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In Cold Blood Essay Assignment Name______________________________________________
Upon completion of In Cold Blood and analysis of Capote’s writing, readers understand that Capote’s purpose in detailing the lives of the Clutters, the killers, and the tragic events that brought the two together grows to include an examination of the death penalty. Capote leaves readers to determine whose story is most tragic, and what punishment should befall perpetrators of the crime of murder.
You are to respond to ONE of two questions below for your ICB essay.
- Who is the “tragic” figure in the text, Perry or Dick?
- Is the text an implicit argument against capital punishment?
Consider the following to help determine the course of your essay.
- Is Perry a prisoner of his past? His nature? His environment?
- Is Dick a prisoner of his past? His nature? His environment?
- Does the setting of the crime play a role in the killers’ actions? Their punishment?
- Why does Capote include the stories of Lowell Lee Andrews, George Ronald York, and James Douglas Latham?
- Are any of killers in the text excused, not responsible for their actions? If so, why?
- Why does Capote characterize the Clutters so fully?
- Why does Capote characterize the investigators so fully?
- Does Capote address the concept of the American Dream with any of the characters?
- Is there an implied discussion of the loss of innocence in the text?
- What are Capote’s feelings about Christianity? Religion? Evil?
- How does Capote comment on the perceptions of normal versus abnormal behavior?
- How does Capote address sexuality in the text?
Your essay must adhere to the following requirements.
- 4-5 pages typed (which means 4 total pages spilling over onto page 5)
- double spaced, correct MLA format (use Purdue’s OWL website for correct MLA formatting examples)
- Use the text and your annotations to incorporate NUMEROUS textual references: a minimum of three (3) textual references per paragraph
- Proper citations – Ex. You construct a spectacular sentence with pertinent textual evidence “blended beautifully as if you’d written the words yourself” (Capote 304).
- Intro and conclusion can be no longer than five (5) sentences
- Optional: Include textual references from any of the pieces we have studied this year that might bolster your argument: Pinker’s “Blank Slate”; Plimpton’s interview with Capote (more of the interview is included on the back of this assignment page); The Great Gatsby; Ehrenreich; etc. Cite appropriately.
- Submit your essay to Canvas by 11:55 PM on Friday, 03-23: Note the time – this should prevent the random late submission that occurs with the 11:59 PM time requirement
Additional information, notes, etc.
More of the Plimpton’s interview of Capote in “The Story Behind a Nonfiction Novel”
Is it one of the artistic limitations of the nonfiction novel that the writer is placed at the whim of chance? Suppose, in the case of In Cold Blood, clemency had been granted? Or the two boys had been less interesting? Wouldn’t the artistry of the book have suffered? Isn’t luck involved?
It is true that I was in the peculiar situation of being involved in a slowly developing situation. I never knew until the events were well along whether a book was going to be possible. There was always the choice, after all, of whether to stop or go on. The book could have ended with the trial, with just a coda at the end explaining what had finally happened. If the principals had been uninteresting or completely uncooperative, I could have stopped and looked elsewhere, perhaps not very far. A nonfiction novel would have been written about any of the other prisoners in Death Row–York and Latham, or especially Lee Andrews. Andrews was the most subtly crazy person you can imagine–I mean there was just one thing wrong with him. He was the most rational, calm, bright young boy you’d ever want to meet. I mean really bright–which is what made him a truly awesome kind of person. Because his one flaw was, it didn’t bother him at all to kill. Which is quite a trait. The people who crossed his path, well, to his way of thinking, the best thing to do with them was just to put them in their graves.
Do you think if the social positions of the two boys had been different that their personalities would have been markedly different?
Of course, there wasn’t anything peculiar about Dick’s social position. He was a very ordinary boy who simply couldn’t sustain any kind of normal relationship with anybody. If he had been given $10,000, perhaps he might have settled into some small business. But I don’t think so. He had a very natural criminal instinct towards everything. He was oriented towards stealing from the beginning. On the other hand, I think Perry could have been an entirely different person. I really do. His life had been so incredibly abysmal that I don’t see what chance he had as a little child except to steal and run wild.
Of course, you could say that his brother, with exactly the same background, went ahead and became the head of his class. What does it matter that he later killed himself. No, it’s there–it’s the fact that the brother did kill himself, in spite of his success, that shows how really awry the background of the Smiths’ lives were. Terrifying. Perry had extraordinary qualities, but they just weren’t channeled properly to put it mildly. He was a really a talented boy in a limited way–he had genuine sensitivity–and, as I’ve said, when he talked about himself as an artist, he wasn’t really joking at all.