In Cold Blood – Narrative Style
Capote’s structure in In Cold Blood is a subject that deserves discussion. The book is told from two alternating perspectives, that of the Clutter family who are the victims, and that of the two murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. The different perspectives allow the reader to relive both sides of the story; Capote presents them without bias. Capote masterfully utilizes the third person omniscient point of view to express the two perspectives. The non-chronological sequencing of some events emphasizes key scenes.
The victims, the murderers, the victims, the murderers,…– this is the pattern throughout the first two of the three parts of In Cold Blood. During these first two parts of the novel, the reader is gathering pieces of the puzzle leading up to the slaughtering of the Clutter family. Ultimately, the paths of the murderers and their victims come together and climax in the multiple shotgun murders.
The alternating perspective enables the reader to assimilate both sides of the story. For example, in part one, ” Nancy and her music tutee, Jolene Katz, were also satisfied…” (24). Whereas the next section begins ” The two young men Dick and Perry had little in common, but they did not realize it, for they shared a number of surface traits” (30).
This nonfiction work is for the most part unbiased. Capote’s extensive research on this real-life event is not marred by his own personal feelings about the crime committed. The fact that he tells both sides of the story adds to the objectivity. Capote doesn’t render judgment for two reasons: it is important for the reader to draw conclusions about the “philosophical-sociological-psychological circumstances of the mass murder,” and Capote concluded that there should be no interference with the readers’ judgmental process (Reed 107). The narrator, up to the criminals’ day of execution, shows no bias whatsoever; the trial could have been an easy opportunity for the narrator to express his own opinions on how the criminals should be punished. Capote is adamant in giving the facts to the reader directly and letting the reader formulate his or her own opinion.
For example, of the death sentence, Capote writes, “In March 1965, after Perry Smith and Dick Hickock had been confined in their death row cells almost two thousand days, the Kansas Supreme Court decreed that their lives must end between midnight and 2:00 A.M., Wednesday, April 14, 1965” (336).
The third person point of view also reaffirms Capote’s neutrality. In addition, this viewpoint adds credibility to the piece of literature because there are few, if any, dissenting opinions of characters in the story. For example, through characters’ opinions, the Clutters are presented as highly respected people in the community.
In fact, no character has a dislike for the Clutters; even the killers aren’t motivated by hate. They are motivated by greed.
The novel is not written in complete chronological order. Capote makes references to events taking place before the date which the novel begins. For example, Capote discusses occurrences in the two killers’ childhood after the murder has taken place. The out of place events make the novel flow nicely, and the references to past events keep the reader to more easily comprehend the sometimes complex storyline.
This style also provides suspense in the form of foreshadowing. For example, “On the first occasion five armed intruders appear at the Clutter Farm, and although they are finally identified merely as ‘pheasant hunters from Oklahoma,’ their appearance at this time is an ominous sign” ( Reed 121). The way in which Capote relays key happenings in the novel is interesting. For example, the first time the reader is informed of how the Clutters are murdered is after the criminals are detained.
In Cold Blood is a well written account of an American crime due to its narrative style. This style encompasses the third person point of view which lends credibility and ensures objectivity which makes it a good work of nonfiction.