Reflections On Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

When Truman Capote wrote his masterpiece, In Cold Blood, he claimed he had not just written a book but created a new genre; the nonfiction novel. While this claim to being the first nonfiction novel has been contested by some, it cannot be denied that In Cold Blood was the book that launched and popularized the genre. To have achieved such a revolution in journalism and helping literary journalism become a credible form of writing, it is no surprise to say In Cold Blood is a brilliant, gripping work that has distilled real events and people into a fascinating narrative.
In Cold Blood, the result of six years of research and interviews by Capote, details the gruesome multiple murder of the wealthy and well-liked Clutter Family in Holcomb, Kansas, and the stories of the two murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, as they flee the crime and wander aimlessly only to be caught, tried, and finally hanged. From memory, Capote reconstructs the two criminals he interviewed extensively prior to their execution and gives the reader an interesting but chilling look at the mind of Perry Smith, a sensitive, artistic and imaginative young man who calmly murdered four complete strangers due to his own frustrations with life.
It is often said that real life does not play out the way stories do, but part of In Cold Blood’s artistic genius is that Capote was able to take real events and real people and structure them into a coherent narrative with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Capote even managed to make his work a piece of powerful literature as well as masterful reporting by making In Cold Blood inspire introspection in the reader once Perry and Dick are caught; despite how horrible their crime was, is the death penalty truly justified, or is it simply taking revenge and calling it justice? Capote remains objective on the subject matter, betraying no bias one way or the other, and ultimately the answer to the question must be reached on one’s own. This book made me seriously consider my position on capital punishment, but ultimately I reaffirmed my belief in its use, thanks to the rather worrying knowledge that Perry Smith was not a fictional character; people like him exist in real life. I personally feel Capote’s achievement in posing the question so effectively should be lauded as much as the reporting that went into making the book; as a writer, I know it’s easy with some planning to pose social questions to the reader metaphorically or literally through constructing certain characters and conversations to put forth the theme, but Capote invented nothing, making real conversations and people pose his question more effectively than many writers of fiction can manage.
Superbly detailed, fascinating, and at times too gruesome to look away, In Cold Blood kept me turning pages until the very end; I could not put this book down. If you have not read it, whether you’re interested in literature and journalism or not, I heartily recommend you go out and read it at least once to appreciate the masterpiece that pioneered a genre.

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