Capote’s extensive characterization is a key element of In Cold Blood. The characters can be divided into three groups: the Clutter family, the two murderers, and the characters who were emotionally attached to the murder. Each killer’s psyche is researched by Capote, and each is individualized by his specific psyche.
Capote goes to great lengths to show that the townspeople viewed the Clutter family as an ideal American family. Mr. Herbert Clutter was the most successful farmer in Holcomb: “He was, however, the community’s most widely known citizen, prominent both there and in Garden City, the close dash by county seat…” (6). Capote details his numerous activities, including filling a position in the Federal Farm Credit Board during the Eisenhower administration. He was also “chairman of the Kansas Conference of Farm Organizations and his name is everywhere respectfully recognized among Midwestern agriculturalists” (6).
Capoteselects important details in characterizing each family member. The strongly admired Clutter family had four children, three girls and one boy. Daughter Nancy and son Kenyon lived at home, while the older two daughters had married and left home. Nancy Clutter, an attractive sixteen year old girl ‘had been the town darling,’ having distinguished herself as a straight-A student, the president of her class, a leader in the 4-H program and the Young Methodists League, a skillful rider, an excellent musician…” (Reed 104).
Capote’s details show that Kenyon Clutter was also well-liked. His “crew-cut hair is hemp colored: he was six feet tall and lanky, though hefty enough to have once rescued a pair of full grown sheep” (38). A y…
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…, praises Herb Clutter: “He was a modest man, but a proud man… He raised a fine family. He made something of his life” (79). The residents of Holcomb were described as being shocked yet inquisitive–the utmost respect for this family was the cause of this curiosity. To sum up, the residents of Holcomb, or the people emotionally attached to the murder, were characterized as being, respectful, gracious, and caring individuals.
When considering In Cold Blood, the reader must take into account that Capote is not inventing people, he is conveying the lessons and experiences of real people. This style is not the norm because it is not the standard challenge of a novelist. However, by carefully selecting detail in describing the various personalities involved in the crime, Capote passes facts of all the characters to the reader in an easily understood fashion.
Essay on Spiritual Poverty in James Joyce’s Dubliners
Spiritual Poverty Exposed in The Dubliners
Joyce describes the spiritual poverty of the people of Dublin in the industrial age, with powerful images of mechanized humans and animated machines. In “After the Race” and “Counterparts” he delineates characters with appropriate portraits of human automation. Machines seize human attributes and vitality in opposition to the vacuous citizens of Ireland’s capitalist city. Joyce’s use of metaphorical language brings to life the despair of his country.
In Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson writes an allegorical account of the failure of mankind (1919). Although Anderson depicts rural life in the “New World,” his understanding of human nature and descriptive terminology provide a valuable framework for examining Joyce’s rendition of urban misery in the “Old World.” “The Book of the Grotesque,” the opening piece of Anderson’s short story collection, animates the thoughts of a dying old man:
It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood. (24, Penguin Edition).
This notion, that belief in a single truth or paradigm distorts people such that they become warped and can no longer function as human, is central to Joyce’s characterizations of the Dubliners. Twentieth Century Homo sapiens can be distinguished from machines by their potential to think openly and consider myriad ideas without being paralyzed by a singular absolute. When people clutch an idea and transform it into an ideal, the separation between man and machine becomes blurred. Human automatons mechanically follow the programming of their truth.
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… demands that he find an outlet for his frustration, and he beats his child to slake the strange thirst for violence of an alcoholic.
When an individual seizes a single idea or paradigm they loose their humanity and assume the form of a grotesque machine. Joyce’s characterizations of mechanical people and animate machines in The Dubliners follow this philosophy as presented by Sherwood Anderson, and reinforce its applicability. Dubliners are anesthetized by their truths and experience a paralysis of their human possibilities. Only dull machinery remains. This machinery is then capable of great inhumanity as it follows the scripture of its truth. Alcoholics can beat children, Capitalists can ravage countries, and Nationalists can fight wars (religious or profane) to exterminate other ethnicities.
Joyce, James Dubliners, New York:Penguin, 1993.