English 3 AP/Dual
2 Dec. 2011
Nonfiction on a New Level
Crime and glimpses into the heads of criminal masterminds has always been something that fascinates people. Although crime is a terrible thing, the complexity and intricacy of it is something that people love to hear about. One can turn on the news at any given time and almost certainly hear an account of some form of a crime within ten minutes. In the novel In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, an account to a perplexing crime is taken to a whole new level. The Clutter family was a charming family of four that lived in the little town of Holcomb, Kansas. They were brutally murdered with no apparent motive by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, two men that had been inmates in jail. This story follows the authority’s attempt to unfold the mysteries of the unexpected murder, Dick and Perry’s journey across North America, and what eventually became of the criminals. Capote pieces the true story together in a way that created a whole new style of writing – the nonfiction novel. No one before Capote had ever attempted to tell the tale of a true story in a way that so effectively captivates the audience through unique use of various literary elements.
Detail is an element that Capote uses quite effectively throughout the novel. Whenever a new character is introduced, he makes the reader feel as if they knew that person personally. When Nancy Clutter, the 16 year old daughter of the Clutter family, is first introduced, the author describes her as “…a pretty girl, lean and boyishly agile, and the prettiest thing about her were her short-bobbed, shining chestnut hair…and her soap-polished complexion, still faintly freckled and rose-brown from last summer’s sun” (Capote 19). The author deliberately gives details about Nancy that make the reader like her. He intends for readers to feel sorry for the Clutters, therefore provides positive details about each of the characters that cause the reader to have the opinion that they did not deserve to be murdered. Capote describes Mrs. Clutter in a similar way to make the reader have pity on her. The author said that “…Mrs. Clutter, though unrelaxed herself, had a relaxing quality, as is generally true of defenseless persons who present no threat…Mrs. Clutter’s heart-shaped, missionary’s face, her look of helpless, homespun ethereality aroused protective compassion” (Capote 25). The author’s use of words such as “defenseless” and “helpless” appeal to the reader emotionally and make them feel sorry for her. Not only does Capote cause the reader express sympathy for the characters, but also makes them feel a personal connection with them by giving such a great amount of detail. He does the same with detail regarding the criminals, Dick and Perry, except he does it to give the reader a negative impression of them. When talking about Dick’s car crash, he said it “left his long-jawed and narrow face tilted, the left side rather lower than the right, with the results that the lips were slightly aslant, the nose askew…” (Capote 31). This description causes the reader to develop negative feelings towards Dick. He seems like a stereotypical criminal when paired with this description, and that is exactly what Capote intended. The author’s use of detail when introducing characters gives the reader the appropriate feeling towards the characters right from the start.
Another literary element that Capote uses to make his writing effective is imagery. He uses imagery to give the reader a clearer mental picture of what he is describing and make comparisons that give off the intended impression. For example, when describing Dick’s eyes, Capote says, “…his eyes not only situated at uneven levels but of uneven size, the left eye being truly serpentine, with a venomous, sickly-blue squint…” (Capote 31). This gives the reader not only a deeper understanding of Dick’s appearance, but also a glimpse of his personality. When Capote...