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Understanding Truman Capote

Thomas Fahy

Publication Year: 2014

Truman Capote—along with his most famous works In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s—continues to have a powerful hold over the American popular imagination. His glamorous lifestyle, which included hobnobbing with the rich and famous and frequenting the most elite nightclubs in Manhattan, makes him the subject of ongoing interest for public and academic audiences alike. In Understanding Truman Capote, Thomas Fahy provides a new direction for Capote studies that offers a way to reconsider the author’s place in literary criticism, the canon, and the classroom. By reading Capote’s work in its historical context, Fahy reveals the politics shaping his writing and refutes any notion of Capote as disconnected from the political. Instead this study positions him as a writer deeply engaged with the social anxieties of the 1940s and 1950s. Understanding Truman Capote also applies a highly interdisciplinary framework to the author’s writing that includes discussions of McCarthyism, the Lavender Scare, automobile culture, juvenile delinquency, suburbia, Beat culture, the early civil rights movement, female sexuality as embodied by celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, and atomic age anxieties. This new approach to Capote studies will be of interest in the fields of literature, history, film, suburban studies, sociology, gender/sexuality studies, African American literary studies, and American and cultural studies. Capote’s writing captures the isolation, marginalization, and persecution of those who deviated from or failed to achieve white middle-class ideals and highlights the artificiality of mainstream idealizations about American culture. His work reveals the deleterious consequences of nostalgia, the insidious impact of suppression, the dangers of Cold War propaganda, and the importance of equal rights. Ultimately Capote’s writing reflects a critical engagement with American culture that challenges us to rethink our understanding of the 1940s and 1950s.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: Understanding Contemporary American Literature


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. ix-x

...The Understanding Contemporary American Literature series was founded by the estimable Matthew J. Bruccoli (1931–2008), who envisioned these volumes as guides or companions for students as well as good nonacademic readers, a legacy that will continue...

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pp. xi-xii

...I want to begin by thanking Linda Wagner-Martin and the University of South Carolina Press for their help with this project. It is a pleasure to be part of this series. I am grateful for the invaluable feedback and support of John Lutz, Jessica O’Hara, and Kirsten...

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Chapter 1 Understanding Truman Capote

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pp. 1-15

...Lillie Mae Faulk desperately wanted an abortion. Within a few weeks of her marriage to Archulus (“Arch”) Persons in 1923, she realized she had made a terrible mistake. At first Arch seemed like her ticket out of small-town America. A natural salesman...

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Chapter 2 A Tree of Night and Other Stories

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pp. 16-42

...Truman Capote hoped his part-time job at the New Yorker would put him on the path to becoming a published author, and in rather unexpected ways it did. The magazine hired him in 1942—along with a variety of sketchy assistants who were “either...

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Chapter 3 Other Voices, Other Rooms

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pp. 43-60

...“the story of Joel Knox did not need to be told” (quoted in Clarke 155). These responses capture some of the pervasive concerns about homosexuality at the time. In the same year Alfred Kinsey released Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which reported (among...

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Chapter 4 The Grass Harp

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pp. 61-78

...As children in rural Alabama, Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee often escaped to the tree house in her backyard, climbing up the chocolate-colored bark and disappearing for hours at a time. This place, Clarke notes, “became their fortress against the world...

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Chapter 5 The Muses Are Heard

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pp. 79-94

...When Capote received an invitation to accompany the Everyman Opera Company to the Soviet Union, he jumped at the opportunity. No American theatrical group had performed in Russia for decades, and Cold War tensions promised to generate significant...

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Chapter 6 Breakfast at Tiffany’s

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pp. 95-111

...George Peppard. I mean, Fred.” To which she replies, “George . . . Fred’s gay.” This humorous exchange certainly pokes fun at the ways popular culture often appropriates literature. It replaces complexity (in this case regarding sexuality) with the conventional, and it encourages passive consumption (watching a film) over intellectual engagement...

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Chapter 7 In Cold Blood

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pp. 112-148

...On November 15, 1959, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith drove approximately four hundred miles to the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, and brutally murdered four members of the Clutter family. Armed with a hunting knife and a twelve-gauge shotgun...

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Chapter 8 Three Stories, Answered Prayers, and Capote in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 149-156

...situate Capote as a writer shaped by and deeply engaged with the social, cultural, and political climate of the 1940s and 1950s. When placed in this context, his work—with its depictions of nostalgia, racism, sexuality, the Cold War, poverty, juvenile delinquency, and violence—takes on a new significance. It condemns the practices...


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pp. 157-166


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pp. 167-174


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pp. 175-186

E-ISBN-13: 9781611173420
E-ISBN-10: 1611173426
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611173413

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Understanding Contemporary American Literature
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OCLC Number: 880579887
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Understanding Truman Capote

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Subject Headings

  • Capote, Truman, 1924-1984 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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