Capote, Truman (Vol. 1)
Capote, Truman 1924–1984
The mention of [Truman Capote's] name conjures up images of a wispish, effete soul languishing on an ornate couch, emitting an ether of preciousness and very little else. The reaction to the amazing success of his early books, Other Voices, Other Rooms and A Tree of Night, has relegated Capote to the position of a clever, cute, coy, commercial, and definitely minor figure in contemporary literature, whose reputation has been built less on a facility of style than on an excellent advertising campaign. Even an earnest supporter would have to admit that Capote's stories tiptoe the tenuous line between the precious and the serious. Yet the attacks on Capote seem more personal than literary….
While it is true that Capote writes fantastic and grotesque stories, it is not necessarily true that these stories, because of their genre, must be remote from life. In many ways, Capote has chosen the most universal medium in which to present his thematic material, because the genre of the fantasy, evolving from the day dream, the fairy tale, and the tall tale, is among the oldest and most elemental of fictional forms….
The dichotomy of good and evil exists in each Capote character just as the dichotomy of daylight and nighttime exists in the aggregate of his stories. We might almost say that Capote's stories inhabit two worlds—that of the realistic, colloquial, often humorous daytime and that of the dreamlike, detached, and inverted nocturnal world. This double identity must be viewed with a double vision because Capote's stories can be interpreted either psychologically or as an expression of a spiritual or moral problem. In either case, whether the story be realistic or fantastic, the central focus is on the moment of initiation and the central character is either adolescent or innocent.
Paul Levine, "Truman Capote: The Revelation of the Broken Image," in Virginia Quarterly Review, Autumn, 1958, pp. 600-17.
To some, Capote is the sprite with a monstrous imagination, the lonely child…. To others he is simply the ephebic purveyor of gothic extravaganzas, the fashionable opportunist of a mid-century madness. Whatever the faults of Capote may be, it is certain that his work possesses more range and energy than his detractors allow….
Southern he is by accident of birth more than natural affinity…. [Moreover,] his work [cannot] be called gothic in the same sense that makes the idea of spiritual isolation in the novels of Carson McCullers functional and intelligible. Of protest and isolation, as we shall see, Capote has much to say. His broader intentions, however, are more nearly defined by that native tradition of … romance, informed by the modern techniques of dream symbolism and analysis…. We begin to perceive the specific concerns of Capote's fiction when we note the division between his "daylight" and "nocturnal" styles, and when we understand both as developments of a central, unifying, and self-regarding impulse which Narcissus has traditionally embodied. The impulse brings together dread and humor, dream and reality, "in-sight" and "experience."…
The nocturnal style of Truman Capote—and it is the style we are likely to identify with his achievement—makes the greater use of uncanny trappings and surreal decors. The sense of underlying dreadfulness compels the style to discover "the instant of petrified violence," the revelation which only the moment of terror can yield…. [And] in effacing the distinctions between reality and imagination, the nocturnal style not only evokes the shapeless world of our dreams; it evokes, no less, the fabulous world of myth and fairy tale. In our age, alas, dream, myth, and fairy tale are no longer allowed to drowse in their separate corners….
But if the supernatural defines the nocturnal mode of...
(The entire section is 1,204 words.)