Study Guide

The Headless Hawk

by Truman Capote

The Headless Hawk Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Considered one of the most complex of the author’s stories, “The Headless Hawk” resembles several of Truman Capote’s other pieces in its use of flashback. In the first part, the protagonist, Vincent Waters, is followed home by an unusual-looking girl; the middle section flashes back to their earlier meeting, romance, and separation; and the ending of the story returns to the beginning—the present—and accentuates the stasis of the situation, the impossibility of any resolution short of violence.

Vincent is shown in the first and last segments in a state of disintegration, uncertain about everything, as if he has lost contact with reality. When he leaves his art gallery one hot July evening, he begins to look for and soon notices the young woman whom he expects to see. Neither speaks to the other, yet there appears to be a pattern to the encounter: First she walks and he follows; she waits, he catches up, they pause, and then he sets off with her trailing behind him as he makes his way to his apartment. There she stands outside, always waiting.

At that point the story flashes back to their first meeting, the previous winter. A peculiarly dressed young woman, with unusual eyes and haircut, appears in the gallery to sell Vincent a strange self-portrait. In it, her severed head lies alongside her body, and in the background is a headless hawk. Although the girl tells Vincent a few things about herself, mentioning a Mr. Destronelli, a name that will become very familiar to him in the future, she is also curiously remote.

Impressed by the power of the painting and by the affinity that he feels for it, Vincent decides...

(The entire section is 678 words.)