In his novel, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote attempts to create a new form of writing, a combination of both fiction and journalism. According to Capote he was attempting to create “something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” Whether or not Capote was successful in this so called “new” form of writing has been debated by numerous critics. Some critics argue that Capote was being pretentious when he suggested that he had invented the form of writing which blends the fact/fiction barrier.
In the Columbia University Forum, Charles Alva Hoyt pointed out that what was called a “new literary genre,” was simply a plain old reinterpretation of the art of writing history. What Mr. Capote thinks he has discovered is already known to the world by a different name: history.
History is the art of telling the truth, selectively (so that the reader may not strangle on vast accumulations of data) and gracefully (so that the reader will want to read in the first place). Another critic who also takes the stance that Capote has invented nothing new is Rebecca West. Despite this criticism, West had nothing but praise for Capote’s way of presenting his character’s as truthfully as possible, while at the same time making them interesting to the reader.
In Harper West wrote the following of Capote’s characters; “They speak the words which reporters hear when they interview the participants in prodigious events, and listen with embarrassed ears.” The realness of the character’s dialogue is evident in Myrt Clare’s response to the news of the Clutter family murder. While her speech is colorful enough to command any fiction novel, it also has a ring of truth to it that makes it difficult to decipher whether it is fact or fiction.
“I’m not surprised,” Mrs. Clare said. “When you think how Herb Clutter spent his whole life in a hurry, rushing in here to get his mail with never a minute to say good-morning-and-thank-you-dog, rushing around like a chicken with its head off-joining clubs, running everything, getting jobs maybe other people wanted. And now look-it’s all caught up with him.
Well, he won’t be rushing any more.” While Capote may not have invented a new genre, he certainly is successful in instilling a depth to his characters that the fact driven historian does not. Capote attempted to keep the facts straight and to tell the most truthful story as possible, while still making the novel readable. The biggest strength of In Cold Blood lies in its characters. Capote manages to present the people in the story as a reporter would, while still making them human.
This is what deciphers him form the average cut and dry journalist. The characters of Perry and Dick read as sympathetic to the reader despite the atrocities they commit. This is proof enough that Capote has managed to give another dimension to the factual telling of a crime story.
- Curley, Dorothy Nyren et al. Modern American Literature; A Library of Literary Criticism. Fourth Edition, Volume 1 A-F.
- Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York. Hoyt, Charles Alva. Columbia University Forum. Winter, 1966. p. 53.
- West, Rebecca. Harper. Feb., 1966. p. 108.