The complexity of human nature revealed by tragedies is truly remarkable. This is a concept often associated with stories such as the novel In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The book, first published in 1965, is a non-fiction piece about the horrific murders of the Clutter family that took place in the small farm town of Holcomb, Kansas, during November of 1959. Written with a unique, journalistic flair, the story begins with the backstory of the slain Clutter family and the discovery of their demise. From that point on, Capote engages audiences with depthy characters, emotional backstories, brilliant use of syntax, methods of persuasion, diction, and figurative language and allows readers to discover the true motive behind the Clutter murders.
Examples of these can be found numerous times throughout the text. For example, in the earliest stage of the story, the author writes about how “the village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there”… The countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West… The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them”.
The story noticeably begins and ends with a description of the serene landscape. In this excerpt, the author speaks of “high wheat plains” and “the countryside with its hard blue skies and desert clear air”. Capote uses this kind of figurative language to depict Holcomb as a calm and tranquil place, which causes the audience to assume that it would be unlikely for anything horrific to happen there. This makes it even more disturbing when it does. Truman Capote also refers to Holcomb as being reminiscent of Ancient Greece, which eludes that the story within the town itself hold much larger significance than its charming outward appearance.
As the story begins to progress and the author familiarizes the audience with the people of Holcomb, he eerily describes the night that the Clutter family was killed, stating that “At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them — four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy recreating them over and again — those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.” After news broke of the Clutter Murders, Holcomb erupted into a confused chaos. The family had been loved by many and seen as nurturing, generous, and caring, even amongst people who didn’t know them well. Because so many people had questions surrounding the case, suspicions arose amongst Holcomb citizens.
The rumor that plagued them the most, however, was the speculation that the murderer (or murderers) was a citizen of Holcomb themselves. While this was later found to be dramatically far from the truth, it struck fear in the hearts of the townspeople, and turned a once warm and wholesome community into a crowd of distrustful families walking on eggshells. The dashes seen in this passage is a perfect example of how Capote uses syntax to dramatize the feel of these events. The prolonged clauses bring not only suspense but an added eeriness to the scene. Capote also uses words such as “somber explosions” “fires of mistrust” and “strangers” to reinforce that idea of isolation and fearfulness that grew upon the people of Holcomb.
Throughout the story, Capote transitions from hashing out the events taking place in Holcomb, to describing the events taking place in the lives of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock; the two men responsible for the murder of the Clutter Family. Perry Smith, a small but muscular, under-educated man was introduced to readers as “dreamers” of sorts. Richard Hickock was a strange-looking, lustful, and cocky man was introduced to the readers as impulsive. He was often motivated by greed and indulgences. As Capote speaks more about the two men’s plan following the murder of the Clutters, the audience learns a lot more about their backstories, and it becomes evident that Perry has had the saddest upbringing of the two men.
In chapter two, Perry talks about “What she used to do, she’d fill a tub with ice-cold water, put me in it, and hold me under till I was blue. Nearly drowned. But she got found out. Because I got pneumonia. I almost conked. I was in the hospital for two months. It was while I was so sick that Dad came back. When I got well, he took me away”. Here Capote was rehashing some of the traumatic events that had taken place during Perry’s childhood. The description of Perry’s traumatic experience with nuns in the Catholic church evoked feelings of sympathy from the audience and maybe even relatability to some. Regardless, it made the audience feel bad for Perry and to sympathize with how hard his life was.