In Cold Blood Tone

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  • 0:04 Tone & In Cold Blood
  • 2:05 Tone of Empathy
  • 3:35 Tone of Fatalism
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joe Ricker
Despite 'In Cold Blood' being a work of nonfiction, Truman Capote clearly offered his attitude and feelings about the Clutter family murders with his invention of the nonfiction novel.

Tone & In Cold Blood

The interpretation of a book's tone, which is the author's attitude about the events, themes, and characters in a given work of literature, is often difficult to assess in fiction. In nonfiction, it's even more difficult because the author is charged with reporting information or writing journalistically as opposed to creatively. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is a nonfiction novel, meaning it's a hybrid of creative and journalistic writing, fused together to give a true story more artistic prose. Because of this, Capote's tone is evident.

The tone of In Cold Blood is both fatalistic and empathetic, and Capote received more criticism as a person because of In Cold Blood than the actual book received as a work of literature. The criticism he received was mostly related to the tone he established with his writing style. Capote was accused of fabricating portions of his interviews and research, which put a little too much fiction in his nonfiction.

During the six years Capote spent researching and compiling hours of interview materials, it's not difficult to see how that exposure to both the victims' family and killers would establish Capote's fatalism and empathy in In Cold Blood. In an interview with George Plimpton in The New York Times, Plimpton asked Capote: 'Being removed from the book, that is to say, keeping yourself out of it, do you find it difficult to present your own point of view? For example, your own view as to why Perry Smith committed the murders.'

Capote responded: 'Of course it's by the selection of what you choose to tell… If I put something in which I don't agree about I can always set it in a context of qualification without having to step into the story myself to set the reader straight.'

The most prevalent examples of Capote's fatalistic and empathetic tone in In Cold Blood are found in what Capote chose to include in the text concerning the killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.

Tone of Empathy

Evident in In Cold Blood is Capote's sense of empathy, an ability to feel for the characters. Since he had already indicated that he chose what to include, and what not to include, what he showed through his characters was more indicative of his attitude toward Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, the two men who savagely murdered the Clutter family. For example, the following passage related to how Alvin Dewey, the lead investigator, felt about the murders.

'The crime was a psychological accident, virtually an impersonal act; the victims might as well have been killed by lightning. Except for one thing: they had experienced prolonged terror, they had suffered. And Dewey could not forget their sufferings. Nonetheless, he found it possible to look at the man beside him without anger--with, rather, a measure of sympathy--for Perry Smith's life had been no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage or another.'

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