From what point of view is In Cold Blood written? How does the type of narration affect how the book is read?

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In Cold Blood tells the cold-blooded story of two cold-blooded killers in a rather cold-blooded way, thanks to the omniscient third-person narration. In Capote's hands, this style of writing is practically journalistic, creating distance between the reader and the horror of the events and descriptions on the page. This distance...

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In Cold Blood tells the cold-blooded story of two cold-blooded killers in a rather cold-blooded way, thanks to the omniscient third-person narration. In Capote's hands, this style of writing is practically journalistic, creating distance between the reader and the horror of the events and descriptions on the page. This distance is significant because it enables the reader to engage with one of the killers in an unexpectedly sympathetic way. Capote's treatment of Perry Smith is warmer than his depiction of Dick Hickock, but this warmth is not immediately obvious to the reader, thanks to the voice of the omniscient narrator; the distance allows the warmth to surprise some readers, leaving them to wonder after reading the book if they, themselves, are so cold-blooded as to sympathize with a killer like Perry Smith.

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In Cold Blood expertly moves between first person and third person omniscient, choices that Truman Capote made based on the way certain information needed to be conveyed.

The majority of the book is told from the third person omniscient point of view. The book begins in this way, for example, as the reader learns all about Holcomb, Kansas and the Clutter family. This point of view is especially helpful in providing what appears to be objective information to the reader. Truman Capote talked about this book as a new type of book, a "nonfiction novel." This means that the book is nonfiction in nature, which is true, but the book is written in much the same way as a novel might be. Third person omniscient point of view tells the reader everything, much like a nonfiction article might do. In fact, Capote's "reportage," as he called it, was the same type of reporting he would have done for a newspaper article.

Parts of the book, however, are told in the first-person point of view. These sections help the reader to see something from a specific person's vantage point, much like a novel might ordinarily do. Additionally, it can help build suspense, because the reader is only offered a limited perspective in this point of view. For instance, when Nancy's friends are walking through the Clutter home, the reader does not know exactly what they will find, where, and in what condition. This use of first person, rather than the third person omniscient, effectively builds suspense in this episode that would have been difficult otherwise.

The result of shifting between these two points of view is that readers are given different pieces of information more effectively.

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Truman Capote employs two different narrative styles in the book: third person omniscient and first person.

The majority of the book is in third person omniscient, which means that the reader knows everything (thoughts, actions, memories, etc...) about everyone in the book, even though the other characters do not. This allows the writer to tell the developed stories of multiple characters at one time. This type of narration can be powerful because it allows for so much information to be given to the reader in an unbiased way. Much of the background of the town and the characters are told in this point of view.

However, the first person perspective is used a handful of times, probably because it was more compelling coming from those viewpoints. For example, he uses first person to tell the story of Susan Kidwell and Nancy Ewalt discovering the bodies. This point of view makes this scene more personal, more tragic, and more suspenseful as a result and the third person point of view would not have had the same impact on the reader. The first person point of view is also used to tell the story of the murder and describe the execution of Dick and Perry, which Capote personally observed. Each of these scenes are emotionally charged, so the first person point of view makes more sense.

 

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