In Cold Blood Metaphors

Instructor: Kerry Gray

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

Sometimes authors use metaphors to make vivid descriptions, while there are other times that authors have another purpose, such as making characterizations. In this lesson, we will examine some of the metaphors in ''In Cold Blood'' by Truman Capote.

Metaphor Definition

'Life Is a Highway' is a song by Tom Cochrane that compares life to a highway filled with changes, bends, rough patches, and light. This metaphor enables the listener to visualize the good and bad of staying on the road and going the distance. A metaphor compares two things that are not the same. In In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, the author mainly uses metaphors to describe the criminals in this dramatic novel about the real-life killing of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote examines this story not only from the perspective of the town and the investigators, but he also dives into the minds of the killers, Perry Smith and Richard 'Dick' Hickock. Let's examine some examples of metaphor in this novel.

Characterization of the Citizens of Holcomb

Have you ever noticed that Southerners are characterized as having a simile or metaphor for everything? For example, 'You're as cute as a sack full of puppies,' is a country expression that you would not expect to hear in a metropolitan city. One of the ways that Capote, a writer for publications like The New Yorker, characterizes the people from rural Kansas is by incorporating metaphors into their dialogue.

For example, when Mrs. Myrtle Clare explains how she got the job as the mail carrier when so many men wanted it, she says that it is based on who bids the lowest. She says, '…I always do - so low a caterpillar could peek over it.' Comparing the caterpillar's height to a low bid is a simple metaphor that characterizes Mrs. Clare as a simple person.

Dick and Perry on the Run

During the six weeks after the murders as Dick and Perry are running from police, they have lots of time to think. Perry is pretty sure that 'Dick would never do that - spill his guts.' In this sentence, Perry compares telling the police the truth about their crimes to spilling his guts as it is a more graphic way for the reader to visualize Dick opening himself up in a detrimental way.

At certain points along the way, Perry considers committing suicide. Two of Perry's siblings and his mother had killed themselves. Perry thinks, 'He and Dick were 'running a race without a finish line' - that was how it struck him.' Perry knows that there is no way he can come out ahead. He will be running for the rest of his life, or he will be caught and possibly hanged. 'Running a race without a finish line' is a metaphor because Perry compares running from the law to running a race that cannot possibly have a positive outcome.

Perry's Life

Albert Dewey dedicates himself to solving this case. Once the men are arrested, Dewey is surprised that he actually feels sorry for them '…for Perry Smith's life had been no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage and then another.' Imagine a bed of roses as soft, luxurious, and fragrant. Perry's life has been exactly the opposite of that. In this example of a metaphor, the author uses contrast to illustrate what this criminal went through. The comparison of his goals and dreams to a mirage is another example of a metaphor. A mirage is something that is seen in the distance while in the desert or at sea that isn't really there. Once the viewer gets closer, it disappears. This is how it was with Perry's dreams.

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