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Dark places by Gillian Flynn and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, similarly use symbolism to discuss major themes within the novel such as the American dream, memory and true crime through the use of narrative of crime events.

Symbolism and figurative imagery is used within both texts as a voice to express the writer’s inner thoughts, commenting on themes such as identity, memory and the duality of human nature. Capote’s work uses these literary devices to craft his take on ‘new journalism” allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves into the novel by creating a mental image of the subject matter. Capote characterises himself in the novel as Alvin Dewey who reports on crime through an objective standpoint. Flynn however, uses a first-person perspective to the subjective experience of Libby who is a victim to society’s obsession with true crime, using dual narrative which runs parallel throughout the novel.

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Gillian Flynn uses Dark places to criticise the obsession society has with true crime, and the oppressive response from American society. In contrast, Truman Capote exploits this obsession by crafting novels that appeal to the fetishes of American society.

Within the first encounters of Libby she remarks on being invited to a meeting with a group called the ‘Kill Club’. The irony of the name ‘kill club’ creates a comedic undertone, which suggest Flynn’s views on American attitudes towards society, and the lack of seriousness it is given. When Libby meets the ‘devotees’ they ask to ‘pick her brain’ and uses idiom to convey the lack of humanisation we have when referring to crime. Furthermore, Libby remarks ‘everyone has their own crime they’re obsessed with’ which comments on the idea that it is human nature to be drawn to crisis, however Flynn negatively remarks on the idea that obsession in true crime disconnects ourselves from the severity and loss of life it causes, as we regard it as more of an ‘exciting hobby’.

Dark places is set in the 1980s, where America experienced a battle between the Satanic cult hysteria and the traditional Christian society. The satanic cult fought for freedom and as an expressionism for the darker side of humanity which crime cultivates. Ben represents that anyone who deviates from traditional norms and values have to find other ways to compensate. The ‘phone cord’ is a symbol for Ben’s secretive side, and the oppressiveness of American society. Teens were not guaranteed privacy as there was one main telephone central in the house that could be listened to via other telephones in the house. Despite Ben only being 15, he demands he has his own ‘line splitter’ that separates the house and causes his parents to ‘trip over that godang phone cord’. Ben’s demand for privacy highlights the shame and guilt he feels through appreciating the satanic cult and his love for ‘dark places’, which ultimately foreshadows the family’s death as this phone line ultimately leads to the plotting of the massacre. This shows Flynn is conveying the guilt and shame that is shone upon anyone who does not encompass the cultivated norm of a ‘christian family’.

Similarly, Capote crafts his novel in a new literary- genre to take events from the contemporary world and elevate them to reflect broader truths about humanity. Unlike Flynn, Capote believes in exploiting society’s true crime fetish, creating a novel that his audience can indulge into shamelessly.

In some aspects, Flynn and Capote’s views on crime relate. Both authors work to humanise the ‘killers’ and break the disconnection we have to crime. Capote uses humanising language within the book to defy the stigma society has created around killers and allow us to see them in more human terms. When investigating the crimes prior to the book, Capote controversially interviewed Dick and Perry in length and is claimed to be seen eating dinner with them and buying them gifts.

When the murders are first discovered, Perry and Dick are regarded to as “persons unknown,” using cold language that elevates them into an inhuman, almost mythic stature. Capote, however, replaces this simplistic view with a more sensitive interpretation, by referring to them with nouns such as ‘men’ and ‘beings’, and referring to them with collective pronouns such as ‘our’ and ‘us. This conveys Capote’s close relationship with them, which allows him to easily craft a close comprehensive eye on their behaviour and nature as beings. This on one hand allows us to trust his judgement due to his insider knowledge, yet could also be seen to cause biassed interpretations as his own thoughts and feelings being close to them causes him to see their crimes in a pitiful way which opposes society’s views on criminals.

Throughout the novel, Perry and Dick are transformed from heartless, ‘cold-blooded’ menaces, whose actions seem to defy human logic, into the fraught, humanised individuals they are at the end of the book, and the crime itself is boiled down to a very basic and fairly understandable set of emotional responses. Although he does not attempt to excuse their actions, Capote shows how ordinary feelings of frustration and despair accidentally erupt into such an extraordinary crime. The book seems to contend that criminality is ‘evil’ and criticises society’s need to frame killers as ‘monsters’ or ‘inhumane’ in order to justify the incomprehensible nature of their actions. Capote’s new take on true crime therefore deconstructs this stigma by creating dimensional characters that we can connect with to diminish the original monstrous criminals other true-crime novels construct.

Both In Cold Blood and Dark places shape the narrative using figurative language and extended metaphors to contrast the themes of human duality and the idyllic American dream. There is a saying that identity is not something we ‘receive’ but something we create. To some this is true, however both novels defy this idea as we follow the path of each criminal until they encompass everything society expects of them.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote uses analepsis to show Dick Hickok and Perry Smith were normal men before they turned into criminals. In one of our first encounters with Perry, he flashbacks to an occurrence that haunts him and led him to be forced with an identity. One late evening, a woman kept ‘glancing’ back at him, ‘increasing her rate of movement’. Eventually she ended up ‘running away’. Perry acknowledged the intimadence of his look making him ‘indisguistable from the muggers’. Perry realised that night that an image and identity was created for him before he had a chance to create one. Capote uses this analepsis to add morality to Perry and criticise society’s need to assume and hide from anyone who is not fit to the standards of the idyllic ‘humble man’ the American dream upholds.

Later in the novel, Perry talks about his tattoos of ‘orange-eyed red fanged tigers’ and ‘spitting snakes’ that slithers down his arms. Perry’s tattoo is an attempt at becoming more masculine and ‘scary’ which conveys his fulfilment of this ‘brash’ and intimidating identity society brands him with. The tattoos are symbolic as they are above the skin’s surface and can be seen and judged way before we encounter someone. Furthermore, tattoos hold a lot of stigma within society due to their harsh and bold appeal. The sibilant imagery of ‘spitting snakes’ also creates connotations of Perry’s animalistic nature, and reduces him down to a simple trigger and response, which mirrors the way society regards criminals, dehumanising them and distancing ourselves from them in order to offer ‘black and white explanations’.

In contrast, Capote juxtaposes this with Perry’s ‘softness’ and ‘untempt kindness’ which emphasises his true self he feels he is unable to show in society. The symbolism of ‘spitting snakes’ connects to the philosophy Capote conceptualises that ‘If you keep poking a snake, it’ll eventually bite’. This represents Capote’s allegory that society’s neglect and isolation has led to Perry’s final rebellion. This shows society’s vision is a relentless force within the novel that causes Perry to never be able to break through the identity society gives him.

Identity is also shaped within In Cold Blood by juxtaposing Dick and Perry to the idyllic existence of the Clutter family. Capote shifts narrative voice into an intrusive third person narrative to provide different perspectives on events allowing the reader to build a link between the ordinary lives of both the Clutters and the murderers. The motif of the American dream intertwines throughout the novel as society is shown to almost create criminals by making people desire things even if it is impossible for them to achieve it. The dream hinges on the idea that you have to be happy before you can achieve happiness, this illustrates Capote’s point about the American dream; by chasing after something more than what you have, you can lose the things that matter most to you, which in their case is their life. Hickock and Smith are both constantly pursuing a sensational lifestyle, believing that when they are through with the Clutters’, they will be rich, and therefore happy and be able to become what society wants of them.

When Dick and Perry stumble across the landscape, they realise that ‘this huge country which seems to promise so much, can deliver so little’. This uses personification to highlight how vast the country seems in juxtaposition to how isolated they are. The verb ‘stumble’ emphasises their unwelcomeness and neglect to its promises. This motivates the beginnings of deriving ‘evil’ as they are confronted with the Clutter family who have an idyllic existence in Holcomb. Herb Clutter has risen from ‘modest beginnings’ to becoming a ranch owner with a comfortable lifestyle. He encapsulates the identity of the self-made man. The Clutters’ simple, modest lifestyle shows that the dream is simple in what it entails; being able to own your own land and live off of it, being able to provide for your family, being able to create your own personna and fate.

Perry and Dick see the Clutters to resemble everything they are not: they struggle with money, are rejected by society and have no sense of family belonging. Capote uses this to symbolise that Perry and Dick’s fate were already determined even before the killings, their view of the world being ‘rootless’ shows the dream was never an option in the first place which reinforces the view that society has neglected them, and causes them to become this criminal identity. This reflects Capote’s pessimistic view of the American dream. The American dream leads to nothing more or less than death in his eyes, no matter how you attempt to achieve it. Whether you try to achieve the American dream through peace or violence, legal or illegal methods, it doesn’t matter, because you’re still dying. The book illustrates our own human mortality, and ultimately shows how irrelevant the pursuit of the American dream is. After all, it doesn’t matter how happy you were, who you were, or whether you were a good person or not when you’re dead.

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