The Headless Hawk

by Truman Capote

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 678

Considered one of the most complex of the author’s stories, “The Headless Hawk” resembles several of Truman Capote’s other pieces in its use of flashback. In the first part, the protagonist, Vincent Waters, is followed home by an unusual-looking girl; the middle section flashes back to their earlier meeting, romance, and separation; and the ending of the story returns to the beginning—the present—and accentuates the stasis of the situation, the impossibility of any resolution short of violence.

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Vincent is shown in the first and last segments in a state of disintegration, uncertain about everything, as if he has lost contact with reality. When he leaves his art gallery one hot July evening, he begins to look for and soon notices the young woman whom he expects to see. Neither speaks to the other, yet there appears to be a pattern to the encounter: First she walks and he follows; she waits, he catches up, they pause, and then he sets off with her trailing behind him as he makes his way to his apartment. There she stands outside, always waiting.

At that point the story flashes back to their first meeting, the previous winter. A peculiarly dressed young woman, with unusual eyes and haircut, appears in the gallery to sell Vincent a strange self-portrait. In it, her severed head lies alongside her body, and in the background is a headless hawk. Although the girl tells Vincent a few things about herself, mentioning a Mr. Destronelli, a name that will become very familiar to him in the future, she is also curiously remote.

Impressed by the power of the painting and by the affinity that he feels for it, Vincent decides to buy it. He is also attracted by the girl herself, though he recognizes that he has a history of falling in love with eccentrics for brief periods. He knows that ultimately he will dislike the very quality that draws him to her.

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When he is distracted by a phone call, the girl disappears, leaving behind on a piece of paper only her initials, D. J., and an open-ended address, the YWCA. Because of that, Vincent cannot trace her. He spends lonely nights speaking to the painting, confessing his feelings about himself, his sense of failure and incompleteness.

Several months pass, during which Vincent is disturbed and upset. Then, one April evening as he wanders through the streets of New York City, he encounters D. J. Frightened of him at first, it is not long before she agrees to go home with him. They become lovers, and occasionally D. J. tells Vincent a little about her past, always invoking the name of the mysterious Mr. Destronelli. When Vincent wants to know more about Destronelli, he learns only that the man resembles everybody.

The affair ends in a month, after the two have celebrated D. J.’s birthday. That night Vincent has a terrifying dream, in which he sees himself at a party, carrying the burden of another self, a horrible old man. Lovers whom he has betrayed also appear in the dream. When he dances with D. J., he floats away from her. At that moment, he is attacked by a headless hawk, which the freakish host has been holding. With that he knows there can be neither love nor freedom from his fate.

Awakening from his dream, Vincent finds D. J. outside in the neglected garden, behaving in a way that leads him to question her sanity. As soon as he does that, he realizes that he has destroyed his love for her. The next day, sick in body and spirit, he cuts up her painting and puts her suitcase out in the hall.

The story returns to the present and ends quickly with a scene in front of the apartment house. Vincent, ill and indecisive, stands for a moment next to a lamppost. The rain that has been threatening all day comes, and, as everyone else goes indoors, D. J. walks up to Vincent and waits in the silence and the rain.

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