Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Keywords

English literature, Truman Capote, Black and White Ball, comparative analysis

Department

English

Major

English Literature

Abstract

In the mid-twentieth century Truman Capote bridged the symbolic geographical gap between America's cultural and political capitals with his infamous Black and White Ball. Men and women of the fashionable social sphere (the likes of Frank Sinatra, the Vanderbilts, and Marilyn Monroe) and powerful political sphere (the Fords, the Kennedys, and Katherine Graham) all gathered in New York City's Plaza ballroom, parading their immense wealth at a time when the country was in a state of political turmoil over the Vietnam War. Capote was at the center of history being made, and I argue that he was more than aware of his role as a critical observer of café society when he created his guest list. I have completed a comparative analysis of the edited publication of Truman Capote's novel Answered Prayers and the original manuscript, which I traveled to the New York Public Library’s archives to read; while there, I also examined interviews in order to better understand Capote’s contemporaries' assessments of his motives, and I have used his unpublished short story "Yachts And Things," also found among Capote's papers, to demonstrate the earlier origins of Capote's fascination with celebrity culture manifested in his writing. From this research, I conclude that Capote held his Black And White Ball and wrote Answered Prayers not because of an emotional instability, as other scholars have suggested, but because he hoped to reveal to the public through his talent for research and writing the excesses of this glamorous class. Previous scholarship has slighted the agency and motivation behind Capote’s work. My systematic interpretation of Capote suggests that he intended to critique celebrity saturation of the media in the face of public repression of real problems. The study's significance springs from parallels we could make of this phenomenon today.

Faculty Mentor

Darlene Rivas

Funding Source or Research Program

Keck Scholars Program

Presentation Session

Session D

Location

Rockwell Academic Center 175

Start Date

21-3-2014 3:45 PM

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Mar 21st, 3:45 PM

The Party To Which You Were Not Invited: Truman Capote and The Nature of Twentieth Century American Celebrity

Rockwell Academic Center 175

In the mid-twentieth century Truman Capote bridged the symbolic geographical gap between America's cultural and political capitals with his infamous Black and White Ball. Men and women of the fashionable social sphere (the likes of Frank Sinatra, the Vanderbilts, and Marilyn Monroe) and powerful political sphere (the Fords, the Kennedys, and Katherine Graham) all gathered in New York City's Plaza ballroom, parading their immense wealth at a time when the country was in a state of political turmoil over the Vietnam War. Capote was at the center of history being made, and I argue that he was more than aware of his role as a critical observer of café society when he created his guest list. I have completed a comparative analysis of the edited publication of Truman Capote's novel Answered Prayers and the original manuscript, which I traveled to the New York Public Library’s archives to read; while there, I also examined interviews in order to better understand Capote’s contemporaries' assessments of his motives, and I have used his unpublished short story "Yachts And Things," also found among Capote's papers, to demonstrate the earlier origins of Capote's fascination with celebrity culture manifested in his writing. From this research, I conclude that Capote held his Black And White Ball and wrote Answered Prayers not because of an emotional instability, as other scholars have suggested, but because he hoped to reveal to the public through his talent for research and writing the excesses of this glamorous class. Previous scholarship has slighted the agency and motivation behind Capote’s work. My systematic interpretation of Capote suggests that he intended to critique celebrity saturation of the media in the face of public repression of real problems. The study's significance springs from parallels we could make of this phenomenon today.