The joy of reading the modern piece, In Cold Blood, and the period piece, Sense and Sensibility (Truman Capote, Jane Austen), both which masterfully depict two completely different worlds, came from their exploration of the psychologies of two pairs of antithetical characters—two women, two men—and their respective stories. Capote and Austen offer accounts on the odd limits of gender.
On the one hand, we have Marianne and Elinor, on the other, Dick and Perry. Marianne and Elinor operate in the morals of nineteenth-century Victorian England, while Dick and Perry in those of Modern twentieth-century America. Marianne, a rebel resisting the conventions of courtship in Essex, and whom allows her sensibilities to dictate her passions, defends her spirit against a society obsessed with misogynistic norms; Elinor, fully in sync with the norms of the time, has to make up for her sister’s ‘wild’ behavior, and builds up her status through traditional means: status, she is convinced, is the ultimate goal for a woman living in a patriarchal world wherein men have the first and final say on the topics of marriage and the heart.
Dick, a mammoth of a man, a brute, wholly deviant and perverse, unravels in the sadism of his abuse of women, and finds himself reaching the heights of his fractured manhood by overpowering the body of the female form; but, in his perverse ascendance, this sociopath realizes just how much of a coward he is, and how far he was willing to go to justify, however hypocritically, his perversions. Perry, more akin to the sensibilities and intelligence of a man capable of analyzing his existence beyond the mores of society, but in possession of a fractured mind (due to the unwavering punishment directed at him from those closest to him during his childhood and young adulthood), breaks up into pieces by commiting his own brand of punishment, alongside Dick, by pulling the trigger of a shotgun at the faces of the Clutter family (mum, dad, son, and daughter), in Holcomb, Kansas.
The tensions which these two pairs of characters inhabit, demarcated by the expectations of their conscience, and by the expectations of their societies (however void of congruence with the appetites of the human spirit), pave the way to a deeper understanding of the complex contradictions existing in gender. Austen shows his audience through the line of satire, a vision beginning to reach the surface, veered against the suffocating patriarchy of the eighteenth-century, and in so doing, adding a voice to the substratum of womanhood demanding to be heard. On the other hand, Capote depicts with realism the rise (if one can be thought of) and downfall of two men, products of the indigenous American berserk, whom in an attempt to reach the apotheosis of manhood (however terrible, violent, vengeful and sullen), die by the ropes of the very society they waived their fists at, but which, curiously enough, sow the seeds for their violent means.
The advent of womanhood, then, connects with the downfall of manhood in these novels, as terrible reminders of the too often ignored war between the sexes. One such battle has now sprung to the fore with the incessant claims of sexual harassment in Hollywood, and it is leaning toward toppling some of the powerful. The battle has to end, these authors seem to say, if there is to be any hope at redemption for our crimes: and like Dick and Perry’s swan song, the end is resolute and terrible.