In Cold Blood takes place in a small town in Holcomb, Kansas during the year 1959. Truman Capote, the author, writes about a seemingly random cold blooded murdering, which during this time period, was not a very common subject to write about. The book starts by describing four members of the Clutter family’s last day of living. It then introduces Perry Smith and Dick Hickock as the two murderers. The news of the murderings spread like wildfire throughout Holcomb. The townspeople went into a panic because they knew the Clutters as a very secure and respectable family in the community, so when the family got murdered, the people fell into paranoia and mistrust. The book then goes into a series of places the killers travel some time after the murdering. Eventually, a police officer in Las Vegas spotted their license plate and took them in for questioning. After many interrogations, Dick eventually broke, and Perry gave a full confession. The mysteries of the murder became clear and what remains at the end of the book is their awaiting execution. The book concludes with Dick’s and Perry’s testimonies and their passing of time on Death Row.
Truman Capote strives to discover a new genre of New Journalism, a style developed in the 1960s that emphasizes truths over facts. He aims to convince his audience that even though humans are naturally kind, traumatic experiences can make people capable of doing extremely horrific activities such as murder.
Chapter four of Jay Heinrichs’s Thank You for Arguing explains that pathos is arguing by emotion. It is when the author sympathizes with the audience and pulls at their emotions. Once the author has a tight grip on the audience’s feelings, they then change the mood to suit their goal. Truman Capote incorporates this strategy through his one of his most complex characters, Perry Smith. Capote writes many reminiscences of Perry’s childhood, ranging from letters from his father to reports from his sister. Perry was a good kid, until the days of his father beating his mother, who turned to drinking. He then ended up in a series of orphanages, where he was constantly beaten and tortured by the overseers. Capote chooses to include Perry’s abusive background to show his audience the cognitive side of his upbringing. By exploiting Perry’s troubled background, Capote makes the audience sympathize with Perry, grasping their emotions to highlight the fact that Perry had an extremely traumatizing childhood and showing the extremities of his abusers and how horribly they will treat a child. To add to the horrendous childhood, Capote added Perry’s accident that resulted in his legs being crippled and in constant pain. Continually pulling at the audience’s sympathy, Capote uses the emotional strategy to build his foundation that shocking incidents can cause distress within a human, making them more irrational towards decision making. Capote then elaborates on Perry’s desire to have an education when he writes quotes Perry, “‘’You think I like myself? Oh, the man I could have been! But that bastard never gave me a chance. He wouldn’t let me go to school. O.K. O.K. I was a bad kid. But the time came I begged to go to school. I happen to have a brilliant mind. In case you don’t know. A brilliant mind and talent plus. But no education, because he didn’t want me to learn anything, only how to tote and carry for him. Dumb. Ignorant. That’s the way he wanted me to be’“ (Capote 185). When Capote present the inner thoughts of Perry and his wish to continue an education, he creates a sense of pity in the audience, making them see how Perry wanted to have an education to become a better self, but never got the opportunity because of his abusive father.
From chapter nine of Thank You for Arguing, Heinrichs describes storytelling as a well-told narrative that gives the audience a virtual experience. By making the story more virtual and realistic, it makes the audience feel more involved in the story, thus allowing their mood be more directly changed. Capote wants to present the narrative of In Cold Blood to his audience in a realistic yet immersive style to engage his readers. He wants his viewers to see his characters as comprehensible while also giving a thorough view of the complexity of human minds rather than writing about one-dimensional emotionless, triggerhappy robots. By providing his audience the front row seat of a murderer’s mind, he slowly changes the mood and interpretation of the whole Clutter case situation. Capote includes many accounts of what the murders thought and said throughout the book, for example, when Perry thinks “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 I cut his throat” (Capote 244). By recounting the story in Perry’s inner thoughts, the audience can see how Perry felt a sense of humanity before he succumbed to his desire of killing the Clutters. This builds upon Capote’s argument that traumatic experiences can influence a person to do heinous activities by having his audience understand the characters through a wider perspective.
In chapter eleven of Thank You for Arguing, Heinrich introduces the concept the commonplace as a viewpoint that an audience holds in common. Quoted from Thank You for Arguing, “The rhetorical commonplace is a short-form expression of common sense or public opinion. It is any cliche, belief, or value that can serve as the audience’s boiled-down public opinion” (Heinrich 119). Truman Capote writes In Cold Blood as a means of creating a new genre of meticulous realism. By utilizing the commonplace, Capote explores the pros and cons of counter culture ideas of the 1960s. Deemed unconventional throughout the 1960s, New Journalism received many critics from contemporary journalists that worried about writings were going to be more subjective towards favoritism and personalized reports. Capote realized the public’s commonplace towards this genre, so he sought to discover a new way of writing in a New Journalistic style. The commonplace believed that authors would be tempted to stray from including specific facts and events in order to create a more dramatic story. In order to avoid this ordeal, Capote writes as an omniscient narrator that alternates between the perspectives of the murderers, the Clutter family, the town, and the investigators. By including all perspectives from a non-personalized standpoint, Capote continually keeps the readers aware of what is happening at all times while also emphasizing important events. To steer clear of inaccuracy, Capote spent six years intensively studying and recovering information in order to advocate to his audience that New Journalism can push the boundaries of non-fictional writings. He pushes himself beyond his limits for years in order to acquire as much information as he can to strengthen his credibility and emphasize truths and facts while utilizing the exciting and intricate structure of a novel.
When Capote pulls at his audience’s emotions throughout the book, he makes them wonder how they could feel sympathy for this man. By making his audience sympathize with Perry, Capote effectively grasps at their emotions, successfully making them concede to his point that a traumatic past create many contradictions and conflicts within a person, which shows how one’s decision making can be influenced by their earlier influences of faulty morals. Also, by unfolding the Clutter Case with the storytelling strategy, Capote effectively gives his audience a meaningful experience that makes them connect to the murderers in the sense that they could feel the toll that the murder case has taken on everyone. Lastly, Capote’s use of the commonplace allows him to effectively advocate the New Journalism movement. He successfully persuades his audience of the 1960s and ‘70s that nonfiction writing can be combined with aspects of fictional storytelling by writing in an all-inclusive style.