Monday, September 20, 2010

Blog 7: In Cold Blood

As Dick and Perry begin to confess their crimes and statements are made (the tapes or scripts presumably where Capote got his dialogue), the dialogue takes on a much bigger role.  There is much less vague referencing than in the first parts; the characters interact and the specific dialogue makes the scenes more intense.  Dick and Perry's exchanges/confessions about the murder and each of their feelings about what happened make the story more brutal and horrifying.

The scene by scene construction is especially evident in the retelling of the murder scene.  Over and over, the audience is readmitted to the site where the family is killed.  Each time, the reader sees the house as the characters see it: as home to the Clutters, as a scene of violence and horror to the girls, as a murder site for the men and detectives, as a scene of despair and hatred and conniving evil to the murderers.  Each time Capote describes the house and rooms, he reformats the appearance to show what stuck out to each character and what they felt (which could support the fiction aspect of this novel if the characters didn't tell him how they felt).

This could also tie into status details.  What each character noted in the scene makes obvious what most appealed to each character.  The murderers rarely note the blood or any detail that might tell of the violence and brutality of their crime.  Instead, Perry says he "aimed the gun.  The room just exploded.  Went blue.  Just blazed up.  Jesus, I'll never understand why they didn't hear the noise twenty miles around" (244).  Instead of worrying about blood and mess, Perry worried about how loud they were and getting caught.  More status details are mentioned in reference to the men's families.  The way each is described and how they relate to their families proves another interesting piece of status detail.  Perry's disgust with his father and sister is contrasted with the admiration that Dick feels towards his parents.  Yet Perry is the one that gets sappy over the moonlight and cries about nothing in particular, then admits to robbing an old woman and not feeling bad about it! (192-93).  The relation of these attributes makes the story more intriguing and twisted.

The structure of the narrative is novelistic.  Capote has two different stories running on two planes; while he tells each one horizontally, in an almost chronological way, they run towards each other like train tracks, eventually intersecting.  In that sense, Capote had to make each travel vertically so that they could reach each other.  There were several points that caught my attention in the novel as reportage.  "Part flu.  But mostly sheer excitement," he later informed a journalist" (216).  "And Dick, awake in a cell on the floor below, was (he later recalled) equally eager to converse with Perry... (227).  I feel that with this wording, Capote is trying to add fact to his writing but that makes me question the validity of the rest of his statements.  I have written in the book at certain points, 'how does he know?' and 'how would he know this?'  Especially on page 200, Capote somehow diverts into some theorizing of his own, "Envy was constantly with him; the Enemy was anyone who was someone he wanted to be or who had anything he wanted to have."  How could Capote deduce this?

Question: What aspects of Capote's writing make you question the truthfulness of his reports, if any?  Does anyone else struggle with some but not all of this being entirely truthful (and not sure which is which)?  At what points do you want to know if that's what 'really happened' or are there points that you feel must be fabricated?  Why?


  1. Rachel:
    I love this book, but I struggle with its truthfulness. There are just so many instances that Capote describes that couldn't possibly be the complete truth. As we discussed at the beginning of the term with Mitchell's "Up in the Old Hotel," how much detail and dialogue is too much? While I believe that Capote attempts to tell the most truthful version of events, I think it may be what Capote himself wants to make of the story. I feel the line between what happened and what Capote thinks/writes happened is completely blurred. I especially question his truthfulness when he describes exactly what the characters did, what they said, and how they felt. I feel he sometimes makes suppositions regarding their thoughts and feelings, which can make him seem assumptive and not entirely truthful. I do not think there is a definitive area where we can say "This is true" and "This is embellished." I think it is just a question that nags at the reader throughout the reading of this "nonfiction" novel.

  2. I believe the prolonged dialogue between Perry and Dick might be the only point to question truthfulness. In his interview with George Plimpton, Capote says that it's obvious how he was able to write dialogue in, say, the Clutter household that fateful day: there was always at least one witness. He also made a point that Dick had one of the best memories he had come across; however, their dialogue is plentiful, and I question exactly what was said in quotes for some portions. Capote also made the point in the Plimpton interview, when asked if the dog that Dick and Perry hit with the car was real, that why on earth (when he was trying to conduct a completely true, nonfiction narrative) would he make up little fabrications here and there.

  3. I trust in Capote's ability to recount events as they were told to him, but I sometimes doubt whether the subjects of In Cold Blood can accurately remember dialogue they had months, or even years, earlier. I'm sure Capote was also confronted with a common dilemma - the more a subject retells their story, the more it veers from reality. Those first to the Clutter scene had, undoubtedly, retold their stories dozens of times, to police, neighbors, family, and reporters. By the time Capote interviews them, it is impossible to say how accurate their versions are.

    Also, in some background research on Capote, I've read a few critics of Capote that said he willfully ignored an unpublicized romantic relationship between Dick and Perry. Interesting...