Other Voices, Other Rooms Themes

Themes

Like many of Capote's young male protagonists, Joel Harrison Knox is essentially an orphan. Alienated from his schoolmates because of his delicate—almost effeminate—appearance, he decides he resembles Little Kay in "The Snow Queen," and because his life seems to lack emotional warmth, he wonders if he too has been spirited off to a frozen palace. He feels comfortable only when he is sharing his lunch with a Negro stevedore or when Mr. Mystery selects him as a volunteer during the magic show. Further isolated by the death of his mother, Joel has been taken in by his aunt, Ellen Kendall, but he is an outsider in this household too. Even though the family treats him well, he resents them and often is cruel, especially to his deaf cousin, Louise. When his father, Ed Samson, invites Joel to come and live with him at Skully's Landing, the naive boy eagerly anticipates finally meeting the dashing figure who has been the subject of his fantasies. For most of the novel, however, Joel finds himself an outsider at Skully's Landing, and he writes several letters asking Ellen to come and rescue him from his new "family": a paralyzed father, a stepmother whose behavior is bizarre at best, and her drag queen cousin, Randolph. Only when his abortive escape attempt ends in his serious illness, and Randolph nurses him back to health, does Joel begin to realize that now he has become a necessary part of the household at Skully's Landing.

In Other Voices, Other Rooms a major theme is coming of age. When Joel leaves New Orleans for Skully's Landing, he is essentially a child, but at the novel's end, he senses his own maturation and looks back with detachment on the child he used to be. Finally he can acknowledge the sexual attraction he feels for Randolph. Moreover, he realizes that his is the stronger personality and that only he can provide the reassurance Randolph needs —that everything...

(The entire section is 773 words.)