Other Voices, Other Rooms Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Other Voices, Other Rooms, Capote’s first published long work, is a moody and atmospheric tale characterized both by its strange setting—a decaying mansion in rural Mississippi—and by the host of peculiar characters it presents to the reader.

The book details the encounters of thirteen-year-old Joel Knox Sansom, who travels to an old mansion, Skully’s Landing, where he hopes to meet his long-lost father, Edward Sansom. In its emphasis on romantic and ghostly settings and its use of strange, eccentric characters, Other Voices, Other Rooms is typical of what has been termed the southern gothic school of fiction, a style of fiction marked by its use of the grotesque both in locale and in characterization.

This category can be seen in the works of other southern-born fiction writers such as William Faulkner (his short story “A Rose for Emily” and his 1931 novel Sanctuary both offer elements of southern gothic), Tennessee Williams (his 1958 play Suddenly Last Summer deals with incest, homosexuality, insanity, lobotomy, and cannibalism), Carson McCullers (her 1941 novel Reflections in a Golden Eye and her story “Ballad of the Sad Café” both have grotesque situations and characters), and Flannery O’Connor (her 1952 novel Wise Blood deals with religious obsession and madness). In Other Voices, Other Rooms, Capote uses this sense of the strange and the mysterious to convey the loneliness, isolation, and naïveté of Joel.

When Joel arrives at Skully’s Landing, he meets a variety of unusual characters: an ancient black man, Jesus Fever; Jesus Fever’s...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

Other Voices, Other Rooms Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Joel Knox is traveling to his father’s at Skully’s Landing. He has never met his father, and after his mother dies, he lives with his Aunt Ellen in New Orleans. She treats him kindly, but he feels abandoned. When a letter comes from his father asking Joel to live with him, he wants to go. Ellen allows it, saying she loves him and to come back if he becomes unhappy. On his eventful trip, he meets the twin adolescents Idabel and Florabel Thompkins, neighbors to his father.

Joel’s father is ill, and Joel has to wait to meet him. He meets Amy, his stepmother, and Zoo, who nurtures him. Exploring the grounds, he sees a “queer lady” staring down at him from a window. At dinner with Cousin Randolph and Amy, he mentions the lady. Randolph says that to Joel she is a ghost. While Amy plays the pianola, Randolph holds Joel’s hand. He finds that distasteful.

Joel writes Ellen, telling her he hates the Landing. As he puts stamp money in the mailbox with the letter, he notices Little Sunshine giving Zoo a charm. Joel, headed for the twins’, asks the hermit for a protective charm. Little Sunshine tells him to come to the Cloud Hotel for one. At the twins’ house, Idabel and Florabel begin brawling, and Joel leaves. Back home, the mail arrives; he assumes his letter to Ellen was delivered, though he finds his coins spilled on the ground.

Joel finally meets his partially paralyzed father who, seemingly, has lidless eyes. He begins feeding and reading to him, but feels nothing for him. By now, Joel and Idabel have become friends. One day as they fish and talk, Joel learns Idabel yearns to be male. Feeling tender, he kisses her cheek. She beats him up, but he forgives her. One day in Randolph’s room, Joel notices a snapshot of Randolph, Ed, another man, and a woman. Randolph tells a sordid story about the group’s relationships, which explains how he realized his homosexuality, how he happened to shoot Ed, and how his cousin, Amy, a nurse, came to help him with Ed and bring him to the Landing.

Idabel asks Joel to run away with her. She and Florabel had fought, and Idabel had broken her...

(The entire section is 872 words.)