Other Voices, Other Rooms Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

Truman Capote’s first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, quickly drew literary acclaim. Its pathos and psychological realism are starkly drawn in the simple language of its thirteen-year-old protagonist. The novel’s central theme is that the elemental need for “withness” drives people to any lengths to acquire it. The setting, replete with grotesques and mystical overtones, is the legendary Deep South. Capote intermingles the physical and the psychological to weave his story. That story is a boy’s effort to maneuver himself, unguided—and often misguided—from childhood into adulthood. Such rites of passage stories are often the choice of beginning novelists.

Capote builds tension by weaving two plots together: Randolph manipulates events so that Joel will be driven to fulfill his elemental need through Randolph. Tension multiplies when Capote creates a Randolph who not only wants Joel at the Landing to satisfy his sexual desires, but also wants Joel to choose to satisfy and enjoy those desires, himself. By creating a Joel at the beginning of puberty as the character whose choice provides the plot’s resolution, Capote compels audiences to invest abundant emotional energy in the novel. Randolph, using his knowledge of human needs, sets the action in motion. He manipulates events to get Joel to the Landing, monitors events to keep him there, takes advantage of events to make himself the boy’s only dependable friend, and averts Ellen’s effort to visit him. This effectively closes all other doors of fulfillment, erases all other voices of love that might speak to the boy, leaving Joel but one room and one voice to satisfy his elemental need. Joel, after visiting that room, finds he must visit others—hence the title.

Capote mirrors Randolph in Joel. For example, when Randolph holds Joel’s hand, whispering, “Try to like me, will you?” the...

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