Truman Capote’s brutal, moody, intense “In Cold Blood” is a seminal work in the nonfiction novel genre. It details the murders of the Clutter family at the hands of two petty criminals, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, and the two men’s subsequent execution. It appears on college and high-school reading lists all across the U.S, but it might just be off the table at Glendale High School.
Recently, English teacher Holly Ciotti wanted to add the book to her advanced placement 11th grade language class. Ciotti says Capote’s work is perfect for the class because it covers a range of controversial topics and introduces students to the vagaries of the American judicial system.
She assumed adding the book to her curriculum would be a no-brainer, but she received push-back from members of the school board and the PTA. Board member Mary Boger said she certainly understands that the book has literary importance but there are other works that can illustrate the same issues without the shocking violence of “In Cold Blood.”
Ciotti has backup plans, but feels no novel matches up to Capote’s. She said that while the description may be graphic, the violence is far from gratuitous because Capote includes those scenes after readers become fully invested in the characters.
“Even though you know that these are indeed cold-blooded killers, what you also know is that they’re human beings, and you want to understand them. This is a psychological profile as much as it is anything else,” she said.
The addition if the book is currently in a holding pattern while the school board decides whether or not to allow Ciotti to teach it. The question now is: Is the book inappropriate?
Do the literary merits of the work outweigh the graphic violence? And, Ciotti maintains that the book is only going to be used by her advanced placement students. Are they better equipped to deal with depictions of a brutal quadruple murder?
Holly Ciotti, English Teacher, Glendale High School
Mary Boger, Board Member, Glendale Unified School District