Cold Blood Essay, Research Paper
In E.L Doctrorow?s novel, The Waterworks, Mr McIlvaine suggests that some stories were, ?not… reportorially possible… that there are limits to words in a newspaper? (page 201). The character Mr McIlvaine like Truman Capote the author of In Cold Blood are both journalists who have found stories to which they feel newsprint, in itself would not have brought justice. Therefore to what extent has truth in narration, and truth through journalism influenced the writing of the novels of In Cold Blood and The Waterworks?
Truth is hard to define, the Collins English Dictionary(1992) defines truth as, ?state of being true?, and true as, ?in accordance with the facts, exact, correct.? If we are to strip something down to it?s bear essentials like a newspaper ?headline? we would hear that, ?CLUES ARE FEW IN SLAYING OF 4 (Page 97, In Cold Bold) ? or in the case of The Waterworks: ?Telegram freelance reporter gone missing after allegedly seeing dead father?. These headlines although truthful do not tell the whole truth, so in away they misrepresent the real truth.
In trying to find the ?truth? both authors take different approaches. In Cold Blood is written in the voice of an omniscient narrator. ?Capote was drawn to the Clutter killings by reading a headline in a newspaper of a killing in Holcomb, Kansas of four family members? (Stephen Harris December 1999) and wanted to find out more than what could be transmitted through news media, he wanted to really investigate talk to the people and find the truth. Capote rarely alludes the reader to himself, and the investigative lengths he went to, to get the story. Capote is able to go into such detail due to these investigations. We are told in the, ?Acknowledgments?, that, ?All the material in this book not derived from my own observation is either taken from official records or is the result of interviews with the persons directly concerned? (Page 9). In Cold Blood is told as a life narrative not as a traditional factual account. Capote has added depth by using the narrator and realistic imagery as a filler between real factual evidence, documents, newspaper articles and interviews.
The Waterworks is a fictional novel. Doctorow uses the character McIlvaine, a newspaper Editor of the New York Telegraph, to tell the story through the technique of realistic reportage of Martain Pemberton?s disappearance, Martian Pemberton?s fathers reappearance and a greater social evil. McIlvaine is always questioning his journalistic morals, he defines journalism as, ?the cheapest commonest realm, the realm of newsprint. My realm.(Page 8). MacIlvine constantly questions his own objectiveness towards the story of the Pemberton family, ?Did that mean I found myself prepared to put the interest of the story ahead of the lives of the people involved in it?? (Page 200),. The conflict within McIlvaine seems true but there is no real conflict as this is a work of fiction. When McIlvaine puts himself across as a credible narrator the reader is able to better accept the rest of the story he is telling. Despite this in The Waterworks there are many devices used to make the book seem real or truthful. These will be explained latter.
Did Capote (a journalist himself), have the same moral struggle when writing the work In Cold Blood as McIlvaine had in The Waterworks? The text never alerts the audience to any struggle of journalistic duty between the truth and the rights of the victims and the offenders, but there are areas in which one could argue there was such conflict. Capote edited out certain parts of Dick Hitckock?s letter in which, ? Hickock revealed his pedophiliac tendencies,?(Page 278). Capote had obviously in this instance decided that the rights of Hickok?s victims were more important than the publics right to know. whether Capote was forced to edit out these parts of the book we will never know, because of the style of narration Capote has chosen, but the greater question is, Has anything else been left out because of it?s sensitive nature?
Stories, which are often as complex as the people who write them, can be altered in many ways, such as how the writer was feeling at the time and if they felt sympathetic towards the person or people in question. McIlvaine explains how a journalist constructs an opinion for a reader without them realising: they (reporters) ?did not make such a sanctimonious thing of objectivity, which is finally a way of constructing an opinion for the reader without letting him now you are?(Page 27), McIlvaine also comments on his personal journalistic philosophy towards involvement with an issue ?Professionally you try to get as close to the thing as possible, but never to the point of involvement.?(Page 12). Because McIlvaine character is very honest about how a journalist can manipulate a story, he again sets himself up as a trustworthy narrator.
Was Capote?s connection too involved with the story to write an unbiased account of Perry and Dick?s life?, ?Some readers have felt the relationship between Perry and Capote was very strong?(Stephen Harris, December 1999). When Perry and Dick are on Death Row the narrator often talks about a journalist who is Perry?s only visitor, ??Nobody ever comes to see him except you?, he said, nodding at the journalist,?(Page 335). Whether Capote was unintentionally or intentionally alluding the audience to himself, has made some readers feel that there is a lack of objectiveness to his writing therefore he might be constructing an opinion for the readers that they don?t realise is there. Another example of this is the use of a extended (badly hidden) metaphor about cats, ?two grey tomcats who are always together-thin, dirty strays with strange and clever habits? (Page 248). This comparison of the two offenders to alley cats makes the offenders seem less harmful than they really were. Readers who might not feel sympathy for these ?Cold Blooded? killers could feel a sense of sympathy towards these desperate alley cats.
The news of the day, is that the day, tomorrow it is old news, although those directly effected keep grieving long after the headlines are fish and chip paper. This is emphasis on how quickly today?s news can become old news is illustrated through comments made by McIlvaine in The Waterworks, ?death including our own is yesterday?s news (page 160) or as shown by the ever increasing lack of reportage in the Clutter family murders ?according to those increasingly brief newspaper reports (radio broadcasters had ceased to mention the subject)?(Page 165).
Like In Cold Blood, The Waterworks is written after the events have taken place. The duration of time effects truth in many ways, when a story is told from the past the author is able to use the knowledge of hindsight. Doctorow uses time to add a sense of truth to the novel. MacIlvaine constantly puts to the question his own truthfulness over time, as a narrator, ?I?m an old man now and I have to acknowledge that reality slips like cogs in a wheel.?(Page 228). The Waterworks also has another depth of the past to it the author is writing the book from the 1850?s and has to follow conventions of that era such as a, ?red lamp district?(Page 15) instead of a red light district. McIlvaine?s questioning of his own truth as a narrator seems to affirm the reader of his truthfulness. McIlvaine?s character realises that the time a story is released can affect the outcome of that story, ?to print the story now or what I knew of it , would be an intervention… a trespass of the reporter into the realm of cause and effect… that would change every outcome?(page 200) because time has passed since the events have taken place he feels he is now able to print the story. If Capote had released In Cold Blood before the death of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, Capote might also have effected the outcome of their lives and therefore the truth of the story.
In Conclusion: The effect of the reliability of the narrator, does effect the truthfulness of the story. To have a story whether it be fiction or non fiction, where the narrator has a bias or is not perceived to be truthful will greatly effect the audiences interpretation of that story and therefore the truth. To keep a novel totally unbiased it would have to be purely factual like a newspaper headline (as stated in the introduction) and even newspaper headlines can misrepresent the truth. It is often not was is said in a novel that effects the readers understanding of the truth but what the author has chosen not to say. Capote uses the all seeing all knowing narration style, there is never any question within In Cold Blood of his reliability as a narrator and his journalistic approach, the reader is not told how he conducted his interviews where or when, everything is told as fact. Through this style of narration Capote is saying this is the truth, but this forces the reader to question this truth. The Waterworks is a fictional novel but even a fictional novel must have elements of truth to keep the readers interest. McIlvaine is always questioning his own morals as a journalist and his own narration, this constant questioning is used to make the audience (reader) feel that McIlvaine is a real person who is worried about how others perceive the truth as he sees it and because of this McIlvaine presents himself as a truthful narrator.
Capote, Truman, In Cold Blood, published by Penguin Group 1965
Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus, published by HarperCollins, London 1992
Doctorow, E.L, The Waterworks, Published by Pan Macmillan Publishers 1994