In Cold blood context


Death/ Religion

  • Epigraphs illuminate important aspects of the story, and get us headed in the right direction.
  • "The Ballad of the Hanged Men"- Capote is setting us up for the central moral question in this book. 
  • Is the death penalty morally jutsified? 
  • The men in the poem are about to hang to pray for Jesus for salvation for themselves 
  • Although Perry and **** had no use for religion, the men surely did, they believe God demands mercy.
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Capote's attitude towards the Death Penalty

  • While Capote was writing the novel, **** and Perry's execution had been delayed several times, which Capote complained about the law system. Kansas had abolished capital punishment and brought it back into law several times. 
  • Capote started working against this 'institutionalised ******' (Voss 147). He interviewed other killers and also collected material for a documentary called Death Row, which addressed criticism concerning capital punishment.
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Religion (continued)

  • The notion of Christianity as a force of redemption and salvation is explored. It's emphasised from the beginning that Garden City is a strongly religious.
  • The Clutters are a Methodist family, and their Methodist frugality and temperance seem to be in their apparant achievement of the American Dream. 
  • Although Perry outwardly shuns Christianity- Catholicism in particular, he was living in an orphanage run by abusive nuns- mysticism, the divine, and Christian culture are nonetheless very important to him. 
  • Since childhood, Perry has been subject to to visions of a golden parrot- a huge, cross-shaped bird that descends upon him in time of crisis. Perry is convinced that this vision (maybe a symptom of paranoid schziophrenia) is divine- "an avenging angel or possibly even Jesus.
  • Christian principles surface throughout the book as possible antidotes to murduring and violence- the death penalty is opposed by a number of Christians (Herb's brother) and Christianty is often presented (especially by Willie-Jay) as a possible means for turning **** and Perry from a life of crime. 
  • Christianity is always presented in a positive light, he focuses on the evilness of religion to suggest that people of faith don't always do the kindest of deeds.
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Classic Crime-genre techniques

  • Create resonance and heighten suspense e.g create tense, cinematic inter-cutting between the killers and their victims.
  • Herb, the rural patriarch, consumes his usual breakfast of an apple and a glass of milk, "unaware that it would be his last", and Nancy lays out her velveteen dress for church, "the dress in which she was buried", the two ex-cons are racing across the wheat plains of the Midwest in their black Chevrolet sedan, Hickcock high on Orange Blossoms, Smith crunching handfuls of aspirin for his grotesquely injured legs.

Class of Class/ Worlds/ Cultures

  • **** and Perry symbolised the feckless, degenerate underbelly of the country, antithesis of Holcomb's God-fearing and law-abiding citizens. 
  • capote's brilliantly atmospheric, sordidly glittery account of the "long ride", as the wanted men drifted from Kansas city to Acapulco to Miami in the build up to the arrest, supplied the perfect foil to his spare, tight-lipped depiction of a community in shock.
  • The murders represented a sudden, horrifying collision of two wildly divergent Americas.
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The Ending

  • The difficulty with non-fiction often lies in the resolution. Life being messy and open-ended, tends to withold comfort.
  • Once Smith and Hickcock had been executed, Dewey expected to experience release, a sense of "a design justly completed", but he felt nothing of the kind. This was Capote's problem too: the completion of the design was something the novel had to accomplish.
  • He decided to break the rules of writing a fictional ending- Dewey's conicidental springtime encounter with Susan in Garden City graveyard four years later.
  • Life goes on implied by Capote. Cries become whispers.
  • Criticsed sentimentally, his own defence was to argue that the idea of ending with the executions had struck him as too brutal. "I felt I had to return to the town, to bring everything back full circle, to end with peace."
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Capote's aims and how they change

  • "It really doesn't make a difference to me if the case is ever solved or not." His intetion was to produce a tightly controlled forensic piece that examined the effects of a savage , senseless killing on an obscure community, and what interested him at the outset was the climate of wariness and suspicion, the insomina, the loss of faith, the dread. 
  • It seems naive to suppose that one could carry out such an examination without considering people's desire for justice and retribution.
  • The two killers had subsequent confessions, radically altered both angle and scale of his undertaking. 
  • As late as 1962, Capote was still sticking to his orginal sprit- in public, at least. "My book isn't a crime story, It's the story of a town."
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