Death is, perhaps, the most universal of themes that an author can choose to write of. Death comes to all things; not so love, betrayal, happiness, or suffering. Each death is certain, but each is also unique. In Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote addresses several deaths, and each is handled in its individual fashion. From the manner of the death to its effect on those it touches, Capote crafts vignettes within the story to give the reader a very different sense of each one.
The events in the novel are predicated upon the death of Joel's mother. The account of his mother's death and the upheaval it caused for him (p 10 ) is more poignant to a reader who has experienced the untimely death of a parent than to one who has not. The reader who has experienced the loss can identify with everyone “always smiling” and with the unexplainable changes in one's own behavior toward others as one adjusts to the emptiness.
Mr. Sansom's letter gives the appearance that her death led him to “assume [his] paternal duties.” Joel is not an orphan, and need not rely on the charity of his aunt. Bringing him to Skully's Landing to live with his natural father seems the ideal solution. Sansom's letter does not give the impression that he is terribly “broken up” by the death. Saddened and sympathetic, maybe, but not devastated, by any means.
Nowhere in the passage, however, are the words “death,” “die,” or “dying” mentioned. Instead, it is the shriveling of the tangerines (p 10) that symbolize her passing. Again, in Edward Sansom's letter to Joel's Aunt Ellen (p 7), the death is not written of as such. Rather, it is referred to as “my late wife's passing.” In fact, Capote euphamizes death in the entire first part of the book. Incidental characters either “met a terrible accident,” (p 54) “crushed his head,” (p 99) met with a “second tragedy,” (p 99), or “poured kerosene … and struck a match.” (p 100) It is not until Joel speaks with Zoo (p 59) that we actually see the word “die”. During and after Randolph's soliloquy (pp 141-153), direct references to death and dying appear frequently.
Jesus Fever's death (p 162) does not seem to be a particularly sad event. He was over one hundred years old, so nobody was surprised when it came (unlike Joel's mother's death). Yes, Zoo is losing her grandfather, her only living relative, but it is a release for her. She is now free to pursue her dream, rather than bound to the duty of taking care of him. ...