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Chapter 8 Three Stories, Answered Prayers, and Capote in the Twenty-First Century Throughout Understanding Truman Capote, my approach has been to 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 that limited social equality and stifled individual expression. It criticizes the social and political disengagement of those who clung to isolation and nostalgia. And it shares great affinities with the works of contemporary writers such as Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers, writers whom scholars have typically seen as far more politically engaged. This approach for understanding Capote also challenges some of the ways that literary criticism has inadvertently contributed to his marginalization in the canon. Analyses anchored in New Criticism have positioned Capote as a stylist, not a cultural critic. As a result his work continues to be omitted from anthologies and is increasingly left off course syllabi. My chapter on Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories does not include an analysis of the three short stories published with the novella in 1958, and I would briefly like to address that decision—as well as these stories—here. Their omission from chapter six was based on two issues. The first involved the 1961 film. This adaptation continues to have an important place in the American cultural imagination, and any discussion of the book needs to account for the differences between the two versions. With this focus for the chapter, any discussion of the stories would have felt extraneous. Second, 150 Understanding truman capote unlike A Tree of Night and Other Stories, the short fiction included with Breakfast at Tiffany’s was not conceived as a whole. Capote’s tendency to write novellas posed a challenge for publishers, and Random House felt the need to publish Breakfast at Tiffany’s with some additional material. Certainly, the stories share elements found throughout Capote’s oeuvre, but I believe they can be more fully appreciated in the context of their original publication dates. Given that Capote published “House of Flowers” and “A Diamond Guitar ” in 1950, it is not entirely surprising that they reflect many of the social concerns explored in both A Tree of Night and Other Stories (1949) and The Grass Harp (1951). “House of Flowers” was inspired by the author’s trip to Haiti in 1948, and he based the story on an anecdote that he included in a travel sketch for Local Color.1 Like Holly Golightly, Ottilie is an orphaned girl from the rural country who gets seduced by city nightlife (in this case Port-au-Prince) and remakes herself largely through her sexuality. She starts working as a prostitute at the Champs Elysèes brothel and quickly becomes a favorite among patrons, who shower her with gifts including alcohol, silk dresses, green satin shoes, good teeth, and jewelry. Despite the appeal of this tawdry world, she is not happy. The source of her dissatisfaction does not become clear until she falls in love with Royal Bonaparte. She immediately recognizes the appeal of their shared rural roots (“she could see that he was from the mountains” [120]) and admits that “nostalgia touched her with its far-reaching wand” (121). The couple soon gets married and moves to Royal’s hillside abode, which is enveloped by wisteria lilacs. This fairy-tale “house of flowers” even comes with its own witch. Royal’s grandmother, Old Bonaparte, lives with the newlyweds, and she torments Ottilie in a variety of ways, including casting spells to make her ill. The young bride circumvents this voodoo magic by secretly cooking the animals used for the spells (for example , lizards, snakes, spiders, the head of a cat) and feeding them to the old woman. After learning of Ottilie’s treachery, Old Bonaparte dies instantly. Her presence lingers, however, and Ottilie is convinced that the grandmother is haunting the house. As a solution, her husband suggests that she be tied to a tree for one day to appease (and hopefully cast out) the ghost. Capote ultimately portrays marriage in “House of Flowers” as limiting the social and sexual freedom of women, which aligns it with some of the issues raised in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (see chapter six) and A Tree of Night and Other Stories (see chapter two...


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