Allusions in In Cold Blood

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine some examples of historical and literary allusions, including Biblical allusions from Truman Capote's nonfiction drama, 'In Cold Blood.'

Allusions Definition

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is an account of an actual crime committed by Perry Smith and Richard 'Dick' Hickock. In November 1959, the two men drove to Holcomb, Kansas and murdered four people: Herb and Bonnie Clutter and their two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon. While the story is nonfiction, the author uses literary devices, such as allusion, to make it read like a novel. Allusion is when an author ambiguously mentions an event in literature or history but does not delve into its symbolic significance, but rather leaves that to the reader. Let's look at some examples of allusion from this novel.

Biblical Allusions

The most widely read book in history is the Bible, therefore, it only makes sense that it would also be the most frequently referenced work. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is referenced in both the first and last chapter of the novel.

Mr. Clutter compares to his ranch in Holcomb County to the Garden of Eden. Mr. Clutter used to say, ''…an inch more of rain and this country would be paradise - Eden on earth.'' In an effort to create his own ''…patch of the paradise, the green, apple-scented Eden..'' Mr. Clutter planted his own fruit orchard. This allusion paints an idyllic paradise where something so horrific could as the Clutter murder could never happen.

Genesis is also referenced in the last chapter as Perry expresses how much he misses Dick. The narrator writes, ''…of everyone in all the world, this was the person to whom he was closest at that moment, for they at least were of the same species, brothers in the breed of Cain…'' In the Bible, Cain, the son of Adam, kills his own brother, making him the first human to commit murder. The allusion to Cain indicates a connection of sinfulness between men who are able to perform such a heinous act.

Historical Allusions

A historical allusion in the novel that is repeated multiple times relates to Perry's service in the army during the Korean War. Perry hates Kansas and the barren lands that the men travel. ''Seaports were his heart's delight - crowded, clanging, shipclogged, sewage-scented cities, like Yokohama, where as an American Army private he'd spent summer during the Korean War.''

Perry seems proud of his military service and claims he ''…had a good record in the Army, good as anybody; they gave me the Bronze Star. But I never got promoted. After four years, and fighting through the whole goddam Korean war, I ought at least to have made corporal. But I never did.'' Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that Perry actually received that Bronze Star. It appears to be another inflation that Capote doesn't question.

He did, however, spend a lot of time in the stockade for various crimes. In his autobiographical statement, Perry says, ''I threw a Japanese policeman off a bridge into the water. I was court-martialed for demolishing a Japanese cafe. I was court-martialed again in Kyoto, Japan, for stealing a Japanese taxicab. I was in the army almost four years. I had many violent outbursts of anger while I served time in Japan & Korea. I was in Korea 15 months, was rotated and sent back to the states - and was given special recognition as being the first Korean Vet to come back to the territory of Alaska.''

The allusion to Perry's participation in the Korean War indicates the severity of Perry's violent behavior and problems with authority. It also shows that Perry had the opportunity to be of service to his country and to go a different way, but Perry chose a different direction. While he is proud of his service, he is much more concerned about recognition than heroism.

Literary Allusions

Some literary allusions are made as well as part of the characterizations.

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