Truman Capote’S In Cold BloodTruman Capote was first introduced to the story of the brutal killing of the Clutter family “…one morning in November of 1959, while flicking through The New York Times, I encountered on a deep inside page, this headline: Wealthy Farmer, 3 of Family Slain” (Capote, 3). He decided to write about the crime committed in Kansas, because “murder was a theme not likely to darken and yellow with time” (Capote, 3). Capote promptly headed for Kansas, where he spent six years researching, solving, and writing about the unforgivable act. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, the final product of his years of research, is a masterfully written account of the cold-blooded murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959.
In writing In Cold Blood, Capote presents the blood-curdling story of the brutal killing of the Clutter family in a journalistic style, and is able to exclude his point of view on all of the events; “The most difficult thing in In Cold Blood is that I never appear in it, but I solved it…The whole thing was done from Al Dewey’s point of view” (Newsweek, 60). Because of Capote’s immeasurable talent for writing, he is able to present factual events, just as in a journalistic article, in a style that seems similar to a fiction novel. His focus in In Cold Blood is on the facts of the events which occur before, during, and after the murder of Mr. Clutter; Kenyon, his fifteen year old son; Nancy, his 16 year old daughter; and, Bonnie, his wife. Capote’s emphasis on the facts can be seen through his thorough account of what the murderers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, took from the Clutter’s house, which was about thirty dollars from Mr. Clutter’s billfold, “…some change and a dollar or two” (239) from Mrs. Clutter, a silver dollar from Nancy, and a radio. Added up, Perry and Dick gained “between forty and fifty dollars” (246) from their visit to the Clutter’s house.
As well as being written in a journalistic style, In Cold Blood is written in a documentary style, which switches “…back and forth from the worlds of the Clutter family, and later of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, to the terrible half-world in which the two murderers live” (McCabe, 561). By writing in the documentary style, Capote is able to be specific about the thoughts, feelings, and actions of all of the characters separately, making each character’s situation and point of view clear to the reader. Throughout In Cold Blood, Perry Smith is presented to the reader as a heartless and savage murderer, but during his confession, he says, “I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat” (302), which makes the readers realize that it is not his savage nature that drives him to murder; it is Smith’s mental condition that does not allow him to feel that his actions are wrong.
Along with being a journalistic and documentary piece of literature, In Cold Blood can also be classified as a detective story, because of all of the research and detective work that Capote, himself, did in order to write this extraordinary work, and because of all of the detective work incorporated into the plot. Al Dewey is the chief detective in solving the murders and figuring out the murderers. In actuality, Capote’s detective work and research on the Clutter murders parallels Al Dewey’s work in the non-fiction novel.
The combination of the journalistic, documentary, and detective styles of writing in In Cold Blood is what makes this work brilliant and masterfully written. Through the use of these three styles of writing, Capote is able to present the factual account of the detective work on solving the murders; the events before, during, and after the murders; and personal accounts of all of the characters involved. This combination of styles not only presents all of the possible accounts of the murders, but it also presents the events as a story, such as a fictional novel would present its plot. The unification of journalistic, documentary, and detective styles of writing proves to compose an unsurpassed form of non-fiction.