenstein’s downfall. Frankenstein is widely known to be of the gothic genre, but some critics have argued that is also romantic, and considered one of the earliest forms of science fiction because of the scientific context of the time Shelley wrote it.

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Nearly 150 years separate Shelley and Capote from writing their novels, and this is apparent from their lexis and semantic choice. Shelley uses very archaic language, whereas Capote uses a more modern approach to novel writing; where the contemporary audience would understand his lexis choice more. Both novels have the recurring theme of ‘wasted lives’ throughout the novel: Some of the characters lives are wasted purely because they are murdered, whereas others are wasted because they didn’t fulfil their full potential. Mr Clutter in In Cold Blood can be seen as a wasted life as he was well respected by his colleagues, family and community, and the fact he was murdered ‘In Cold Blood’ creates pathos for him. The story of Justine in Frankenstein also creates pathos for Justine in the same way as she didn’t deserve to be killed; she was wrongly accused of the murder of William and this creates sympathy because she was a beloved part of the Frankenstein family. Both Mr Clutter and the story of Justine portray a strong sense of a wasted life for the reader; their stories and the way they die has a strong theme which correlates to the theme of wasted lives.

The first descriptions of Mr Clutter portray him to be strong and bold. In the first sentence by Capote, he is characterised as the ‘master’ of River Valley Farm; this makes Mr Clutter seem like he isn’t just the owner, but someone who his workers respect and idolise. Before this initial introduction to Mr Clutter, Capote starts with a description of Holcomb, where Mr Clutter lives. Capote describes it very idyllically and luscious; and as the reader progresses they start to realise Capote is describing what people at the time thought of as the American dream. Capote starts with this description of the American dream because in Mr Clutter’s description, the reader starts to know that Mr Clutter is living what all American’s at the time idealised and wanted; to achieve prosperity, by having his own land and being happy with his family life. Capote also describes Mr Clutter in the first paragraph of description how he has a ‘man’s-man figure’. Further on Capote describes how Mr Clutter’s physical appearance makes him seem strong and able and how his teeth are ‘strong enough to shatter walnuts’. This very admired initial physical appearance of Mr Clutter after he has been epitomized as someone who is very successful in the world of work creates a man which people reading the novel at the time is was written, would want to be like.

Mr Clutter’s family life is something to be admired by the reader and especially people at the time In Cold Blood was written. Having a strong family relationship which the reader can associate with, creates a big large sense of pathos for Mr Clutter, and his death can be seen as a wasted life. Capote describes how Mr Clutter has been married to his wife for a ‘quarter century’ and how he is proud of this by wearing a ‘plain gold band’ ‘on his left hand’. The fact that Capote portrays Mr Clutter to be someone to be epitomized creates even more sympathy for him when he is murdered by Dick and Perry, and seen to be by the audience a big wasted life. Capote illustrates how Mr Clutter ‘had wished to marry’ Bonnie, and the fact that 25 years later they are still married, creates this illusion that Mr Clutter got his “High School Sweetheart”; and this is something which the audience at the time In Cold Blood was written, even today’s contemporary audience, would admire and associate with.

Capote reinforces this strong bond Mr Clutter has with his children further; he describes Bonnie ‘had given him four children – a trio of daughters, then a son’. This large family which Capote specifies, after he distinguishes Mr Clutter’s strong relationship with his wife, fabricates Mr Clutter’s life as something to be very admired by the reader. Capote hints at how Mr Clutter’s children respect his views and opinions; and how ‘Beverly was engaged to a young biology student, of whom

her father very much approved’; since Capote adds in that Mr Clutter approves of him, gives the conception that if Mr Clutter didn’t approve of him, Beverly would brake up with him; but the reader cannot be certain of this until later in the chapter when Mr Clutter ‘suggested the Nancy discontinue’ seeing her boyfriend, and without question or argument Nancy ‘promise to begin a gradual breaking off with Bobby’. The description of Mr Clutter as someone to be idolised is carried on throughout the rest of the chapter and novel, and the reader by the end has a very respected and idolised image of Mr Clutter, and that is why his death can be seen strongly as a wasted life.

The story of Justine and her trial in chapter 8 criticises the justice system and ties into the context and beliefs of Shelley’s father. William Godwin – Shelley’s father – believed “monarchy was a species of government unavoidably corrupt”: meaning that he thought the state is corrupt and false, and he also thought that discrimination without grounds was immoral. Justine has been wrongly accused for the murder of William, and is sentenced to death after her trial in which she cannot create a strong enough case as to why she didn’t murder William. The trial is written from the narrative voice of Frankenstein. Since, it is Frankenstein describing the events that happened, Justine is described in a way that the reader will feel sympathy for her. Justine was a servant of the Frankenstein family, but after her mother died she was considered a cherished part of the household; and because of this Frankenstein uses lexis choice such as ‘a smiling babe full of innocence and joy’. This person which Frankenstein describes is portrayed to be someone strong minded, calm, and ‘possessed qualities which promised to render her life happy’; this creates pathos

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for her as she is, like Mr Clutter, someone who the audience reading the book will create a sense of pathos for. The death of William and then Justine’s trial come straight after Frankenstein starts to rebuild his self confidence after he created the ‘daemon’, and study at Ingolstadt. Putting her story in the novel here in the narrative structure emphasises how much of a shock it was for Frankenstein, and how he ‘suffered living torture’ during the ‘wretched mockery of justice’; yet, he doesn’t tell anyone the truth about how William is murdered. Shelley describes how Frankenstein makes excuses for not telling anyone the truth as ‘such a declaration would have been considered as the ravings of a madman’. This obvious making of excuses makes Justine unfair murder seem even more of a waste of a life. Justine’s death in the novel is seen as an unnecessary event which solely happens because she is used as a pawn in the interplay between Frankenstein and the monster. She is sentenced to her death because she is accused wrongly of the murder; and the fact she is completely innocent, and is shown to be someone of a strong mind, Shelley creates a character which is creates a very strong sense of pathos, and gives the illusion of a wasted life.

Justine’s description by Frankenstein about her physical appearance and the way she presents herself in the court room can be seen as personal attributes which the reader could aspire too. He says that ‘Justine was calm’ ‘confident in innocence’ and ‘her countenance, always engaging’ was ‘exquisitely beautiful’. He says that she ‘spoke in an audible’ voice even though she is in a court room being accused of a murder she did not commit. When Justine is allowed to speak to the jury she is very calm, collected and precise; and her sentences are eloquent and sound educated. This sense of calmness about her giving the seriousness of the situation creates a character in which the reader will have sympathy for, and think of as wasted life.

In conclusion, both novels In Cold Blood and Frankenstein, have characters in which the reader will have sympathy for because their death can be seen as a wasted life. The story of Justine and the fact that she is used as a pawn in the interplay between Frankenstein and the monster creates a sense of pathos for her; and Capote creates sympathy for Mr Clutter purely because he is described by Capote as a person which the reader and the people he lived with would idolise and respect.

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