Facing the Repulsive Within: The Power of Narrative Technique in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood"

Publication Year



literature, literary criticism, narrative, Truman Capote, true crime


Comparative Literature | Criminology | English Language and Literature | Modern Literature | Sociology | Technical and Professional Writing


Perry Smith and Dick Hickock murdered Herbert and Bonnie Clutter two of their children on November 15, 1959. Truman Capote's "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood is an account of the murders and the circumstances surrounding them, including events leading up to them, the trial of Perry and Dick, their time spent on Death row, and their eventual hangings. It is our tendency to denounce individuals, such as murderers, as different and separate from ourselves. Why do we vehemently resist considering that we could ever pull the trigger of a shotgun pointed at someone's face? In Cold Blood Capote brings his readers closer to Perry, who allegedly killed all four Clutters, by showing them what they share with him. Readers may begin in the position of jurors ready to condemn Perry, but as the narrator renders him through description, the selections of Perry's own words he chooses to include, and the way he illustrates other characters' understandings and misunderstandings of him, readers are asked to take up a different position in which the repulsive and frightening becomes familiar. Capote looks into the circumstances of Perry's miserable childhood, full of violence, neglect, misunderstanding, and their effect on his later social and mental states. In this case, Capote goes beyond the court that convicts Perry insofar as he employs a narrator who probes Perry's past and mind to ask why he murders four people--what could prevent the creation of the next murderer.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status

English: Literature and Writing

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