Places: In Cold Blood

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1966

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Detective and mystery

Time of work: 1959

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Garden City

*Garden In Cold BloodCity. Seat of Kansas’s Finney County on the high wheat plains of Western Kansas. Here upright Herbert Clutter headed the building committee for the newly completed First Methodist Church. Capote reminds his reader that they are in “the ‘Bible Belt,’ that gospel-haunted strip of American territory in which a man must, if only for business reasons, take his religion with the straightest of faces.” This idyllic setting has caused many readers to believe Capote’s book is evoking the Christian story of the Fall in the Garden (City) of Eden, with Hickock and Smith as the snakes, that is, as infiltrating evil.

*Holcomb

*Holcomb. Village of 270 people near Garden City, outside of which the Clutters reside on River Valley Farm, a spread of eight hundred acres owned outright by Herbert Clutter, with three thousand more acres farmed on a rental basis. Clutter calls the river valley “Eden on earth.”

Open Road

Open Road. In Cold Blood is structured in four sections, and the central two–“Persons Unknown” and “Answer”–detail Hickock and Smith’s flight following the Clutter murders and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s pursuit of the men across the United States and into Mexico. During his six years of research, Capote retraced every step of the killers’ seven-thousand-mile flight, beginning in Kansas City, where Hickock bounces bank checks, and moving through Oklahoma, Texas, Mexico, California’s Mojave Desert, Nevada, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, back to Kansas City (where Hickock writes more bad checks), Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and through Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada, where they are arrested in Las Vegas on December 30 and returned to the Garden City jail. Capote’s treatment of Hickock and Smith’s hapless and circuitous flight seems to imply the end of America’s open road as a symbol of escape and new beginning.

*Leavenworth Penitentiary

*Leavenworth Penitentiary. Kansas prison in whose “Death Row” Smith and Hickock are held following their conviction for the Clutter murders. Death Row is “a dark two-storied building shaped like a coffin” from which Smith and Hickock can view the execution chamber, called “the corner.” In titling the novel’s final section “The Corner,” Capote alludes to this literal place name, yet he also implies that Smith and Hickock are “cornered,” trapped by a criminal justice system that refuses to accept the psychological testimony of the two men, a system of capital punishment that murders Smith and Hickock “in cold blood.”

*Kansas

*Kansas. Capote states in the opening lines of his volume that “the village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’” He goes on to say that “the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far Western than Middle West.” This opening and many other details have spurred some readers to interpret this novel as a reverse Western, that is, a tale of Indian revenge, for Perry Smith is half Cherokee. However one reads the novel, one is left with the author’s final haunting image of “the big sky, [and] the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”

BibliographyClarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography, 1988.Garson, Helen S. Truman Capote. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Chiefly valuable as a survey, almost a paraphrase, of Capote’s literary works, including In Cold Blood, prefaced by a brief look at Capote’s life.Hollowell, John. Fact and Fiction: The New Journalism and the Nonfiction Novel, 1977.Inge, M. Thomas, ed. Truman Capote: Conversations, 1987.Malin, Irving, ed. Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”: A Critical Handbook. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1968. A compendium of articles that focuses on In Cold Blood and critical reaction to the novel. Includes articles that place In Cold Blood in the context of Capote’s other works. Of special interest is George Plimpton’s interview with Capote; the interview gives excellent perspective to Capote’s novel and literary intent, his relationship to the events and people in the book, and how he worked the material into what he calls a “nonfiction novel.”Nance, William L. The Worlds of Truman Capote. Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.: Stein and Day, 1970. Two chapters are devoted to In Cold Blood, the first chapter placing the novel in Capote’s career, the second chapter offering a critical study of the novel.Reed, Kenneth T. Truman Capote. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Surveys Capote’s short fiction, novels, and efforts at reportage, which include work on In Cold Blood. Reed ends with a study of Capote’s style, his themes, and the influences on his writing.Stanton, Robert J. Truman Capote: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. Very helpful annotations accompany the lists of works about Capote and his writings. Extremely thorough.Zavarzadeh, Mas’ud. The Mythopoeic Reality: The Postwar American Nonfiction Novel, 1976.
Categories: Places