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Imagery in In Cold Blood: Examples, Quotes & Analysis

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Truman Capote's evocative imagery in ''In Cold Blood'' appeals to the reader's senses. Some of the imagery contrasts the beautiful landscape to the horrible murders of the Clutter family, while other imagery helps reveal the mind of a killer.

What Is Imagery?

Imagery is a literary device in which the writing appeals to one or more of the five senses. Imagery occurs in vivid descriptive writing, and the writing often seems to paint a picture.

Apple-eating Weather

The murders that are the subject of In Cold Blood occur in Holcomb, Kansas. The Clutter family is murdered in this small town in November 1959, and Capote uses imagery to help readers envision Kansas' flat, sprawling landscape. 'The land is flat, the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them,' Capote writes.

Capote also appeals to the sense of sound in his description of native Kansans: 'The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness. . . .'

Capote continues to evoke sensory images as he describes the day on which the Clutters are killed. 'It was ideal apple-eating weather; the whitest sunlight descended from the purest sky, and an easterly wind rustled, without ripping loose, the last of the leaves on the Chinese elms.' Capote's nature imagery provides a stark contrast to the massacre that occurs on this beautiful, placid day.

Blood Imagery

When Susan Kidwell and Nancy Ewalt find the murder scene, Susan is in denial about what she sees. After all, Nancy Clutter is Susan's best friend. Susan at first convinces herself that the blood in Nancy's room is the result of a nosebleed. Nancy Ewalt, however, corrects Susan. 'There's too much blood. There's blood on the walls. You didn't really look.'

The blood imagery again emphasizes the overkill that has occurred, as Mr. Ewalt returns to the notion of 'too much blood.' Ewalt says, 'Well, I took one look at Mr. Clutter, and it was hard to look again. I knew plain shooting couldn't account for that much blood. And I wasn't wrong. He'd been shot, all right, the same as Kenyon - with the gun held right in front of his face.'

Perry's Dream

Since childhood, Perry has a recurring dream set in Africa. He says, 'I'm moving through the trees toward a tree standing all alone. Jesus, it smells bad, that tree; it kind of makes me sick, the way it stinks.' In this passage, Capote's imagery emphasizes the sense of smell.

Perry reveals that diamonds hang from the tree, and he intends to take them. He then describes the snake's role in the dream, 'But I know the minute I try to, the minute I reach up, a snake is gonna fall on me. A snake that guards the tree.'

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