How do the narrative voice and the sentence structure of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood change when the story shifts from descriptions of the Clutter family to those of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith?

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Truman Capote employs two very different writing approaches when describing the Clutter family, who are the innocent victims of Dick and Perry, and when describing Dick and Perry, the perpetrators of the horrific murders.

Capote emphasizes the innocence of the Clutter family by describing their home poetically:

The village of...

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Truman Capote employs two very different writing approaches when describing the Clutter family, who are the innocent victims of Dick and Perry, and when describing Dick and Perry, the perpetrators of the horrific murders.

Capote emphasizes the innocence of the Clutter family by describing their home poetically:

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of Western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there.'

The descriptive nature of Capote's language in this long, evocative sentence creates a picture in the reader's mind of a lonely and isolated place, one that may not provide protection to the residents of Holcomb. The natural environment is wholesome and unadulterated, which implies a trusting innocence about the Clutters, who choose to live in such a simple landscape despite its isolation.

In contrast, Capote employs shorter phrases, strung together in a punchy style, to describe the two criminals, Dick and Perry. This sentence is long and conversational, full of commas and pauses, so much so that the sentence seems to interrupt itself:

Of course, Dick was very literal-minded, very—he had no understanding of music, poetry—and yet when you got right down to it, Dick's literalness, his pragmatic approach to every subject, was the primary reason Perry had been attracted to him, for it made Dick seem, compared to himself, so authentically tough, invulnerable, 'totally masculine'.

The short phrases separated by commas are almost aggressive in tone, and the phrasing of the sentence is slightly disorganized, just like the men themselves. The reader can almost imagine either Dick or Perry narrating this part of the book himself and getting wrapped up, unhelpfully, in details and nuance.

Capote's ability to change narrative style so effectively may explain the enduring popularity and status of In Cold Blood; the differences in his approaches to the characterization of the Clutters and their killers make for a supremely emotional and memorable reading experience.

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In Part I of In Cold Blood, when Capote is describing the Clutter family, his sentences are long, descriptive, and concentrated on the beauties and wholesomeness of nature. In the following passage, he describes Mr. Clutter's breakfast:

"After drinking the glass of milk and putting on a fleece-lined cap, Mr. Clutter carried his apple with him when he went outdoors to examine the morning. It was ideal apple-eating weather; the whitest sunlight descended from the purest sky, and an easterly wind rustled, without ripping loose, the last of the leaves on the Chinese elms" (page 10).

Capote pays a lot of attention to details, such as the soft lining of Mr. Clutter's cap and the white sunlight. The images he uses are meant to evoke a picture of wholesomeness and goodness in the reader's mind, including phrases such as "apple-eating weather" and the "purest sky." Capote also includes references to nature, to connect Mr. Clutter to the purity of the natural world.

When Capote shifts to describing Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, his sentences are clipped and staccato, as in the following example:

"Like Mr. Clutter, the young man breakfasting in a cafe called the Little Jewel never drank coffee. He preferred root beer. Three aspirin, cold root beer, and a chain of Pall Mall cigarettes--that was his notion of a proper "chow-down." Sipping and smoking, he studied a map spread on the counter before him--a Phillips 66 map of Mexico" (page 14).

Unlike Mr. Clutter, who Capote refers to with the honorific "Mr.," Perry receives no name in this passage. He is referred to instead, without dignity, as "the young man." Perry is also eating breakfast, but in an entirely different way than Mr. Clutter. Unlike Mr. Clutter, who wholesomely eats an apple, Perry is consuming root beer, aspirin, and cigarettes. The sentences are clipped and even fragments, unlike the long, flowery sentences Capote uses to describe Mr. Clutter. The images Capote uses are not at all wholesome, including root beer, cigarettes, and a map of Mexico from a gas station (Phillips 66). He also uses slang such as "chow-down," which he doesn't use in the passage about Mr. Clutter. 

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