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IN COLD BLOOD Truman Capote Chris Scholten Plausible interpretation which grows out of the passages – the wall-sized sheet of paper.

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Presentation on theme: "IN COLD BLOOD Truman Capote Chris Scholten Plausible interpretation which grows out of the passages – the wall-sized sheet of paper."— Presentation transcript:

1 IN COLD BLOOD Truman Capote Chris Scholten Plausible interpretation which grows out of the passages – the wall-sized sheet of paper What I did to create this presentation For the haters, sorry about the Comic Sans

2 IT SERVICES 2 The problem is NOT that life doesn’t conform to a fictional pattern; all thinking people know this. The problem is that too many people think that it should, and it is their reactions to situations where things don’t go the way they want them to which are so dangerous. Be afraid of a community which prefers to judge based on ‘ten dollars a life’ than acknowledge the human tragedy of everyone concerned, including the perpetrators Chris Scholten

3 © 2009 Haileybury ‘The point of the book would seem to be almost existential: the terrible confrontation between the illusions by which we invest our lives with order, meaning, and security as a defense against reality, and the prowling reality which is ever ready to strip us of our defenses and reveal its true violent and incomprehensible nature.’ Robert Levine Dewey says the ‘confessions.. failed to satisfy his sense of meaningful design ’ Cullivan ‘could scarcely credit so detached an attitude.. it was not possible for a man to be that devoid of conscience or compassion’ – but people were dancing in the streets after Hiroshima and Nagasaki It makes us ask Waheed Ali’s question about acceptable grief THERE ARE NO ANSWERS -even the Reverend Post can only cite Doc Savage’s lobotomy-style solution as a way out OPENING THOUGHTS Chris Scholten

4 Who are the real antagonists/devils? The postmistress Mrs Clare uses the same word ‘varmints’ to describe the killers and the people gossiping about them in Hartman’s Cafe Us? – we give money to Salvation Army who abused and humiliated Perry Fear? Xenophobia? Conservatism? Marginalisation? OPENING THOUGHTS Chris Scholten

5 5 © 2009 Haileybury Complacency? – Willie Jay ‘it’s easy to stand in the rain when you’re wearing a raincoat’ Superstition? Prejudice? People want the case to be solved without necessarily getting it right – man in Hartman’s café OR – are Perry and Hickock just total nutjobs? (1960s reading) OR – does this previous statement reveal prejudice? Isn’t this what the novel is about – our inability to accept others who don’t fit into the boxes we want them to fit into? OPENING THOUGHTS Chris Scholten

6 © 2009 Haileybury Logan Green, during cross-examination: ‘you mean that after 1950 he became a good boy?’ The legalistic black-and-white of Green highlights the way most people want to see the world – Hickock a comic book villain; Smith the underprivileged, uneducated ethnic minority M’Naghten Rule about sanity – ‘ancient British importation which contends that if the accused knew the nature of his act, and knew it was wrong, then he is mentally competent and responsible for his actions’ Does this ‘ancient British importation’ cover the full range of psychological understanding? Note the M’Naghten Rule was deliberately exploited by the prosecution The irony as pointed out by Dr Jones is that the very fact that Hickock and Smith knew what they were doing and did it anyway is evidence of their ‘emotional abnormality’, a direct contradiction of the M’Naghten Rule OPENING THOUGHTS Chris Scholten

7 © 2009 Haileybury Each barrister can find a Biblical precedent to justify whether to kill the killers or not – any time a text is used, no matter how sacred, it is open to interpretation when applied to a new situation, and cannot be considered reliable OPENING THOUGHTS Chris Scholten

8 © 2009 Haileybury Being an author is like being a detective: you have to be selective, you have to use inductive reasoning and deal with neat ‘types’ rather than chaotic, messy reality The role of the law is, unfortunately, more akin to the author’s/detective’s role than that of the realist WHAT DOES CAPOTE INCLUDE AND LEAVE OUT? Chris Scholten

9 The crime itself The testimony about the proposed rape – Perry says it’s dirty ‘The process of selection’ is ‘a creative act’ (Langbaum) How are we meant to feel about Dewey’s obsession with the case? Every possible detail of Perry’s grotesqueness is included – both from the narratorial perspective and the characters’ – ‘his legs were so short that his feet, as small as a child’s, couldn’t quite make the floor’ – deliberately contrasted with ‘the suspect’s pretty sister’ in Nye’s internal monologue; even after his neck is broken Dewey’s internal monologue declares him a ‘dwarfish boy- man’ © 2009 Haileybury WHAT DOES CAPOTE INCLUDE AND LEAVE OUT? Chris Scholten

10 © 2009 Haileybury ‘ Time after time, the reader, like the characters, is brought back to reality and the terrible facts are rehearsed again as if they might yield a new meaning. The confrontation with extreme experience becomes ours as much as theirs. True awareness begins with the realization that the characters in this drama are not merely real people but, more significantly, human beings. When, at the end of the book, the tables are turned and the murderers become themselves victims of a cold-blooded execution, we too are led to re-examine the myths we have set up to block out their real humanity.’ Levine WHAT DOES CAPOTE INCLUDE AND LEAVE OUT? Chris Scholten

11 © 2009 Haileybury The hypothetical psychological reports of Dr Jones on Hickock and Smith are deliberately put in in great detail to demonstrate the inadequacy of the M’Naghten Rule In contrast, the colourful language of Logan Green – ‘chicken-hearted jurors’ Animal similes: ‘slaughtered like hogs in a pen’ (Green) People jumping round like a ‘sackful of sick cats’ about Herb Clutter (Mrs Hartman) ‘all the neighbours are rattlesnakes’ – Postmistress Clare Varmints ‘”I didn’t know [Smith] was such a shrimp. “Yeah, he’s little. But so is a tarantula.”’ WHAT DOES CAPOTE INCLUDE AND LEAVE OUT? Chris Scholten

12 on animal similes … Capote makes explicit connection between criminals and Perry: Perry Smith compares himself with the cats hunting dead birds caught in the vehicles’ engine grilles – ‘most of my life I’ve been doing what they’re doing. The equivalent’ Creeger: ‘in denominating the criminal an animal, the community effectively separates him (sic) from its own conscious self-image’ Then the idea that violence is being done to humans is ‘violently repressed’, as the punished are ‘animals in exile’ – this allows the community to congratulate itself and return to a feeling of security Chris Scholten

13 Why Perry (mostly) not Dick – cf alcoholism not womanising in Hawke’s biography by Blanche d’Alpuget – Robert Ryley describes the absence of Dick as the great failure of the book: ‘Because he [Perry] reveals his dreams, his waking fantasies, his fears and hatreds, he takes on a weight and a solidity in our imaginations that Dick does not.’ Ryley argues that the danger of Capote’s plentiful use of the characters’ internal monologue is that we never learn about Dick, because he didn’t share things in interviews like Perry did PERRY NOT DICK WHAT DOES CAPOTE INCLUDE AND LEAVE OUT? Harper Lee: whenever Capote looked at Perry he saw his own childhood of disaffection and rejection Chris Scholten

14 IT SERVICES © 2009 Haileybury ‘Both in matter and manner - note the vulgar, fragmented, generalized language of Dick's thoughts, the formal, rhythmically structured, imagistic language of Perry's - these passages suggest not only that Dick is less sensitive and imaginative than Perry, but that he is scarcely capable of thinking and feeling at all.’ Robert Ryley DICK: He was annoyed. Annoyed as hell. Why the hell couldn't Perry shut up? Christ Jesus, what damn good did it do, always dragging the goddam thing up? It really was annoying. Especially since they'd agreed, sort of, not to talk about the goddam thing. Just forget it. PERRY: He agreed with Dick: Why go on talking about it? But he could not always stop himself. Spells of helplessness occurred, moments when he "remembered things“ - blue light exploding in a black room, the glass eyes of a big toy bear - and when voices, a particular few words, started nagging his mind: "Oh, no! Oh, please! No! No! No! No! Don't! Oh, please don't, please!" And certain sounds re turned ? a silver dollar rolling across a floor, boot steps on hardwood stairs, and the sounds of breathing, the gasps, the hysterical inhalations of a man with a severed windpipe. Yet the fact Dick thinks he is a ‘normal’ indicates he must be psychologically interesting as well Does Capote assume Dick doesn’t think or care about the murder because he hasn’t talked about it? (Ryley) PERRY NOT DICK Chris Scholten

15 WHAT DOES CAPOTE INCLUDE AND LEAVE OUT? Wrong assumptions – about the criminals knowing the victims The Hickocks assuming Perry talked Dick into passing bad checks – the Caligula syndrome The woman in the boarding house saying Perry is ‘just a punk’ – ‘I never saw the man yet I couldn’t gauge his shoe size’ Chris Scholten

16 Capote has said that ‘at and truth are not necessarily compatible bedfellows’ and art cannot be written about something totally negative – this is an Aristotelian view What is Capote’s obligation (if any) to the truth? (cf Helen Demidenko) Gasset: ‘The novel is the only literary form that does not want to look like a literary form – that wants to look like a bundle of letters, a journal, an autobiography, like life itself’ It is interesting that Capote never refers to his own role as interviewer within the book. WHAT ARE OUR EXPECTATIONS OF A ‘TRUE CRIME’ NOVEL? Chris Scholten

17 17 © 2009 Haileybury Langbaum: ‘Many people think, when they hear a book is ‘true’, that the facts wrote it, and anyone given the same facts would come up with the same book’ – it is interesting to note that Capote did not use a tape recorder during his five years of research but practised memorising conversations until he could record them in his notes with about 95% accuracy (Ryley) Considering we know the outcome, what do we want from the book - the ‘mystery’ becomes how they got caught – climax is court case and denouement is execution WHAT ARE OUR EXPECTATIONS OF A ‘TRUE CRIME’ NOVEL? Chris Scholten

18 © 2009 Haileybury ‘One of the reasons I've wanted to do reportage was to prove that I could apply my style to the realities of journalism. But I believe my fictional method is equally detached - emotionality makes me lose writing control: I have to exhaust the emotion before I feel clinical enough to analyze and project it, and as far as I'm concerned that's one of the laws of achieving true technique. If my fiction seems more personal it is because it depends on the artist's most personal and revealing area: his imagination.’ (Capote) Capote comes to realise that writing fiction and nonfiction are, in fact, not different processes at all: We are unable to empathise with the detectives (and maybe the criminals) because we already know what happened – sympathy not empathy WHAT ARE OUR EXPECTATIONS OF A ‘TRUE CRIME’ NOVEL? Chris Scholten

19 © 2009 Haileybury ‘Capote dramatizes the confrontation between ordinary people and extreme experience. The victims are a God-fearing family which epitomizes the best in the conventional ideals of middle class, Middle Western America; the criminals, representing all that is brilliantly, poisonously sick in contemporary culture, come as black angelic avengers to violate the insularity of this comfortably old- fashioned world. The situation is a paradigm for contemporary literature.. the avant garde clashes between hip and square. INTERTEXTUALITY Robert Devine points out that although In Cold Blood is nonfiction, the content could come from the world of fiction: Capote ‘Miriam’, ‘A Tree of Night’ O’Connor ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ Bellow ‘The Victim’ Genet ‘The Balcony’ So what is the difference? Is there a difference? Chris Scholten

20 © 2009 Haileybury WHAT ARE OUR EXPECTATIONS OF A ‘TRUE CRIME’ NOVEL? Courtroom drama cf TKAM: the theatricality of the courtroom leaves a bitter taste in the mouth – people come to watch Green’s final address to the jury – the ‘last act Our attitude to ‘true stories’ (and our justice system) is coloured by the mistaken belief that the past is knowable – only two people ‘know’ what happened that night and their perceptions are of course clouded by the inevitable narrativisation of memory Capote himself said his novel was the culmination of his fictional career – he is not doing anything different just because the event is true Once something has happened it becomes a story – subject to selection, bias, and the fallibility of memory – the concept of the ‘truth’ of the past is paradoxical Langbaum – tie between journalism and novels goes back to Defoe Chris Scholten

21 21 © 2009 Haileybury De Bellis suggests that Capote’s mission, to present the ‘poetic altitude fiction is capable of reaching’ meant that the subject matter was largely irrelevant – and it led him to neglect some of the ‘persuasiveness of fact’ CAPOTE’S PURPOSE Chris Scholten

22 If there was ever a crime deserving of capital punishment this was it – no ambiguity – De Quincey said writers turn crime into high literature by focusing on the criminals (cf Macbeth) – the crime described by Paul Levine as ‘grotesque and gratuitous’; Logan Green says ‘if ever there was a case in which the maximum penalty was justified, this is it’ His challenge is to achieve closure – the ‘human need to rationalise experience’ (Langbaum) IT SERVICES CAPOTE’S PURPOSE Chris Scholten

23 IT SERVICES 23 How can he achieve Aristotelian unity out of something so utterly negative Real life can be random and chaotic – fiction needs to be orderly and systematic – the tragedy needs a beginning and end where in fact there is none. Langbaum: Capote’s vision of American life is ‘an apparently placid surface shot through by sporadic eruptions of violence’ How do we feel about Capote’s desire to create a new serious form - ‘the Non-Fiction Novel’? - is he cashing in on the tragedy? Chris Scholten

24 IT SERVICES © 2009 Haileybury The intention to humanise the criminals can be seen in the parallelism of characters Herb Clutter and Tex Smith – loners who cannot fully love or be loved – Bonnie is afraid of her husband – both beget killers, although Kenyon died before his murdering could become more anti-social than hunting (Creeger) Lowell Lee is an alter ego figure for Kenyon – Perry doesn’t drink tea or coffee ‘like Mr Clutter’ – Kenyon and Nancy had ‘made a paint-splattered attempt to deprive [the room where Kenyon was murdered] of its natural dourness’ these connections ‘remind us that no absolute demarcation exists between the world of Perry and Dick and that of the Clutters – or of any other good bourgeois citizens’ CAPOTE’S PURPOSE Chris Scholten

25 3 rd person omniscient – cf Jane Austen – ‘himself as omniscient and invisible author’ (Langbaum) – jumps from one perspective to another Creeger: ‘a calculated, perhaps even naïve, alternation of chapters’ between the Clutters and their killers IT SERVICES © 2009 Haileybury CAPOTE’S STYLE Chris Scholten

26 IT SERVICES © 2009 Haileybury Langbaum: Capote wanted to call attention to the artfulness of his book A ‘hallucinated fatefulness through repeated references to the black Chevrolet that carries the murderers inexorably to their victims – although the murderers start hundreds of miles from their victims and with no apparent connection to them’ Characterisation: Capote depicts his murderers as deformed and stunted ‘with exquisite precision’ (Langbaum) – and yet both are deformed due to accidents – compare the wistful, heterosexual simile ‘like two dudes going on a double date’ CAPOTE’S STYLE Chris Scholten

27 IT SERVICES and yet his respectable characters are cliched and shallow because they do not interest him – although Nancy asking Dick why he robs people is at once ludicrous and heart-rending The Catholic Don Cullinan appears as the mysterious stranger who could elicit some kind of remorse from Perry, but Perry isn’t remorseful – he remains enigmatic to the end – thus from the novelist perspective this is a failure Bonnie is less capable of living life than either of the killers – on both sides the stereotypes are subtly resisted CAPOTE’S STYLE Chris Scholten

28 IT SERVICES 28 Note the naming of Bobo/Barbara/Mrs Johnson according to how she feels about Perry (who is often called by his first name especially at the start of the book) Her house has a white picket fence around it and, like Herb, her version of the American Dream excludes the people who should be most important to her Chris Scholten CAPOTE’S STYLE

29 29 © 2009 Haileybury Capote defamiliarises the killers by calling them Hickock and Smith, especially after the trial CAPOTE’S STYLE Chris Scholten

30 IT SERVICES © 2009 Haileybury Use of dialogue and interior monologues (cf Herodotus and speeches) The sections often open with a new perspective like a dark parody of an Austen novel His characterisation of the Clutters, according to Creeger, makes them so respectable that they almost possess the representative power of figures in an Aristotelian definition of tragedy CAPOTE’S STYLE Chris Scholten

31 © 2009 Haileybury ‘The characterization of Perry [is] the triumph of this book. For Perry is irresistibly attractive, with his talent for music and drawing, his fine feeling for words, his gentleness - he prevented Dick from raping the Clutter daughter and made the Clutters as comfortable as he could after he tied them up. Yet he is not sentimentalized; for the gentleness makes the murderousness all the zanier. We are never allowed to forget that he is a child-man, a freak.’ Langbaum Characterisation of ‘ghost-like’ Bonnie achieves poetic altitude (Langbaum) Herb’s Eden is outside her window but she cannot enjoy it – her experience of Herb’sAmerican Dream is not a happy one Capote himself admitted that he identified with Perry to a great degree Chris Scholten CAPOTE’S STYLE

32 Senselessness, ‘nullity of it all that fascinates’ (Langbaum) – perhaps the main message is simply that we just don’t understand other people, and no matter how hard we try we never will – Capote restrains himself from theorising about the meaning of the story (Ryley) – ‘any explanatory formula is likely to seem irrelevant’ But senseless nullity does not only exist in criminals: consider the futility of hospitalising and force-feeding a hunger-striking prisoner who is going to be hanged ‘The book’s meaning lies closer to the moral texture of more conventional fiction’ (Levine) We make monsters – monsters don’t make themselves The reaction to the murders show us the ugliness which was always there LOSS OF INNOCENCE (cf Beaumont children) = LOSS OF IGNORANCE – until the point of their actual death, the Clutters were not equipped to deal with the existence of evil (Langbaum) We build our happiness on the suffering of others © 2009 Haileybury THEMES

33 © 2009 Haileybury Mrs Hashida points out that Herb (unwittingly) suffers from a failure of imagination in that he never fears anything;’ this is a failure which, according to Creeger, he ‘shares with the community at large, whose members, no more than he, can believe in murderous violence as a fact relevant to themselves’ The spectators look away when Mrs Hickock is crying – Mrs Meier doesn’t know what to say to Mrs Hickock when she writes to her after the trial – People are only interested in tears and pain and suffering and violence when they can consume it without having to be personally involved, like in the newspaper or the courtroom THEMES

34 © 2009 Haileybury Deliberate blurring of boundaries between sanity and insanity – cf Iago The symbolism of the woman in the prison who had fed Perry turning on the radio so she couldn’t hear him crying Note prison euphemisms like ‘Grads’, ‘the corner’, ‘paid a visit to the warehouse’, showing our inability to face the reality of brutality Does Capote’s characterisation of the murderers make him complicit in society’s marginalisation? Normality – Dick calls himself a ‘normal’ – Dr Jones would say ‘he professes usual moral standards [but] he seems obviously uninfluenced by them in his actions’ – Dick says to Lowell Lee Andrews – ‘the trouble with you [is] you’ve got no respect for human life’ – perhaps he thinks he hasn’t lost his ‘normality’ because he didn’t kill anyone himself – he describes himself as a ‘railroaded man who ‘never touched a hair on a human head’ THEMES

35 © 2009 Haileybury THEMES Racism – the warden of Kansas State Penitentiary keeps a daily total of inmates according to race Hickock feels that he should earn more money, both in Mexico and USA, because he’s white – doesn’t seem to care what Perry feels Contrast Nancy - ‘town darling’ - with Fern - ‘everybody’s sweetheart’ Bobby Rupp hunting and working with the Clutters; Perry wanting to get work with Barbara’s husband after his release, but Barbara forbidding it

36 © 2009 Haileybury Capote is anti-capital punishment. But: is death the worst thing for Hickock and Smith? Compare the ending where Bobby Rupp and Sue Kidwell have a chance to start their lives again – even if not killed, Hickock and Smith would never have that chance. Isn’t it cold-blooded to lock people up for the term of their natural lives? Is the thing that is stopping us condoning their execution our fear of becoming as bad as they are? Dick points out that desire for vengeance is the State’s only motivation Smith says to Hickock ‘No chicken-hearted jurors, they!’ and both men laugh – a Kansas paper quips ‘The Last Laugh?’ Contrast the judge saying that the jurors have performed a ‘courageous service’. Why did Mrs Clutter’s brother oppose capital punishment?

37 © 2009 Haileybury FINAL THOUGHTS.. Have we learned anything ? We are wrapping up our kids in cotton wool – the bubble-wrap generation – and making their parents sign forms to walk down the street; we are keeping asylum seekers from our shores in case they’re terrorists; the tabloids are running fear campaigns based on the idea that it’s us and them. We haven’t reduced the distance between people like the Clutters and people like Hickock and Smith – if anything, we’ve increased it. In the epigraph of the novel, Capote implores us to think of our brothers in humanity and pity them – he is talking about Hickock and Smith. Creeger observes that ‘most of us might deny that we are the brothers of those who deserve hanging’. We want to see them as ‘varmints’ like Mrs Hartman does – exile them from the community, deprive them of their humanity

38 IT SERVICES Are we – is Capote – different from the Hickock parents, passing the blame onto other people? Dewey feels that having to light a cigarette for Smith ‘repellent’ because it is an intimate gesture Are we like Mrs Johnson – middle-class; outstanding character – distancing ourselves Mrs Helm when Hickock confesses – ‘I won’t listen.’ ‘the majority of Holcomb’s population, having lived for seven weeks amid unwholesome rumors, general mistrust, and suspicion, appeared to feel disappointed at being told that the murderer was not someone among themselves’ Governor Docking was defeated for re-election in Kansas mainly because he opposed capital punishment – ‘I just don’t like killing people’ – we do, though, as long as it is at arm’s length FINAL THOUGHTS..

39 IT SERVICES © 2009 Haileybury Mayman, Menninger, Rosen and Satten wrote of motiveless murders: People considered to be ‘sissies’ ‘ego-images of themselves as physically inferior, weak, and inadequate’ (compare Hickock’s attraction to young girl set off by feelings of inferiority on the beach) FINAL THOUGHTS..

40 IT SERVICES © 2009 Haileybury Does ‘normal’ society have a role in all of this? Creeger calls Perry ‘a murderer.. less of his own making than of ours’ as we exiled him from the garden Creeger, discussing the failure of people to recognise the connection between violent criminals and themselves: ‘The failure is, furthermore, complete: beginning with the inability to perceive (or at least with a desire to deny) the potentiality for murderous violence within the self, it proceeds, by a fatal and perverse logic, to accept, as normal, expressions of violence toward those (whether in fact or metaphor) whom the community has defined as animals or "varmints." Furthermore, without being conscious of so doing, it powerfully desires the very violence it pretends, in some forms, to abhor’ FINAL THOUGHTS..

41 IT SERVICES Considering that in his summing up, Logan Green, who had not allowed any of the psychological evidence, was happy to stir up the jury with his argument that they did it for money – ‘ten dollars a life’ – he bases his own argument on the primal and morally flawed call for retribution – then West whispers ‘”That was masterly, sir.”’ Reverend Dameron was similar, as in ‘the overwrought, rococo style of a tent-show revivalist’ told the court he had warned Lowell Lee Andrews of not giving his soul to God, and it was his testimony which swung the jury How different is what Capote is doing in this book? FINAL THOUGHTS.. Chris Scholten

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