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Truman Capote had an extraordinary career and has remained one of America’s most controversial authors, combining literary genius with a penchant for the world of high society. Though he wrote only a handful of books, his style of writing was impeccable, and his knowledge in human psychology was impeccable, which is what he studied most. “Truman was a native of in New Orleans born in 1924.”(Truman,1) Capote was abandoned by his mother and raised by his elderly aunts and cousins in Monroeville, Alabama. “As a child he lived a solitary and lonely existence, turning to writing for the freedom of his own lonely mind”.(PBS.com)
In young teens ,Truman was sent to New York to live with his mother. Truman at the age of seventeen didn’t enjoy the city life Truman dropped out of school when he was seventeen and got a job at The New Yorker Magazine. (Biography.com)
“Truman’s early literary success came with social celebrity status. The young writer was lionized by the high society elite, and was seen at the best parties, clubs, and restaurants. He answered accusations of frivolousness by claiming he was researching a future book”. Truman wanted to change the way journalism was viewed and “revolutionize” the way journalism was being written. (PBS.com)
In 1959, Truman “set out to creating a new literary genre in writing a non-fiction novel”.(Biography.com) In Cold Blood which was initially published in 1966, this is a story of the quadruple murder of the Kansas Family, the Clutters. The story is considered a true crime story as the events in the story that took place, were documented by Truman and he takes no credit for the information he put within his book. In the very first page of the book he states “All the material in this book not derived from my own observation is either taken from official records or is the result of interviews with persons directly concerned, more often than not numerous interviews conducted over a considerable period of time.”(Truman,9)While Capote left to go to Holcomb, Kansas, both men were caught by authorities and that was when Truman could have in depth questioning with the two. “For six years, he became enmeshed in the lives of both the killers and the townspeople, taking thousands of pages of notes”.(Truman, 9) Of in Cold Blood, Capote said, “This book was an important event for me”.(Truman,10) While writing it, he realized he just might have found a solution to what had always been a mixture of a new novel to come forth. He wanted to produce “a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility and the depth and freedom of his writing style, and the precision of poetry.”(Truman,11) In Cold Blood sold out instantly, as this was a new type of journalism that Truman was able to capture into a book, by following the story through and through. A finished story of journalism and not what most call a “developing story”, but rather a full thought and picture that is being displayed/published.
Truman died in 1984, age fifty – nine. He had been working on other books at the time, in which he never finished. Many people were upset about this fact. (Biography.com) Truman did not want to leave a bad legacy and he set out on leaving himself as a part of history, and sure enough he did.
“Many felt that Capote did not live up to the promise of his early work, it is clear from what he did write that he was an artist of great talent and vision.” (The New Yorker). Within the stories he wrote, Truman focused on fiction novels, and shifted gears to non-fiction, in his later years with this book, In Cold Blood.
The book In Cold Blood, comes many parts of the story. This book goes into extensive lengths of the murder of the farming family in the town of Holcomb. The unlucky family that were the victims to this crime were the Clutter family, residents of Holcomb Kansas. This is a very interesting story without a doubt and a true story that took place and Truman followed the story for six years, which he talked about in the beginning of his true crime novel.(Truman 10) This story continued to develop and was not published until the story came to a close, which is something very admirable in great journalism.
When Capote learned of the murder of four members of the family before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. The killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were arrested six weeks after the murders and later executed by the state of Kansas.
In Cold Blood has been recognized for its extensive detail. The summary of the book is ambiguous with its’ extensive in that the detail Truman uses is almost never ending and can be interpreted in many different ways. In that the language used by Truman, not the cold- hard facts in the true- crime story.
The novel tells the story of the murder of the Clutter family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Clutter and the two young children who still lived in the family home, Nancy and Kenyon. The family was living in Holcomb, Kansas, in Finney county, as farming family that made a living off farming, baking pies and helping the community with various needs. While in that same time, Richard told Floyd Wells he was going to rob the family and Floyd did not believe he would go through with this. They were very well known within their community, and posed to be the “least likely” to be killed. (Truman 45)
On November 14th,1959 Richard and Perry were using a vehicle to get together the items, that they planned on using to kill the clutter family, such as rope and tape. The family was discovered bound by rope and tape and shot to death, with only small items missing from the home. After they are discovered dead their friend Nancy, opened the investigation for the murder of this family. The funeral followed on November 17th, 1959 for the family, just two days after the family was murdered. (Truman 112)
Perry and Richard get away with the murder, until later in the story they are captured. Truman is intently trying to find the motive in which Perry and Richard have in this murder. Perry and Richard both came up in stressful and unsustainable homes, which Truman believed to have made connections from both Perry and Richards’s childhood as to their motive.
The townspeople of Holcomb and other friends of the Clutters are deeply affected by the murders. The people of Holcomb grow weary and have a hard time understanding and conceiving that the killers were strangers, many of them become suspicious of everyone and anxious about their own safety in the company of their neighbors. Everyone in the town, begin by changing the locks on their doors throughout their homes. The man who heads the murder investigation, Al Dewey, Nancy boyfriend, becomes obsessed with both the murderers and the Clutter family. His need to find the killers becomes his “driving force in life”.
While anxiety in Holcomb, Kansas grows, both Perry and Richard are able to escape into the sun set, so they think, but eventually caught. “They are arrested due to writing passing checks and both confess to their part in the crime.” (Truman, 242) Perry and Richard are caught in Las Vegas, Nevada, on December 30th, 1959.The first one to confess to this crime is Richard Hickock followed by Perry, they are tried for murder and “convicted on November 29th, 1960 by a jury of 12 men”.(Truman, 275)Perry and Richard both spent many years on death row, and try to appeal the initial verdict, but were denied a new trial each time. Both men were hanged, in a warehouse that was decrepit and foul on the fateful night of April 15th, 1965. During Richard’s time on death row, as most killers, comes out and tells Truman of that fateful night and what his thought process was when he entered the farmstead home. Richard had not a clue of who the Clutter family was, and during Perry’s stent in jail, up until he was hanged, did not speak much on the subject of the murders, like Richard did so openly.
The culture relevance in this is dominant, especially in today’s society of random mass murders with a motive, that wouldn’t otherwise be a “motive”, unless it was for the plea of insanity, or divide among cultures and ethnicities. The piece reflects how abnormal these random murderous acts were within the society back then and how the people of Holcomb were paranoid, in that, trusting no one. The society from back than compared to now is quite very different, night and day, but people’s mind set never change. These acts will, undoability be a part of society, no matter where you may be there is evil everywhere. When this piece was in the process of being written in 1959, I know these acts were few and far in between. This is why it wrecked the town of Holcomb and had them on the look-out for other heinous acts that might take place. The relevance from this true story to now is something that is vastly seen today, rather than it would have been back then. The story showed that Truman studied the psychological mind set of the killers and how they acted. Mental illness was mentioned in the story which is relevant to any culture society and will always be an issue with the community. Back in these times that the story was set, people with mental issues were instantly thrown into insane asylum’s, and now a days we deal with mental illnesses as a whole society, not singling any one individual out. Another culture relevance to be noted as being maybe a lack of morale and God, what this country was founded on, in these men’s life that engaged in these heinous acts of murder. The community was Christian and this is what caused people to trust all those around them in like faith. This book reflects the kind of world the people in this time period rarely experienced, but now that it occurs much more in today’s time, it is “normal” rather than it would have been back then. The culture when this book was written was very whole some and a time of togetherness, without division. This culture in this time period had structure and had rules within their home and schools. An example would be being able to go to a neighbor’s house and request of an egg while in the middle of baking a cake. In today’s times that is much less common and which no one is comfortable leaving their doors unlocked and always on the watch for something to go wrong. In this time period a home owner would be able to feel comfortable with leaving the front door open and not thinking twice about it. American society had evolved as a whole which helped with the togetherness attitude that they had in this era. Everyone in this era believed in the best of everyone even complete strangers, much different from society today.
An intriguing theme to this novel was the loss of innocence and undermining the American dream of which everyone came to America for, in safety and freedom. The Clutter killings are a turning point for the citizens of Holcomb and Garden City: for the first time, the dangerous wider world seems to threaten their peaceful existence, and their former innocence gives way to feelings of doubt, fear and suspicion. According to Capote, it is the first time the citizens of this part of Kansas have had to endure the “unique experience of distrusting each other” (Truman,88). Their version of the American dream which included safety, security, and the ability to determine their own fate becomes uncontrollable if not entirely thwarted, by the victimization of the Clutters.
Their view of the world must suddenly include another kind of person, a murderer for which the town of Holcomb never dream was an option in the first place. As these towns’ people lived here for so long, problem free it seemed, this wrecked the town and their perspective of what they thought life was. They had lived in a bubble for so long with the attitude of, “Oh no this could never happen to here”, and were completely blind-sided in the wake of this quadruple murder of the Clutter family. The bubble in which the town of Holcomb lived in had been “popped” and they had to put together the pieces to adjust to their new reality, in facing the true evil of the world, when it came about. The people in the town were on edge at every corner and accusing everyone of murdering the Clutter’s as all trust was lost after this murder of this family. The vision of safety and security in the town was annihilated and had a ripple effect within the area. The town had no choice, but to stick to themselves until they felt they could trust again. The trust was shattered in every way and had placed paranoia in the minds of the towns’ people.
This theme is pertinent, in even today’s world and all that goes into the trust of a community. The innocence and safety and security factor had to be re – thought, which seems to be something as a whole society and world do when these un foreseeable events occur. The community had to come together to bound together and become stronger in the dark of this time, which was the only way people would gain the bubble they dreamed up for years back. This bubble can be extremely dangerous, given the way people lived and thought throughout this time. The “it can’t happen here” attitude is not an attitude to have, and that is what the people of Holcomb possessed.
I appreciated this work by Truman, and unequivocally takes the number one spot of every literary piece we read in this class and a story that is told, unlike any other true crime novel I have read/watched on the tv. Personally, I am a reader of non- fiction books rather than a fiction novel or book. I like to read about past events or current events that are happening in today’s society. As I was researching which book, I wanted to read, off the list of books we could read, this one captivated my mind and heart. I knew I would give my all to this if I did something that enticed me, as this did, so much so I am telling everyone about this story. The thing I would like to highlight is that the book was not published till everything was said and done. I really enjoyed that aspect of the journalism and creative ways Truman put together this book. This book reminded me of a news story that lasted so many days in a row, but in one read. This was not a developing story, but from beginning to end had focus on what he wanted to make this book about. He wanted to have a concluding story rather than creating a story that is still in the works solely about the murders, I admired that about the story. I like in which the time period was set and how the people of this time thought much different from the way, society trains us to think now. This book brought me back to a wholesome time, I wished I had lived, visualizing the story throughout in my head. In my opinion this was a well thought out book and an admirable, yet horrific piece of literature. I believe that Truman was trying to portray, evil can come anywhere and this bubble each community tends to live in can be taken away in an instant. Truman illustrated and wrote this story in a way; I can’t recall I have ever read in such detail within a non-fiction book. An absolute must read for those into murder mysteries and true events that took place!
- Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences. Modern Library, 2013.
- E, A &. “Truman Capote.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 20 July 2019, www.biography.com/writer/truman-capote.
- Shucster, Simon. “Truman Capote Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography, www.notablebiographies.com/Ca-Ch/Capote-Truman.html.
- Capote, Truman. “In Cold Blood: The Last to See Them Alive.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 28 June 2017, www.newyorker.com/magazine/1965/09/25/in-cold-blood-the-last-to-see-them-alive.
- “In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.” Goodreads, Goodreads, 1 Jan. 1994, www.goodreads.com/book/show/168642.In_Cold_Blood.
- “Truman Capote.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 13 Aug. 2015, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/truman-capote-about-the-author/58/.
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