In Cold Blood: Effective Use of Characterization
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 year younger than Nancy, he was industrious, intelligent, and shy.
The anomaly in the family, according to Capote, was Mrs. Bonnie Clutter, wife of Herbert. Capote characterizes her emotionally, rather than physically: a good-spirited woman, plagued with chronic depression, who heartily attempted to fight her disorder and felt extreme love for her husband and children. However, according to Capote, Mrs. Clutter felt other people did not like her, and while she tried to earn their love, she often scared them with with her words.
Capote goes to great efforts to show the admiration which the community held for the Clutter family, one of the elements which made the murders so shocking. Everybody socialized with the Clutter family. For example, Mr. Clutter's friend Mrs. Ashida felt comfortable telling Mr. Clutter her conflict with her husband regarding the Ashida family's possible move, confiding that people like his family are the reason she wishes to stay in Holcomb.
The author's details in presenting the two killers are also vivid. Capote focuses on their physical appearance and differences. Dick Hickock was a "flimsy, dingy-blond youth of medium height, flesh less, and perhaps sunken chested" (30). He...