Rhetorical Analysis of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

The novel In Cold Blood, written by Truman Capote introduced a journalistic style of creative writing using antirealism. This experimental approach to factual reporting required years of gathering research through first hand interviews, analyzing court records, and personal evaluation. The novel was intended to convey the case of the Clutter family murders in a fictional way to highlight the themes of nurture vs. nature, the fallacy on the prospects of achieving the American dream, and criminality, while staying true to the events and mentality of the convicts. 

Although Capote was adamant in claiming that he didn’t directly fabricate or invent the facts in the novel, his perspective on the outcomes and dynamic of the case was made obvious through his organization of the text, selective detail,  and figurative and rhetorical choices; Capote chose to start the novel with an introduction to the Clutter family, the town of Holcomb, Kansas, and the residents first hand accounts of the murder. He painted Holcomb as town of innocence, where the residents maintained a strong work ethic to achieve success. In the midst of these hardworking townspeople, Herb Clutter, was a paragon of the so called American dream, and Capote described him as a man who was “certain of what he wanted from the world”. Mr. Clutter’s credibility was built by his encounters with community members such as Mrs. Ashida, who Capote intentionally used to portray the picture perfect Clutter family under the “fearless” and self assured Mr. Clutter, who could “talk [his] way out of” any situation. The foreshadowing of Mr. Clutter being able to defend himself against anything was chilling the readers, knowing that in the end, he was murdered in cold blood. To contrast Mr. Clutter’s success, and challenge the ideals of the American Dream, Capote used Bonnie Clutter, Mr. Clutter’s wife, who suffered from depression, and displayed the dysfunctional marital relationship by stating that Mr. Clutter “wore a plain gold band, which was the symbol… of his marriage to the person he had wished to marry”. This served to outline the fact that he had achieved everything in respect to wealth and status, but failed to uphold a meaningful and true marriage. 

In regards to the murder scene itself, Capote strictly relies on the first-hand accounts of both the people who witnessed the gore of the scene, as well as the people who found out by word of mouth. This was imperative to establishing the journalistic style, as there was no input of emotion into this section, forcing readers to form their own opinions on the Clutters, with no insight into the murders. In his interview with George Plimpton, Capote reveals that the part of the story in which the Clutters were found dead was a “word for word” narration given by the school teachers who were at the sight. Following this however, he admits to making slight edits to the narration, which furthers the notion that he might have manipulated details throughout the course of the novel. After the narration of the murder scene, Capote’s rhetoric became more evident in his descriptions of the convicts habits, childhoods, and traits. Starting with Dick, whose essence was captured by his pedophilia, apathy towards killing, and cowardice tendencies. Capote did not offer a complete analysis of Dicks upbringing, nor did he mention any adversities in Dick’s life, other than the fact that he had served time in prison. Instead, Capote characterized Dick based on his current actions and mannerisms. When offering Perry’s point of view of Dick, it was said that he would spend any money he received “right away on vodka and women”. The insight given by Perry makes Dick seem irresponsible, as opposed to insane. Spending one’s money on partying directly correlates with immorality, which doesn’t necessarily equate to a mental disorder, but rather a character flaw. Capote seemed to delve deep into the mind of Perry however, and offered more quotes from him that would sway the reader into sympathizing with his character. For example, after committing such a vile crime, Perry remarks how it “was painful to imagine that one might be not just right”, and “if whatever was wrong was not your own fault but maybe a thing you were born with.'' From this, Capote builds on his stance that Perry’s traumatic experiences in life resulted in this one hateful act of murder, which could have been prevented, while Dick, as Capote states in his interview “had a very natural criminal instinct towards everything”.  

The recurring emotional appeal in the novel revolves around the stark differences between Perry and Dick’s upbringing. Dick was portrayed as an ordinary boy with a loving family, who, as his mother put it, was “always the star player” in basketball who graduated from highschool and planned to “study to be an engineer” in college. Dick’s family’s description of him conveys normalcy in his life, implying that any flaws that Dick possessed were as a result of his nature. This directly juxtaposes with Perry’s traumatic past, from his mother and father separating, his abuse from the nuns, humiliation, his brother commiting suicide, and his falling out with the only family member he loved, which was his father. In addition to the hardships he battled, he resented his ignorance as a result of not having the opportunity to attend highschool, or college. Capote gives the reader a first hand look into these events by including the biography Perry’s father wrote about him titled “A History into My Boy’s Life”. In the document Perry was described as “touchy” with his feelings being “easily hurt”, indicating his childlike tendencies, which would become a repeated topic in the novel. These tendencies are depicted in multiple occasions, such as when Dick and Perry had picked up a sick grandfather and his grandson on their way to Galveston. While Dick was driving, he noticed that the old man was sick, and could potentially die in the car. Dick, eager to evade that situation proposed the idea of leaving them stranded, to which Perry replies “‘Go ahead. Put them out. But I’ll be getting out, too,”. In another case Detective Al Dewey, who attended the hanging of both convicts recounted Perry’s lifeless body by saying that he say his “same childish feet, tilted, and dangled”. This description fulfilled the function of evoking a sense of pity and sadness around the death of Perry, insinuating that he was undeserving of the death penalty. Other traits of Perry that exude adolescence include his bed-wetting and his complete transparency of his faults. 

The childlike spirit of Perry was a focal point in influencing the readers to view him as a character of innocence, and ultimately acted as an excuse for his actions. As seen in both the interview and the novel, Capote truly believed Perry to be a moralist, despite the fact that he was the killer of all four Clutters. Though Perry was completely against Dick’s pedophilic behavior towards young girls, oftentimes he didn’t try to stop Dick in his course of action. For instance, when Dick smiled and winked at a young girl at the beach, and then proceeded to grab her hand, Perry witnessed the entire thing, but failed to interfere. In his fear of Dick, and what he would think of him, Perry merely resorted to expressing how he had “no respect for people who can’t control themselves sexually”. This statement alone, portrays Perry as the lesser of the two evils, which was something that a reader subconsciously yearns for. Capote poses a conflicting message when he discloses that Perry told Dick to leave Nancy alone, since Dick has been planning to rape her for weeks before they executed the killings. This forces the reader to see Perry in the light of a hero, since he essentially divulged that matters could’ve been worse if it weren’t for him. The order of which Capote chose to present the events and information also helped Perry’s image, as he made sure to establish Perry’s role in helping the case before revealing that he was, in fact, the sole murderer. The importance of this deliberate sequencing is that before getting to know the harsh reality of Perry’s single handed deeds of evil, the reader would have already accepted him to be the protagonist of the novel. 

During Dick and Perry’s psychiatric evaluations, which were performed by Dr. Jones who was the appointed doctor in the trial to assess whether the mental health of the convicts played a role in their crimes. Capote made sure to assert that Dick was “above average intelligence” and that he seemed to be “in good contact with reality”. These findings undermined any of Dick’s mental issues or “severe character disorder” that Dr. Jones had diagnosed. This insight was an example of Capote pushing his own narrative into the text, as the assessment was not actually reported in the trial, rather it was an additive that would act as another reason that Dick was far from innocent. Parallel to this was Capote’s mention of the article “Murder without Apparent Motive- A Study in Personality Disorganization”, as it explained the distinction between the sane and insane muderers, indicating that Perry fit the ‘insane’ mold, which entailed “primitive violence, born out of previous, and now unconscious, traumatic experiences. Capote addressed this in the interview when he said that Perry’s “life was a constant accumulation of disillusionments and reverses” and that on the night that the murders took place “he found himself in a psychological cul-de-sac”. The correlation between Capote’s personal beliefs and the selected information fed to the readers in the novel is clear cut. 

All in all, Truman Capote utilized a tone of contrast and juxtaposition between Dick and Perry to help shape the opinion of characters within the audience. As he admitted in the interview, he had “often thought of a book as being something reduced to a seed”, which is definitely a quality that this book possessed. 

16 December 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now