Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood documents the homicide of the Clutter family, the search for the killers, and the trial and execution of the two convicted murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. Capote gives a detailed insight into the lives of the four Clutters prior to their untimely deaths, focusing primarily on the daughter, Nancy Clutter. In his description of Nancy, Capote utilizes rhetorical strategies, such as imagery, parenthesis, and allusion, to give the audience a more intimate appeal in the life of the young girl, thus providing a more emotional impact upon the reader.
Capote’s accounts of Nancy’s life are immersed in imagery. Remarking that her room is the “most personal room in the house—girlish, and as frothy as a ballerina’s tutu,” Capote elaborates by speculating that her room’s “walls, ceiling, and everything else…were pink or blue or white.” He further illustrates the assortment of items in Nancy’s room, observing that “a cork bulletin board, painted pink, hung above a white-skirted dressing table; dry gardenias, the remains of some ancient corsage, were attached to it, and old valentines, newspaper recipes, and snapshots of her baby nephew and of Susan Kidwell and of Bobby Rupp, Bobby caught in a dozen actions…” Capote then goes on to describe Nancy’s nighttime “beauty routine, a cleansing, creaming ritual, which on Saturday nights included washing her hair.” The imagery abundant in the story’s excerpt portrays Capote’s emotional ties to the Clutter family that he has developed in the course of his research on the case. It also helps the reader to develop a more personal connection with the teenaged girl, who would in a few hours become a victim of a brutal murder, therefore projecting the impact felt by the deaths on the reader.
The use of parenthesis is also prevalent in this excerpt from In Cold Blood. One such occurrence is apparent as Capote describes Nancy’s “other pictures, of horses, of cats deceased by unforgotten—like ‘poor Boobs,’ who had died not long ago and most mysteriously (she suspected poison).” Another instance of parenthesis is when Capote reflects on Nancy’s diary entries, adding in minor details such as “an occasional outburst (‘I love him, I do’)” and recounts of “the splendor of several events (Eveanna’s wedding, the birth of her nephew) and the drama of others (her first REAL quarrel with Bobby—a page literally tear-stained).” These subtle bursts of information help to further develop Nancy’s character and enhance the reader’s insight and connection to Nancy’s daily life.
Allusion plays a significant role in the excerpt of Nancy’s bedroom. For example, Nancy was recalled to have “once informed her friend and home-economics teacher, Mrs. Polly Stringer, [that] the midnight hours were her ‘time to be selfish and vain.’” Capote also cited Nancy’s diary several times, noting that “before saying her prayers, she always recorded in a diary a few occurrences (‘Summer here. Forever, I hope. Sue over and we rode Babe down to the River. Sue played her flute. Fireflies’)” and “‘Jolene K. came over and I showed her how to make a cherry pie. Practiced with Roxie. Bobby here and we watched TV. Left at eleven.’” Although these allusions seem irrelevant and insignificant, nevertheless they allow the audience to delve into Nancy’s thoughts and innocence, leaving the reader to feel very strongly that her murder was cruel and unjust. They also display Capote’s sympathy towards poor Nancy.
Nancy Clutter was an ordinary teenaged girl who had a whole future ahead of her. On a fateful night, her future was cut short by two heartless men seeking money. Truman Capote emphasizes the tragedy of Nancy’s death by the use of rhetorical strategies, including imagery, parenthesis, and allusion, to develop character and bring a more intimate connection between her and the audience. Capote’s strategies prove affective in moving the audience with emotion and helping readers to see the inhumanity of the Clutter family’s homicide.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote