In Cold Blood is a reconstruction of the Clutter case, a murder and an investigation that took place in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote called it a ‘nonfiction novel’. This experimental type of journalism combines the fluidity of a book with the sources and facts found in nonfiction while still maintaining the appeals of each format. The story revolves round the murder of Clutter’s family in Holcomb Kansas, 1959, by Richard Hickock (aka Dick) and Perry Edward Smith. Both men are avaricious and their lust for money ultimately brings them down. The thrill of uncovering what was otherwise a boring newspaper article breathes new life into the story. As the novel unravels deceit, half-truths, and fallacy that surround the mystery surrounding the Clutter’s death, it slowly brings to light the lies, deceit, or misunderstandings. Capote used pathos and imagery to illustrate the Clutter case, a story that is often regarded as fantasy.
Capote makes use of pathos all throughout the book to bring the murder to life and to humanize the characters. Capote is particularly interested in Perry’s background to generate sympathy and pity, as his life would otherwise be considered deplorable. Capote makes use of pathos throughout the novel to evoke a sympathetic feeling between characters and audience. Capote targets Perry in particular, a character who has a dark past and is known by the reader as a murderer. . . [She] would beat me furiously with a black leather belt. She would drag me out of bed and drag me into the bathroom. Then she’d throw me in the bath tub, turn the water cold, and then drag me back to her room. . .” (Capote 274). His childhood is a story of an abusive, loveless, and unforgiving relationship with his parents. This has led to mental illnesses. He justifies this by turning his character into something pitiful. Capote, however, insists that Perry’s difficult childhood was not an attempt at escaping punishment, but rather a cause of his current state of mind. The audience is torn as to whether to feel pity or disappointment for Perry. This inevitability creates a feeling of sympathy because it makes the situation seem inevitable. Perry has flaws because of his violent and neglectful past. However, humans in general are flawed and Perry’s faults help him to appear more real. Capote depicts Perry, a man with a flawed but loyal past who abides by his own questionable morals. The audience can relate to him because of his imperfections. They are reminded constantly that he is a person who had real feelings and a death that was real. It causes the audience to wonder why someone might take the life of another. How far was Perry pushed before he even considered killing? The audience can relate to Perry because he feels the same emotions as them. Perry is a more real character than other fictional characters. Although he’s estranged, he still lived life in the same way as the reader.
In Cold Blood is notable for its vivid imagery. It is used to create a sense of realism and awe in the reader. Capote uses highly descriptive images to create a surreal feeling, almost as if you were looking at the story through the characters eyes. Capote, instead of presenting a two-dimensional picture of his characters, reminds the reader that this is nonfiction. “The four caskets which filled the small parlor with flowers were to be sealed in the funeral service – quite understandably because the effect was unsettling, even though the victims’ appearances had been carefully crafted.” Nancy was wearing a dress made of cherry red velvet. Her brother was wearing a bright plaid shirt. Mr. Clutter and his wife were dressed in navy-blue fabric. Due to their knowledge that they were murdered and shot in head, the reader feels a sense dread upon reading the words “victims”, “head”, or “suffering” (95). The reader imagines a horrific mass burial, where each head is covered in cotton so as to hide the gruesome injuries. The mood, which is one of sadness and grief, is set by the clothing worn by the family despite its grotesque form. This almost seems to mock people who are missing them and wish they still were alive. The audience is reminded that the funeral of the Clutter family and their death affected many other characters. The funeral’s imagery and dark mood are almost palpable. This is a stark contrast from the life and vibrancy that the family had while still alive. Readers unconsciously pay attention to these details and take note of how others react, what they say about their dead bodies, or the funeral itself. This small amount of information adds up to a shocking realization for the audience. It helps them to understand that since it’s a nonfiction book and the characters are real, they can also feel the impact of their death. Capote’s imagery is a great way to show the impact the event had on the world.
In Cold Blood, Capote’s nonfictional work is made more real by the atmosphere he creates. The story starts with the following: “The village is Holcomb, located on the western Kansas wheat plains, an area of lonesomeness that Kansans refer to as ‘out there’. . . This description of the primary setting gives a feeling of a podunk feel to the story. Horses, herds and grain elevators rise as gracefully in the sky as Greek temples. The description of the setting is rustic, and it gives the reader a sense of podunk. It’s as if this village was in a completely different world. Holcomb’s description is cryptic and mysterious because it lacks details. Holcomb being “as majestic as Greek Temples” can inspire awe in the audience. It is a beautiful village hidden from the world yet within reach. To compare Holcomb to a Greek temple would be to compare the two to awestruck sights. Holcomb is surrounded by a sense of mystery, as its lack of industrial elements creates the impression that time and reality are slightly distorted. This is the same feeling that one gets when they think of their home. They are there, but don’t feel connected with the rest. Holcomb is described by the Clutters as their home, which gives the audience a sense of how they must have felt. The solemnity and dignity of Holcomb reminds viewers that although Holcomb appears to be a foreign world to some, there are many who live in it. Holcomb does not exist as a pure fantasy.
Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood as an experimental novel. It combines nonfiction and fiction to form a nonfiction book. Capote uses pathos and imagery to tell the story of the Clutter murders in Holcomb in 1959. He does this to capture the attention of his audience and to show that, despite its format making it seem like fiction, the book is about real people. The unexpected detail in each of these devices gives the reader a sense that the characters are real.