Truman Capote’s: In Cold Blood

The journalistic novel, In Cold Blood, was deemed a revolution in journalism by many at the time the story was released. The author, Truman Capote, was not originally a journalist but a fiction writer and as it can be seen in his book, In Cold Blood, there is a heavy use of literary tools throughout the story. Capote used innovative styles in his reporting and in his style of news writing; therefore, creating what was called “new journalism”. Although Capote claims that all of his facts are accurate and that nothing was changed, it seems almost impossible to be true. True stories do not pan out as a fiction novel does, such as literary devices like symbols and metaphors, which are used in, In Cold Blood. A journalism news story is written unbiased, showing all sides of the story and all sides of a “character,” yet, some of Capote’s writing is one-sided, and taken from only one source on what happened. Another part of Capote’s work that is criticized was the means of reporting, where he did not take notes, nor used a recorder, he only used memory.

The Journal of Modern Literature examines The New Yorker version of In Cold Blood in comparison to the Vintage Books version that was published. There are only changes to small detail but the amount of changes are astonishing, and seem petty to me. With “nearly 5,000 changes, ranging from crucial material of fact to the placement of a comma,” between the two versions, it is no wonder critics questioned his accuracy. (Bellis, 520) Research done by Jack De Bellis, in the Journal of Modern Literature, accounts the amount of words, punctuation and other changes to character’s quotes between the magazine and the book; Perry Smith and Dick Hickock top the list with a total of 187 and 144 changes, respectively. (521) I believe that his style of reporting is very faulty, because there is so much human error involved in hear-say and in memory, especially 6-years worth of retained memory. For Capote to change that many aspects of his writing within a time-span of ten weeks, to me it shows that he was having trouble remembering what was exactly said. (519) Removing lines such as “a yawning juror is vivified by depicting him as stretching his jaws ajar so widely ‘bees could have buzzed in and out,’” show Capote was re-thinking his style, but this also opens another question; were many of the accounts misrepresented to improve the poetical features of the novel? I believe in Capote’s effort in trying to have great literary recognition for In Cold Blood, along with the factual, unbiased reasoning of a journalistic work, he had to fall back on one of the two; making it easier to fabricate the truth than lack in literary means. Bellis comments that Capote’s “simple substitution of a single word often allowed Capote a more vivid characterizing detail.” (524)

Most of the changes are made in effort for Capote to remove himself further from the characters and “to de-familiarize his characters by referring, for example, to the killers as Smith and Hickock, rather than Perry and Dick.” (525) This change, yet so minute, is significant to readers because it does show the murders in a less-personable way than by using their first names; if it had been more personable, I think it would put into question the author’s relationship with those characters and bring more of a biased feelings towards the murders, in that most of the time the victims are referred to as “the Clutters” rather than individuals.

Capote claims himself of being many things, an innovator of “new journalism,” but in my mind he had a bit further to go, and should have used a recorder or at least pencil and paper. His work, In Cold Blood, was a building block for other narrative journalists to come, but his creditability is questioned and his acclaims of being a creative, new-style journalist ask whether he was a journalist at all?

De Bellis, Jack. “Visions and Revisions: Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”” Journal of Modern Literature Vol. 7.No. 3 (Sep., 1979): 519-36. Abstract. Print.

Article Stable URL: http://0-www.jstor.org.library.uark.edu/stable/3831294

  1. Simplify your sentences and syntax:
    –The author, Truman Capote, was not originally a journalist but a fiction writer and as it can be seen in his book, In Cold Blood, there is a heavy use of literary tools throughout the story.

    Capote never claimed to have created the new journalism. In fact, I don’t think he even claimed to be in that group:
    –Capote used innovative styles in his reporting and in his style of news writing; therefore, creating what was called “new journalism”.

    But at some point, a writer has to make choices about what to include or exclude. And often a conclusion has to be drawn based on the facts. Reporting simply ‘he said, she said’ is not good journalism.
    –A journalism news story is written unbiased, showing all sides of the story and all sides of a “character,” yet, some of Capote’s writing is one-sided, and taken from only one source on what happened.

    This is interesting. I wasn’t aware of this:
    –The Journal of Modern Literature examines The New Yorker version of In Cold Blood in comparison to the Vintage Books version that was published. There are only changes to small detail but the amount of changes are astonishing, and seem petty to me. With “nearly 5,000 changes, ranging from crucial material of fact to the placement of a comma,” between the two versions, it is no wonder critics questioned his accuracy. (Bellis, 520)

    Interesting but is removing detail for the sake of storytelling is unethical? it’s unnecessary. Every journalist has to leave things out, either for the sake of the narrative, to avoid redundancy, to quicken the pace, or just to make the story fit.
    –Removing lines such as “a yawning juror is vivified by depicting him as stretching his jaws ajar so widely ‘bees could have buzzed in and out,’” show Capote was re-thinking his style, but this also opens another question; were many of the accounts misrepresented to improve the poetical features of the novel?

    True. This is the legacy of his book:
    –His work, In Cold Blood, was a building block for other narrative journalists to come, but his creditability is questioned and his acclaims of being a creative, new-style journalist ask whether he was a journalist at all?

    Thanks for the good comments.

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