In Cold Blood Foreshadowing: Quotes & Examples

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 one of the literary devices, foreshadowing, that is used by Truman Capote in ''In Cold Blood'' to create a suspenseful nonfiction novel of murder.

Foreshadow Definition

How do authors like Truman Capote build suspense for the reader? One of the literary techniques that is used in In Cold Blood is foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is offering the suggestion to the reader that something bad is about to happen without telling them what. Foreshadowing builds suspense and engages the reader, who can't wait to find out what happens next. Since the story of the Clutter murder is nonfiction, many readers will know the outcome. Still, the use of literary devices such as foreshadowing provide a degree of readability that goes beyond a simple journalistic retelling of a crime story. Let's look at some examples of foreshadowing from the novel.

The Murders and Execution of the Murderers

Capote uses the first part of the first chapter to describe the rural Kansas town in which the horrific quadruple homicide took place. The first example of foreshadowing is when the author narrates, ''At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them - four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.'' Not only does this warn the reader that the four Clutters are about to be killed by shotgun, but that the two perpetrators will also be executed by the state for their murder.

The Clutter's Last Day

From there, we begin learning about the Clutters. As they proceed on a typical day that they never dreamed would be so exceptional, the author uses constant reminders that this is not a regular day. After speaking briefly with some hunters that want to use his land, Mr. Clutter, ''…headed for home and the day's work, unaware that it would be his last.''

Similarly, the author indicates as Mrs. Clutter changes into her bed clothes that she would not survive the night. He writes, ''Now, on this final day of her life, Mrs. Clutter hung in the closet the calico housedress she had been wearing, and put on one of her trailing nightgowns and a fresh set of white socks.''


Another technique that Capote uses to build suspense is switching back and forth between the Clutters and the killers in a way that shows that while the Clutters are completely clueless about what is going to happen to them that night, the killers are premeditating the event.

In Perry Smith's black Cadillac lay Dick's Gibson guitar. Next to it, there is ''…a twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun, brand-new, blue-barreled, and with a sportsman's scene of pheasants in flight etched along the stock. A flashlight, a fishing knife, a pair of leather gloves, and a hunting vest fully packed with shells…'' Nearly everything they need to commit a murders is in the car before they ever leave Olathe. Obviously, they are not going to visit Perry's sister as they told Dick's parents.

Before they go, ''They changed the oil, adjusted the clutch, recharged the battery, replaced a throw-outbearing, and put new tires on the rear wheels - all necessary undertakings, for between today and tomorrow the aged Chevrolet was expected to perform punishing feats.'' It is a 400 mile drive to Holcomb from Olathe. To prepare for this long road-trip, they spend an entire day fixing up the car.

Anything they do not have, such as rubber gloves and rope, they can pick up along the way. They have a slight disagreement about whether or not they need black stockings to keep from being identified. Perry felt like they were needed, but Dick disagreed. ''…stockings of any shade were unnecessary, an encumbrance, a useless expense…and, after all, anyone they encountered would not live to bear witness.'' Dick is very clear that the intention is not just to rob, but to kill anyone who is at the target location.

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