In Cold Blood Additional Summary

Truman Capote

Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Cold Blood was created as a work of deliberate literary experiment. Having written extensive journalistic coverage in his account of an opera company’s tour of the Soviet Union (The Muses Are Heard) and in various travel writing, Capote desired to combine the reportorial techniques of journalism—the gathering of detailed factual material by observation and interviewing—with the narrative and dramatic scene devices of fiction. The grisly, senseless murders of a Kansas farm family (Herbert W. Clutter, his wife, and two children) on November 15, 1959, in Holcomb, Kansas, provided the opportunity for the writer to try his experiment.

In Cold Blood is a documented record of those murders, but it is also a documentation of the backgrounds, motives, attitudes, and perspectives of hundreds of local townspeople as well as those of the two killers, ex-convicts Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Smith, who are arrested eventually for the crime, tried, and executed. Shortly after the crime was committed, Capote went to Kansas to begin the massive accumulation of material that forms the substance of the book. At the outset, the murders were baffling because of the lack of any apparent motive for the slayings. There also were few clues.

Initially Capote envisioned his work as a short one in which he would explore the background of the murders and the reaction of the town to them. With the discovery, capture, and confession of the two killers, however, Capote’s concept changed focus and became not only a study of the crime and its impact on the local community but also an investigation into the lives and motives of the two killers. While describing present action—the arrest, incarceration, trial, and conviction, then the appeals process. and finally the execution by hanging in Lansing, Kansas, in 1965—Capote also delves back into the murderers’ past—their families, aspirations, and personal defeats. Writing the book took more than six years.

The organization of the material was ingeniously handled. Capote once said he had taken more than six thousand pages of notes. The book has four sections, all of which offer the reader shifts in time and place, rather like the cinematic technique of parallel editing, thus allowing the reader to experience simultaneous events with different persons in different locales. The four sections are titled “The...

(The entire section is 983 words.)

Part 1 Summary - The Last to See Them Alive

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

The first part of In Cold Blood establishes the Clutter family and the duo of Hickock and Smith on two different, but inevitably...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Part 2 Summary - Persons Unknown

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Four close friends of Herb Clutter arrive at the house to clean up the scene and burn the tainted clothing and furnishings. Eighteen Kansas...

(The entire section is 560 words.)

Part 3 Summary - The Answer

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

On a tip from a former cellmate of Hickock' s, Floyd Wells, Smith and Hickock become the prime suspects. Wells had once worked for Herb...

(The entire section is 476 words.)

Part 4 Summary - The Corner

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Smith and Hickock are kept in separate cells of the county prison. Smith wants to amend Hickock's confession to state that he, Smith, killed...

(The entire section is 474 words.)