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Rhetorical Devices in In Cold Blood

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  • 0:00 True Crime Novel
  • 0:44 Types of Rhetorical Devices
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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 the rhetorical devices that are used by author Truman Capote to change this true story of a murder in a rural town into the novel 'In Cold Blood.'

True Crime Novel

In Cold Blood is a true crime novel about Perry Smith and Richard Eugene 'Dick' Hickock, who were executed by the state of Kansas after murdering four members of the Clutter family. The author, Truman Capote, is also known for writing the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, using rhetorical devices to transform this journalistic account of events into a novel. Rhetorical devices are specific word choices that are selected by an author to bring meaning to the text, persuade the reader, or stimulate an emotional response from the reader. Let's examine some rhetorical devices that are used in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.

Types of Rhetorical Devices

Alliteration is repetition of the first sound in a word. An example of alliteration from the novel is when the narrator talks about all of the things Perry dreams about for his future as they're traveling cross-country after the murders, 'Prospecting for gold, skin-diving for sunken treasure - these were but two of the projects Perry had ardently proposed.' The repetitive use of the 'p' is alliteration.

Anaphora is when the same word is repeated at the beginning of the next phrase for emphasis. Inspector Nye uses anaphora when he discusses how difficult it is to speak to the victims' family members during a murder investigation: 'When it comes to murder, you can't respect grief. Or privacy. Or personal feelings.' Repeating the word 'or' emphasizes his emotions.

Euphemisms are replacement words that are selected to take the place of things that are unpleasant to discuss. For example, when describing Bonnie Clutter's mental illness, the author writes, 'She was 'nervous,' she suffered 'little spells' - such were the sheltering expressions used by those close to her. Not that the truth concerning 'poor Bonnie's afflictions' was in the least a secret; everyone knew she had been an on-and-off psychiatric patient the last half-dozen years.' 'Nervous', 'little spells', and 'afflictions' describe Bonnie's disorder in more acceptable terms.

Erotesis is asking rhetorical questions. When Perry talks to Don Cullivan about why he committed the murders, he says, 'Am I sorry? If that's what you mean - I'm not. I don't feel anything about it. I wish I did. But nothing about it bothers me a bit. . . Why? Soldiers don't lose much sleep.' Perry's questions are not intended to be answered, making them an example of erotesis.

Litotes are double negatives that are used to understate the truth. 'The mood of a man insuring his life is not unlike that of a man signing his will; thoughts of mortality must occur,' thinks the life insurance salesman as he sells Clutter his policy just before his death. 'Not unlike' are litotes that mean 'like.'

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