Author Truman Capote has been a controversial figure for decades. His most well-known work, In Cold Blood, has drawn controversy as well. While this work has been praised for its artful descriptions, dialogue, and character sketches, it has been criticized for distorting and ignoring some facts. Capote proclaimed he employed journalistic techniques to tell the story of a true case, the murder of a Kansas farm family, and in so doing, created a new genre: the nonfiction novel. The work can be classified as great in many respects, and it earned Capote and the case itself enduring fame. Yet some believe the distortions and manipulations of the facts of the case do not warrant its place as a prize or model of American literature. Indeed, some question Capote’s motives for employing his process. This has given rise to controversy over the same types of breaches in more recent truth-telling works, such as James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces and Greg Mortensen’s Three Cups of Tea.
Carefully read the accompanying six documents examining the dilemma mentioned above, considering your own reading of In Cold Blood, as well. Evaluate the pros and the cons of relating a true story in a less than truthful, factual way. Annotate, highlight, underline, and question each document as needed. The first assignment is to write a report on each of the sources because we will use these sources to construct a synthesis essay. After the draft, the second assignment will be to synthesize information from at least four of the sources and incorporate it into a coherent, well-developed essay that takes and explains a position regarding to what extent it matters, especially today, for authors to relate true incidents without alteration.
You will receive a grade for your annotations, so please be thorough and thoughtful.
When you write the essay, make sure that your argument is central; use the sources to illustrate and support your reasoning. Avoid merely summarizing the sources. Indicate clearly which sources you are drawing from, whether through direct quotation, paraphrase, or summary. You may cite the sources using MLA format.
Melissa Lee. “High school sweetheart recalls the day his life changed forever: Bob Rupp maintains resilient spirit through years of living with memories.” The Lawrence Journal-World. Sunday, April 3, 2005 In 45 years, Rupp, now 61, hasn't publicly discussed the book or the murders, despite hundreds of interview requests from around the world. He wasn't fond of Capote and gets irritated by reporters nosing into his private life. The past is the past, he says with quiet firmness.
But he's never forgotten, he adds in a voice that's a hint thicker--the girl he so loved, the family he so adored. And now, Bob Rupp--husband, father of four, grandfather, Holcomb farmer all his life -- is, for the first time, ready to share his story. . . .
Larry [Bob’s brother] recalls hearing a knock at the bedroom door. His father, flanked by Clarence Ewalt, a family friend and the father of one of Nancy's best friends, appeared in the doorframe. Larry could see tears on both men's cheeks.
"There's been a tragedy," both Rupp brothers remember Ewalt saying. "They're dead. The Clutters are dead. We found them..."
"No. No. This can't happen," Bob Rupp remembers thinking frantically. "You read about this stuff. It doesn't happen here. Not in Holcomb."
As Larry Rupp remembers that day, his older brother--never one for outbursts--threw the Browning [the gun he was cleaning] on the floor. Bob has never touched a gun since.
The boys were in shock. The elder vowed to drive to the Clutter farm right then and there. Ewalt advised against it, saying, "They're not alive anymore, Bobby." He offered nothing else. Didn't say anything about the gruesome scene he, his daughter and another girl had discovered that morning. Didn't say how each of the Clutters had been shot at point-blank range--Herb first, then Kenyon, Nancy and Bonnie. Didn't say what nobody yet knew--that before Nancy was shot, she'd said, "Please don't," then turned to the wall when she realized what was about to happen.
Bobby drove anyway, Larry accompanying--even though "In Cold Blood" says the boys ran the three miles to the Clutter farm. It's a discrepancy that still stands out to those close to Rupp: family friends, Coleen, even Larry, who hasn't read the book but knows where Capote erred.
Van Jensen. “Writing history: Capote’s novel has lasting effect on journalism.” The Lawrence Journal-World. Sunday, April 3, 2005 This is half of the legacy of Capote's great book. Published in 1965, it helped show journalists the possibility of using creative writing techniques while holding to the guidelines of journalism, something now commonly seen not only in books but also in magazines and newspapers--where many view the style as crucial to keeping readers.
But in writing the book, Capote blurred the line between truth and untruth, despite his claims of impeccable accuracy. His embellishments -- which vary from allegedly misquoting people to making composite characters to ending the book with a scene that never happened--have bred ill will from some in the book who felt falsely portrayed and distrust from readers who, upon learning of Capote's changes, are left to wonder where reality ends and fiction begins. . . .
But, with "In Cold Blood" about to turn 40 years old, those leading the movement once known as "new journalism" agree that the book deserves to be remembered for its contributions to the genre as well as for its faults.
"Certainly it's an important book," Hart said, "to demonstrate that the literary techniques of a novel could be applied to narrative journalism."
Capote believed he had written more than an important book. It was a completely new form of writing, he said. "It seemed to me that journalism, reportage, could be forced to yield a serious new art form: the 'nonfiction novel,' as I thought of it ... Journalism is the most underestimated, the least explored of literary mediums," Capote said in a 1966 interview with The New York Times.
The book took the form of a novel, featuring set scenes, characters, a distinctive voice and a story formed with an introduction, rising action, climax and resolution--the real events surrounding the murder of the Herb Clutter family shaped into a storyline. . . .
Earning an estimated $2 million in its first year, "In Cold Blood" garnered financial as well as critical success for its author. Capote's creation, after all, had proved worth the effort and, he said, brought forth a new genre of writing.
But not everyone agreed Capote could claim to have created the style.
His contemporaries, such as Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer, included Capote's work as part of "new journalism"--Wolfe's term, coined in the mid-1960s, to describe a movement of creative writing in journalism.
Others put the origin much earlier.
In his introduction to "Literary Journalism," a compilation of articles of narrative journalism he co-edited, narrative expert Mark Kramer traced it back as far as Daniel Defoe's writing in the 1700s, followed by that of Mark Twain in the 19th century and other writers such as James Agee, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Mitchell, Lillian Ross and John Steinbeck in the period around World War II.
"You can find a lot of earlier examples," said Kramer, who serves as director of the Nieman Foundation Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard. "It's silly, that kind of claim." Still, Kramer said, Capote's accomplishments should overshadow his boastful nature. Although Capote might not have created a new type of literature, historians of the form agree he played a crucial role in reviving it.
A "true account"
In his Jan. 16, 1966, review of "In Cold Blood" in The New York Times, Conrad Knickerbocker called the book, "a remarkable, tensely exciting, moving, superbly written 'true account.' "
Beyond Knickerbocker's praise, notice the quotation marks around "true account." . . .
Critics found discrepancies between "In Cold Blood" and official documents, such as the transcript of the murder trial. And people who appear in the book--such as Duane West, the former Finney County prosecutor who tried the case--contended that they had been portrayed unjustly or misquoted.
As time passed, more instances of Capote's fictionalization came to light.
The Rev. James Post, who served as chaplain of the Kansas State Penitentiary when killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were there, said in an interview with George Plimpton that he had met with Hickock's son a few years after the killers were executed.
"I didn't minimize the horrible things that he'd done or anything like that," Post said. "But I said his dad wasn't the sex fiend that Capote tried to make him out ... like trying to rape the Clutter girl before he killed her ... it didn't happen. And other things ... lies, just to make it a better story."
Dewey, who other people close to the case said Capote made into a composite law enforcement character, later said the final scene of the book, in which he visits the graves of the Clutter family and talks with Nancy Clutter's friend Susan Kidwell, did not happen. . . .
West, along with others in Holcomb and Garden City, are still angry at Capote about the book. Garden City native Jon Craig wrote a senior history thesis at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., about how the mistakes of "In Cold Blood" negatively affected members of those communities, noting that a number of changes added to the book artistically but stripped away the truth.
The surviving daughters of Herb and Bonnie Clutter--Beverly English and Eveanna Mosier--might be most affected by the book's inaccuracies. They expressed anger about Capote's description of their mother as an invalid, something they and others close to the Clutters contend was not true.
Such changes affect readers as well.
They lessen readers' trust of all journalists and erode the impact of individual works, Kramer said.
Critics also have challenged Capote's reporting technique. He never took notes during interviews for the book. He claimed he could memorize what people said and recall it with 95 percent accuracy, something he said he had trained himself to do by memorizing names in phone books and passages of books.
In Cold Blood's legacy
If written today, "In Cold Blood" would not be published without significant changes, Blais, from the University of Massachusetts, said.
"One of the ways in which literary journalism has evolved is that ... his book would not get published without end notes or some kind of elaborate acknowledgment of his sources and his information techniques," she said. "Transparency," as many in media now call it, has become one of the most crucial elements of mixing creative writing with journalism.
At The Oregonian, Hart said: "We attribute anything we didn't observe directly; how we know what we know. A lot of editors have pushed for strict guidelines.
"My opinion is, everything's fair as long as the writer lets the readers know (what changes he or she makes)."
Although newspapers and magazines are typically strict about accuracy, Hart said, narrative journalism in book form is often less so. . . .
But, leaders in the genre said, readers still expect the same honest approach from authors of books that they do from newspaper or magazine articles.
Even though Capote said "In Cold Blood's" purpose was to test the artistic merit of journalism, many have found worthwhile social issues within it. Some have used it to debate the value of the death penalty; others praise it for its insight into the criminal mind; and many see in it commentary on social divisions.
"It provides such a stunning picture of the disconnect still much in evidence in our society between decent families like the Clutters and the underclass," Blais said. "Perry Smith in particular came from the kind of endangered background that just about axiomatically produces children who become dangerous."
Tucker Shaw. “If Truman Capote fibbed, does “In Cold Blood” belong in the trash?” The Denver Post. February 27, 2013 There has been much to-do-ing this month about new allegations that even more of Truman Capote’s seminal “In Cold Blood,” which he famously called a “nonfiction novel” and “immaculately factual” was invented by Capote.
The book is an indelible title in the American library, a riveting re-creation of a multiple murder committed by Perry Smith and Dick Hickock in rural Kansas. What made it so fascinating wasn’t just Capote’s reporting, but the incredible relationship he forged with Smith, the killer.
But all that’s been thrown into question. According to the Wall St. Journal, new evidence shows that police reports following the crime may not jibe exactly with Capote’s text.
The problem is, once one fabrication’s been uncovered, everything else is thrown into question too. And the quandary becomes: Do inaccuracies entirely negate the literary merit of the book? If we cease to consider it true, does it then become kindling?
It happened to James Frey, whose “Million Little Pieces” was exposed as an elaborate lie. (Which is too bad for Frey, because he’s a very good writer and maybe didn’t need to make so much stuff up.)
Veracity poses tricky questions for readers. The journalist in me says that if Capote got the facts wrong, or worse, made stuff up, then the story’s no good. But the reader in me is loath to completely give up a book as brilliantly constructed as “In Cold Blood.” Capote is just too important a writer to ignore, and the story, even if it is a tall tale, is too compelling to drop.
Perhaps a note from the publisher in forthcoming editions is in order. But as a lifelong student of literature – fiction and nonfiction – I’d hate to just cast “In Cold Blood” to the wind.
Well, in any event, we’ll always have Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Ted Gioia. “Postmodern Mystery. New Angles on an Old Genre.” Blog post The crime novel was mostly forgotten by cutting edge American novelists during the 1950s and 1960s, its formulas seen as too confining, perhaps even too vulgar for the free spirits of modern fiction. Even more to the point, the idealization of "law and order," inherent to the genre, was unlikely to appeal to a Jack Kerouac, a Ken Kesey, a Thomas Pyncheon and the other literary bohemians who increasingly set the tone for the not-so-belles lettres of this period, often by means of works that revealed rather a tendency to lawlessness and disorder.
But when Truman Capote finally delivered the great literary treatment of murder and justice of the era, In Cold Blood, his approach deviated markedly from the experimental tendencies of the day. Instead of embracing the outrageous and fanciful, the extravagant and transgressive—areas where he would have enjoyed an inherent advantage as a chronicler—Capote moved toward a scrupulous realism, and a deliberate encroachment on the traditional territory of nonfiction authors. He still relied on the storytelling techniques honed over two decades of writing fiction, yet now brought them to bear on a subject and situation that would normally be addressed by journalists or perhaps sociologists.
On November 16, 1959, The New York Times reported on the murder of four members of a well-to-do family in a small town in Kansas. The Times, then as now, downplayed sensational crime stories, and this brief article, headlined "Wealthy Farmer, 3 of Family Slain," would have been easy enough to miss. "A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home," the newswire account began. "They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged.…" Fascinated by the few facts provided in this brief story, Capote was soon on his way to Kansas to begin what would turn out to be a six-year odyssey—a period encompassing the investigation of the crime, the arrest of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, their trial and conviction, and ultimately their hanging on April 14, 1965.
For some time, Capote had been looking for a different way of conceptualizing the modern novel. He felt that little true innovation had taken place since the 1920s, that most stories tended toward either pulp fiction clichés or neo-fabulist excesses. With In Cold Blood he hoped to do something different, construct an essentially non-fiction novel, one which would allow him to replace, in his words, the "self-created world" of the traditional novel, with "the everyday objective world we all inhabit."
Capote had long cut an impressive figure in the literary world, able to command the interest of socialites and celebrities, and even the mass media, to a degree that no later American novelist has been able to match. Yet in researching and writing In Cold Blood, Capote revealed different talents and social skills, sometimes relying on his reserves of charm while in other instances falling back on an almost ruthless pursuit of self-interest. No wonder that, in addition to the story in the novel, an almost equally compelling story behind the novel would eventually come to light, even serving as the basis for its own Hollywood movie, the 2005 film Capote.