The setting of a story is rarely ever just a place. The setting serves a purpose that helps add to the story being told. Truman Capote’s novel In Cold Blood is set in the small country town of Holcomb. He illustrates a tightly knit, religious, secluded town for his audience to identify with. Capote uses Holcomb to connect with his audience and as an ironic element, which in turn creates and adds to the emotional impact brought with the murders.
Capote spends a tremendous amount of time describing the town, from the “hard blue skies and desert-clear air” (Capote 1). He adds emphasis on little details, such as the “aimless congregation of buildings,” or “white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples,” (Capote 1) He adds detail about the school, and the post office. He makes it almost like any other town, and imagery of Holcomb that he uses makes his audience a part of the story because they have the visual and feel they can place themselves in. Capote uses the setting to his advantage in this sense. By describing the town down to the structure of old buildings, he opens the door to the town. Then, one can walk through the door, and make themselves a part of the town in a sense that wouldn’t be there if he had not emphasized Holcomb. It brings a comfort level because people are able to create their own little Holcomb in their mind, and they are then able to relate to it. He uses description of the setting to form an emotional connection between the audience and the town.
Capote makes this emotional connection, so that when the Clutters are found dead, it has a bigger impact because the audience would feel it as a personal attack on them. When they make Holcomb their temporary hometown, the murders will take a bigger toll on them, and the shock, anger, and upset the town feels as a result of the Clutter family murder is felt by them as well. This adds to the impact of the story Capote was telling. Holcomb as he describes it too, is a very stereotypical country town. He shows a very tightly knit community, driven by religion and brought together by their seclusion. The town seemed to be a place where everybody knew everybody. They were all in clubs together, they all went to the same school, and frequently did favors for each other. As he describes it, the townspeople were “quite content to exist inside ordinary life—to work, to hunt, to watch television, to attend socials, choir practice and 4-H meetings.” (Capote 5) No one was really doing anything crazy, or out of the ordinary, which in turn made the town more innocent and peaceful.
Adding to its serenity, some parts of Holcomb were even referred to as “Eden” (Capote 13). The way Holcomb was set up, made it the last place on Earth anyone would expect to see four gruesome murders happen, and because of that it adds a certain shock, to the Clutter Family murders. The way he sets up the town, “sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors,” (Capote 5) brings the comfort and trust of the town to reality. It shows the innocence found with the town, and using the same theory that the audience was made a part of the town, Capote is able to make his audience trust the town as well and believe nothing this horrific could happen in such an innocent, normal place because the town didn’t believe it would. The emotional connection made between the audience and the setting plays a key role in the irony of the murder because it comes with a harder impact since he set the town up to be this perfect place, and the audience expects it to stay that way.
When Holcomb takes a shift from being a town where you could rely on anyone, to a town of mistrust and doubt, it changes the audience’s expectations, creating an irony that in turn adds to the shock of the murders, and shows the development of the setting. But it isn’t even just about where the story took place, but what made up where the story took place. The people made up the setting, and sometimes setting “may be mostly people” (Foster 165). The townspeople felt they knew everyone in the town, and that none of them would do something like murder such an important man of their town. And truth of the matter was, none of them would, because “that such a thing could happen to them, well—it’s like being told there is no God.” (Capote 88) If the townspeople viewed this as such a major tragedy, none of them would have been the culprit, but when presented with this situation, the people of Holcomb sure did turn on each other quickly when the option was there.
The towns’ people spent a lot of time either at the post office or Hartman’s Café gossiping, spying on one another to try and figure out which one of them did it. They “found fantasy re-creating them over and over again—those somber explosions that stimulated the fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.” (Capote 5) Even though none of them were the murderers, accusations were made and rumors were spread. It makes sense though because in the course of a night the town went from being innocent place, to the place of a violent crime. That would shock anyone who was not used to such a thing. The “setting” was not only used to show the development of the town, but also the people that made up the town. It was used to show how townspeople went from leaving their doors open, to not being able to sleep at night with out them locked tight. How they went about their daily business, to snooping around the town’s café.
This in turn also added to the emotional impact because as a part of the audience, one would go through the same change, since Capote also used to the town to make the audience more of a part of the story. Although the audience knows who really did it, they can feel the anxiety of the town as they try and figure out who did it because of the drastic change in the people as described by Capote. The audience begins understand the realness of what the people of Holcomb were facing, and can feel it themselves. Capote used his setting to pull at the heart strings. He brought the audience into his story by capturing them with the hometown feeling of Holcomb. He made them a part of his story, so when the expectations were changed of how Holcomb should be, the emotions of the audience would be twisted into shock that he wanted them to feel.
The peaceful country setting was changed greatly due to the murders, and that element of irony that created shock and upset was felt by the audience, and a result of what Capote wanted achieve along. The setting was used to make people apart of his story to give an emotional connection to the book. The country aspect added a homely, family sense, which had this happened elsewhere, the change in the town and the emotions felt by the town wouldn’t have been as drastic. It is clear that Capote spent time coming up with just the perfect way to add just the right amount of description of his setting to make his audience a part of it, and make sure that they understand and feel the emotions he wanted conveyed.
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Random House, 1965. Print. Foster, Thomas C. “Geography Matters . . .” How to Read Literature Like a Professor. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. 163-74. Print. Knickerbocker, Conrad. “One
Night on a Kansas Farm.” The New York Times. N.p., 16 Jan. 1966. Web.