A Tree of Night Style and Technique

Truman Capote

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Capote believed that what a writer used as subject matter was not as important as how it was used. He told an interviewer that “a very fine artist” can take something “most ordinary” and, “through sheer artistry and willpower, turn it into a work of art.” “A Tree of Night” proves his point. Capote makes this work universal by using a “most ordinary” 1940’s situation in which there is neither realistic danger, nor tragedy, nor loss. Using psychological realism, he moves his protagonist through the sexualization process. A catalog of nouns defines the stages of her passage, as he has her exaggerate ordinary remarks and events. Her list of nouns, compatible with actual human experience, defines and parodies the universal nature of youth caught at the moment of fully adult sexual awareness.

In the rising action that provides setting, dialogue, character, and plot, Kay moves through amusement, squeamishness, timorous assertiveness, bewilderment, embarrassment, puzzlement, amazement, absentmindedness, and anger. In the story’s climax, shame and fear come as she flees the peach seed scene. In falling action come compulsion, preoccupation, and realization, and in resolution come capitulation and copulation. Capote depicts capitulation as a complete “letting-go” of self (the purse identifying the brassy kay). He depicts copulation as an innocent girl’s swoon at the moment of surrender.

Capote, who said that his early stories were attempts to escape the realities of his own troubled life in a quest for serenity, seems to reveal in “A Tree of Night” his self-struggle with primal memories from a dysfunctional childhood filled with aunts, cooks, and strangers and rife with memories of sexual tensions and identity crises.