Presentation on theme: "His Life and His works.. Truman Capote, best known for his works Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, reached a pinnacle that many writer's dream."— Presentation transcript:
His Life and His works.
Truman Capote, best known for his works Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, reached a pinnacle that many writer's dream of but few ever ascend. And no one climbed to that summit like Capote. Truman pioneered a new literary genre, the Nonfiction Novel, with what many claim as his ultimate work, In Cold Blood, the story of a rural Kansas murder recounting journalistic facts with the flair of prose.
Born in New Orleans and spending most of his early childhood with his aunts and distant cousins in Alabama, Truman Capote would always maintain a deep connection with the south, even after becoming the center of attention in Manhattan high society. Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons on September 30, 1924 to Lillie Mae Faulk and Arch Persons. Lillie Mae (who would later abandon her southern roots and change her name to Nina) was always looking for a way to climb the social ladder.
The fact that Truman Capote was born at all is a bit of a miracle, and he owes this to his stern and dedicated cousin, Jennie Faulk, Jennie had raised Lillie Mae and the two often battled over the life Lillie Maw was living. Lillie Mae's pregnancy was one of those battles and would become the most important for Truman. On finding out that she was pregnant, Lillie Mae returned to her southern home and sought an abortion. Adamantly opposed, Jennie finally won and Lillie Mae accepted her responsibility as a mother.
Lillie Mae's early rejection of Truman was to be a sign of how her relationship with her son would remain throughout his life. Abandoned by his mother with his cousins, Lillie Mae was free to begin separating herself from her husband Arch. Arch was not any more of a father to Truman than Lillie Mae was a mother. After he and Lillie Mae separated and divorced in 1931, Arch agreed to spend the summer's with Truman, but instead traveled the country in search of his next big deal. Lillie Mae, now free to try again to reach social elevation, found what she was looking for in Joseph Capote. She and Capote married and she moved to New York City with Joe to begin her new life, a life that rarely included her son.
Truman also had the good fortune of meeting a friend in his southern neighbor, Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). Truman was the basis for Lee's character, Dill, in her famous book and Truman is rumored to have helped Lee write the novel. The two remained friends throughout and Lee would later accompany Truman in his research about the Kansas murders that would become In Cold Blood.
As smart and as sharp as Truman was, he was not very interested in school. He was, however, consumed with writing. He would practice writing the way other children would practice football or piano. Truman didn't so much dream about being a writer as he already considered himself one. Instead, he envisioned himself writing for the elite magazine, The New Yorker. In 1941, while repeating his senior year of high school, Truman got a job as a copy boy for the magazine he idolized. The New Yorker's working environment was quite the opposite of the high society image the magazine portrayed. Truman, a flamboyant, eccentric, and very noticeable boy, stood out like a neon light in a dark alley.
Truman always maintained a high, lispy voice and boyish looks. Combined with his short stature, this led many to assume that he was much younger than he was. His appearance often led to his advantage as many of the important figures that would help his career took on a motherly or fatherly role with him. The fact that Truman was easy to like and often befriended people that were not helped him in many situations and soon Truman was invited to social parties and was the talk of the town.
Truman had joined The New Yorker in hopes that he would learn more about his craft and that they would eventually hire him as a writer. The New Yorker, however, was not interested in hiring a copy boy and the work the Truman was writing was not well suited for the publication. In 1944 he left the magazine, (either resigned or was fired) for offending Robert Frost. Sick with a cold, Truman left in the middle of Frost's reading. Outraged, Frost, knowing that Capote worked for the New Yorker, immediately took the matter up with the magazine. Leaving the New Yorker was one of the best things to happen to Capote. Soon he began submitting his stories (Miriam, Tree of Night, My Side of the Matter) to more suitable magazines including Mademoiselle and Harper's Bizarre. The immediate acceptance of his work and fame that followed launched Truman into the social and literary world he had been seeking.
Truman was never one to hide his homosexuality. In fact, many gay and lesbian groups today praise Truman for his bravery both in social life and in his writings. While his mother never accepted his choice and often tried to change her son, Truman owned his sexuality at an early age and lived it to his fullest. Like many in the social elite, Truman had many relationships. Most notably perhaps is his long time affair with Jack Dunphy whom he met in Though not an exclusive relationship, the two of them would remain together in one way or another throughout their lives and shared separate houses on the same property.
The contrast of southern life and big city society, along with Truman's sexual themes in many of his stories, helped define Capote as a writer. But that was only part of what made his stories successful. Truman also had a sensitivity and a flare for being able to capture the truth of real life. This great ability lead to what would become one of his greatest works, Breakfast at Tiffany's. Through all his successful writings, Truman still felt that he was lacking something. He was looking to create something new, not just a new story, but a new way of telling a story. When Truman read about the 1959 killings of the Clutter Family in rural Holcomb Kansas, Truman had found his muse.
1959: Clutter Family found "In Cold Blood” Four members of the Clutter family were found murdered today on their farm in Holcomb, Kansas. The killers had no apparent motive, as Finley County Attorney General Duane West, quoted in The Daily Independent, stated that "Clutter was a prominent man and it was a fine family— so fine that it's difficult to envisage a possible motive.”
Herbert Clutter was a devout Methodist and a widely respected self made man who had established himself as a very successful and prosperous farm owner from modest beginnings. Morally strict and conservative, he employed as many as 18 farm hands and former employees reportedly admired and respected him for his fair treatment and good wages. His wife and four children were also respected within the community.
Two ex-convicts on parole from Kansas State Penitentiary, Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith entered their family home and committed the acts of robbery and murder on November 15, While in jail, a fellow inmate had told Hickock of a safe that was kept on the premises and often contained large sums of money.
Hickock became obsessed with the idea of obtaining the money, and with no witnesses to his crime, planned on fleeing to Mexico to start a new life. The information Hickock was provided about the safe proved to be incorrect as Herb Cutter conducted all his business by cheque and no money was ever kept on site.
On the day of the murder, Hickock and Smith drove across Kansas, located the Clutter household and entered the premises while the family lay sleeping. After they roused the family and discovered there was no money to be found, Smith – who was notoriously prone to violent outbursts – slit Herb’s throat and then shot him in the head.
The rest of the family members were killed by a single gun shot to the head. In his confession, Smith claimed that Hickock murdered the two women but Hickock maintained that Smith was responsible for all four deaths. Both mean pleaded temporary insanity at the trial, but after evaluation it was determined that both men were in fact sane. After 5 years on death row, both men were executed in April of 1965.
In Cold Blood was originally published in The New Yorker as a four-part series, beginning on September 25, It sold out immediately. It was published by Random House for the first time as a novel in 1966.
1950s American society was marked by an expanding middle class, confident consumer spending, and the early development of American suburbia. Having emerged from its involvement in World War II, America was eager to focus on the proliferation of an affluent middle class at home. The popularization of the automobile and new product advertising through television and magazines revolutionized American households.
Most middle class homes quickly came to be equipped with television sets, microwave ovens, and washing machines. A booming construction industry helped develop the earliest American suburbs, and the first enclosed shopping malls appeared and soon drastically changed the American landscape. As Americans migrated to comfortable communities on the outskirts of cities, those cities entered a period of deterioration and social and economic decline that, in many instances, has lasted well into the twenty-first century.
While the American economy was prosperous and progressive throughout the 1950s, American society was marked by social conservatism and conformity. America’s ongoing involvement in the Cold War, which lasted from 1945 through 1991, presented an ideological clash between the capitalist consumer culture of the United States and the Western world on the one hand and the Communist regime of the Soviet Union and its allies on the other hand.
Cold War tensions brought about a widespread fear of Communism and even escalated into irrational and unfounded persecution of individuals suspected to be Communist allies. The proliferation of anti-Communist propaganda that accompanied US Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “Communist Witch Hunts” created an atmosphere of social compliance, fear, and intolerance.
In Cold Blood presents a conflicted image of the notion of the American Dream. The text por- trays a prosperous, homogenous, middle-class community, Holcomb, Kansas, that is forced to question its values and its sense of safety and security when the Clutter family is murdered.
Capote’s text was among a growing number of novels and plays written in the early part of the twentieth century that questioned the validity of the promises made by the American Dream. Texts such as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, among many others, simultaneously celebrate and criti- cize the concept of an American Dream.
These texts warn Americans not to take the Dream for granted and encourage readers to recognize that the American Dream is available only to a small group of individuals while excluding a vast majority of people from its promises.
In In Cold Blood, the city of Holcomb and surrounding Finney County are portrayed as a prosperous community: “The last seven years have been years of doubtless beneficence. The farm ranchers in Finney County, of which Holcomb is a part, have done well; money has been made not from farming alone but also from the exploitation of plentiful natural- gas resources, and its acquisition is reflected in the new school, the comfortable interiors of the farmhouses, the steep and swollen grain elevators.”
The Clutter family in particular is among the most affluent citizens in the Holcomb community. Herb Clutter is considered to be “the community’s most widely known citizen, prominent both there and in Garden City.” Having expanded his River Valley Farm into a lucrative operation with several employees, Herb Clutter is able to provide a comfortable life for his family, providing a modern lifestyle that includes automobiles and televisions: “Always certain of what he wanted from the world, Mr. Clutter had in large measure obtained it.” For families like the Clutters, the American Dream has been realized.
But In Cold Blood also portrays the failure of the American Dream. For Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, a modern, comfortable middle- class lifestyle is unattainable. Raised in a dysfunctional family, Perry Smith considers himself to be misunderstood and, like Richard Hickock, falls into a life of petty crime. Unable to create a stable existence, the two ex-cons accept their roles as society outsiders and survive by stealing and writing false checks.
Perry Smith dreams of a better life in Mexico, where he hopes to find a hidden treasure buried deep in the ocean. The attack on the Clutter family is designed to provide the two men with the financial means to relocate. Capote outlines their dreams of a better life: “Still no sign of Dick. But he was sure to show up; after all, the purpose of their meeting was Dick’s idea, his ‘score’. And when it was settled –Mexico.”
But the American Dream not only fails Dick Hickock and Perry Smith because they come from lower-class families and drift into a life of crime. The two men, particularly Perry Smith, are also haunted by psychological challenges. Richard Hickock chases women, but is secretly struggling with his sexual attraction to children. Perry Smith is physically handicapped as a result of a car accident. He is depressed and feels misunderstood.
He suffers from feelings of shame due to his physical deformity. Considering himself to be a creative and artistic genius, Perry cannot fit into a world that does not share or recognize his vision. Perry’s wish of becoming an artist remains confined to his daydreams: “Singing, and the thought of doing so in front of an audience, was another mesmeric way of whittling hours. He always used the same mental scenery—a night club in Las Vegas, which happened to be his home town. It was an elegant room filled with celebrities excitedly focused on the sensational new star.”
Both criminals eventually undergo psychiatric evaluations as they await their trial, and although the court system finds both of them to be mentally stable, Capote leaves his readers with the suggestion that the system at large has failed these two young men, ignored their psychiatric needs, and ultimately turned them into social outcasts and criminals.
The Clutter killings are a turning point for the citizens of Holcomb and Garden City: for the first time, the dangerous wider world seems to threaten their peaceful existence, and their former naïveté gives way to feelings of doubt, fear and suspicion. According to Capote, it is the first time the citizens of this part of Kansas have had to endure the “unique experience of distrusting each other”
Their version of the American dream – of safety, security, and the ability to determine their own fate – becomes undermined, if not entirely thwarted, by the victimization of the Clutters. Their view of the world must suddenly include another kind of person, a poor, embittered, “rootless” person, for whom this dream was never an option in the first place.
When the murders are first discovered, Perry and Dick, as “persons unknown,” are elevated to an inhuman, almost mythic stature, the essence of a pure and motiveless evil that has come to destroy the peaceful lifestyle of the Holcomb residents. Capote, however, replaces this simplistic view with a more nuanced and sensitive interpretation, by exploring the material, psychological, environmental circumstances that cause two otherwise ordinary human beings to commit such an atrocious act.
Throughout the novel, Perry and Dick are transformed from heartless, cold-blooded menaces, whose actions seem to defy human logic, into the fraught, pitiful, completely humanized individuals they are at the end of the book, and the crime itself is boiled down to a very basic and fairly understandable set of emotional responses. Although he does not attempt to excuse their actions, Capote shows how ordinary feelings of frustration and despair accidentally erupt into such an extraordinary crime. The book seems to contend that criminality and “evil” are not things apart, as we tend to define them, but normal human responses that merely become amplified and find a destructive outlet.
Family life is a key determinant of individual character in the context of the book. The Clutters, who symbolize the utmost integrity of family life, are obliterated by Perry, who represents everything it means to come from a broken home.
The Clutters’ uprightness is related to the strength of their family, as Perry’s criminality is connected to the dissolution of his own kinship ties. In spirit, Dick is still wedded to his first wife, and his dreams of becoming self- sufficient are linked to the ability to support her and their three sons. The strength of a person’s family ties has the larger implication of whether that person can live happily, well-off, and in a self-determined fashion.
The Clutter killings are symbolic of a class conflict, highlighting the discrepancy between the affluent, middle-class, predominantly white citizens of Holcomb and the underprivileged, working-class, mixed-race (in the case of Perry) killers. Theft is the only form of economic mobility that Perry and Dick have ever known, as neither of them have had a chance at a proper education or a solid career (Dick, we learn, could not afford to attend college, and Perry was forced to help his father earn their basic subsistence in Alaska).
Economic insecurity is at the root of the murders on every level: it forms the initial motive for the break-in (to steal the contents of Herb Clutter’s safe), and later on causes Perry to feel ashamed, for “crawling on my belly to steal a child’s silver dollar”, a sentiment which is ultimately to blame for the fatal turn the robbery takes.
The theme of self- or ego-image is crucial to understanding the interpersonal dynamics of Perry and Dick, especially those that lead to the eventual murder spree. Both men, Perry especially, are highly image-conscious and attuned to how others perceive them. Towards the end of the book, we learn from Perry’s psychiatric evaluation that he is “overly sensitive to criticisms that others make of him, and cannot tolerate being made fun of. He is quick to sense slight or insult in things others say”.
In some sense, the rivalry between Dick and Perry is a mutual struggle for self-recognition, with each wishing the other man would validate his own self- image (this may be fueled, as some critics have suggested, by homoerotic desire). Self-image represents, in a larger sense, social status and self- determination, neither of which is available to these men. For Perry, the botched robbery at the Clutters is a painful reminder of his own lack of means or social mobility, and his feelings of shame and self-loathing at this realization are ultimately at the root of his homicidal rampage.
Homoerotic desire is just below the surface of the relationship between Dick and Perry, between Perry and Willie-Jay, and, more implicitly, in the meta-textual relationship of Truman Capote to his two subjects. Whether or not these attractions were overtly acknowledged or even consciously realized by their subjects (Capote thought it was likely that both men had repressed these feelings), they are a palpable subtext of the narrative and serve several functions.
On one level, they elucidate the relationship of Dick and Perry, adding a layer of intensity to their interactions that helps to explain why, for example, they might have become so frustrated at the Clutter home, or why so much of Perry’s self- image rests on Dick’s opinion of him. But the theme of homosexuality also functions as a larger symbol of, and premise for, Dick and Perry’s status as outsiders, social misfits for whom conventional society seems to have no place.
At the time that In Cold Blood was penned, homosexuals were considered a threat to the social order, so much so that the F.B.I. kept official watch lists in order to monitor their activities. This unspoken element of their relationship heightens the intensity of their clash with conservative, small-town American life, and raises the stakes of the murder trial by a perceptible margin.
Perry and Dick’s criminal tendencies are revealed to have underlying medical causes (Perry suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and Dick has brain damage from a concussion); the difficulty of the murder trial becomes, to what extent are they still accountable for their actions?
In a larger sense, the book seems to grapple with the question of whether the same moral standards are applicable to all people, regardless of their upbringing and their life circumstances; or whether Perry and Dick are in some measure redeemed (at least morally, if not legally) by the fact of their mental illness, and the fact that their own lives have been so lacking.
With the publication of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote debuted a new literary genre: the non- fiction novel. The non-fiction novel presents real events through the use of literary techniques generally associated with fiction narratives. In the case of In Cold Blood, Capote used news- paper accounts, investigative reports, letters, and interviews to piece together the story of the Clutter murders and the subsequent hunt for and eventual execution of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. Capote traveled to the Holcomb area just months after the murders, and he spent six years collecting information, interviewing residents, and observing the work of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations under the leadership of Al Dewey. Yet, like a novel, the story is presented in vivid sentences and filled with evocative descriptions, poignant word choice, and lyrical images.
As a non-fiction novel, the text does not present the voice of the author or a specific narrator but, instead, relates the events and presents details from the points of view of different charac- ters. The genre is closely associated with the journalistic novel and is generally considered to be a forerunner of the True Crime genre. True Crime has since evolved into one of the most popular literary genres, often exploiting highly sensationalized crimes. True Crime most fre- quently presents real, often well-publicized, murder cases and focuses on investigative strate- gies and criminal psychology, including psychological profiling of perpetrators and victims.
Within each section of the text, the narrative viewpoint shifts between presenting events and details from the perspective of the Clutter family, the citizens of Holcomb, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigations investigators to the perspectives of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. Capote himself never interjects the narrative with his authorial voice. Instead, he relies on the voice of his characters, including letters, interviews, newspaper accounts, etc., to present the events.
Whenever Capote presents the perspective of the Clutters and their neighbors, his sentences are well- developed, complex, with vivid, descriptive diction. Whenever the perspective shifts toward the points of view of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, the sentence structure tends to be shorter and frequently interfused with fragments. Additionally, sections presenting Perry and Dick’s world often utilize colloquialisms and slang. The shift in narrative tone helps rein- force the social discrepancy between the comfortable middle-class world of the Clutters and the lower-class, poverty- stricken world of Dick and Perry.