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Truman Capote once said, "I don't care what anybody says about me, as long as it isn't true" (Creative). Surely enough, Capote himself kept true to this statement throughout his life. According to Johnny Carson's ex-wife, Joanne Carson, whom Capote lived with near the end of his life, Capote would take her on imaginary trips to Paris, China, or Spain while in her front yard (Plimpton 422). But on a more serious note, Carson claims that Capote would lie about the simple facts about a party or an outing they had gone on (Plimpton 304). When confronted by Carson, Capote replied, "If that's not the way it happened, it's the way it should have happened" (qtd. in Plimpton 304). Eventually, Capote's lies caused his own friends to become his enemies when he published his book Answered Prayers that openly criticized them (Plimpton 338). But why did Capote lie so often? Was lying a disease or did he lie merely for entertainment purposes? Because of his lying patterns, one may easily infer that Capote was a pathological liar. But was he really?
To begin, the definition of pathological actually means abnormal or grossly atypical. Therefore, a pathological liar prevaricates more frequently than the average person or tells more abnormal lies. In most cases, pathological liars tell lies that are "unplanned and impulsive" (Hausman). These lies are usually very emotional stories that tend to serve no purpose except to impress people (Ford 133). As of now, psychiatrists are unsure whether or not pathological liars are fully capable of realizing if and when they are lying, so detecting whether or not a person is a pathological liar is a very difficult task (Hausman).
Since psychiatrists are not yet able to determine if pathological liars know when they are lying, Capote may or may not fit the description of a pathological liar. According to Capote's aunt Marie Rudisill, Capote was extremely aware of his dishonesty (Park). For example, Random House Publishers repeatedly called Capote about the Answered Prayers manuscript (Park). Every time, Capote would tell Random House that the manuscript was on his desk and he would bring it to them during the week (Park). But Rudisill claims that as soon as Capote talked to Random house, "[H]e'd call me on the phone and laugh like hell. He'd say: 'I haven't written a word of that thing, and I don't intend to write it'" (qtd.
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By looking at the list of conditions commonly connected with people considered to be pathological liars, psychiatrists are better able to determine whether or not a person might actually have the disorder. Some main qualities linked with pathological liars include dysfunctional family origin, family lying patterns, anomalies of sexual life, frequent substance abuse, and a great capacity for language (Healy and Healy). Capote's own background consisted of all these elements in some form or another.
First of all, according to Andreas Brown, "Capote's whole life was haunted by abandonment" (qtd. in Plimpton 114). As a young child, Capote moved out of his parents' home to live in Monroeville, Alabama, under the care of Jenny Faulk, his mother's cousin and a widely known "holy terror" (qtd. in Park). Rudisill, who also lived under Jenny’s care, recalled Capote's childhood, saying, "Truman was never loved. […] He [was] rejected completely, not wanted by his mother; his father never saw him" (qtd. in Park). In addition to abandonment, "parental depression [is] a strong and consistent risk factor for […] anxiety disorders in offspring” (Reiff). Capote's mother, whom Capote loved dearly, was severely depressed and eventually committed suicide. A close childhood friend of Capote's, Phoebe Pierce Vreeland, described his mother's death as "the major unhealed wound in his life" (qtd. in Plimpton 112). Evidently, with parents who cared very little for their son's mental and emotional well being, Capote must have felt some resentment for his childhood. Undoubtedly, his childhood had some consequences on Capote's lying.
Secondly, studies have shown that families have "similarities in types and patterns of lying" (Ford 65). Whether the causes of these similarities are from genetics, child-rearing styles, or environmental factors is not certain, but either way, the similarities are still there (Ford 65). As a young boy in Jenny Faulk's house, Capote was subjected to Faulk's "own little dream world. […] There was no reality in her life" (qtd. in Plimpton 10). Jenny's pretend world was made up of different types of deception, which she passed on to Capote. In addition, according to Capote's cousin Jennings Faulk Carter, Capote grew up with a father that was always deceiving people (Plimpton 18). Carter said about Capote's father, "You would think that every word rolling out of his mouth was the gospel, but most of it was just some scheme to get money out of you somewhere" (qtd. in Plimpton 18). Not only was Capote's real father a liar, but his step-father was also caught in falsehoods often. Capote's step-father was convicted for fraud and subsequently went to prison (Plimpton 113). With so many pretenders and counterfeit personalities in his family as role models, Capote had a very slim chance to grow up without learning some of their conniving ways.
Thirdly, Capote could easily have been a victim of sexual trauma, through forms of verbal and emotional harassment. Homosexuality was and still is a very controversial topic, and during his lifetime, Capote was not afraid to be open about his love life. However, the 1940s were a time when such openness was not acceptable (Truman). Daniel Aaron, an English professor at Harvard University, said, "I'd known homosexuals before, but they'd always been of the very discreet variety. Truman behaved in the most outrageous way" (qtd. in Plimpton 63). When asked about Capote's love affair with Jack Dunphy, Marella Agnelli, a friend of Capote's, responded, "He adored Jack. Love of his life, he was always referring to Jack" (qtd. in Plimpton 95). Apparently, Capote was not ashamed to let people know how much his male companions meant to him. The social stress that Capote must have encountered from his openness could definitely have left a few scars and eventually lead to pathological lying.
Next, many people who abuse drugs and alcohol are known to be compulsive liars. Lying is so prevalent in alcoholics, Alcoholics Anonymous even address the problem in its program (Ford 144). During his frivolous lifestyle, Capote "subjected himself to bouts of drug taking and alcoholism" (Truman). Capote often visited Studio 54 with his friends, where he would be in constant interaction with drugs. Liz Smith, a journalist, described the scene at Studio 54 in the following: "Lots of drugs and needles. Truman was really in the thick of it. […] [On one occasion] he went out of the room and came in with a big glass of cocaine. I mean, it had to be $10,000 worth" (qtd. in Plimpton 389). Smith's statement indicates just how enormous Capote's drug problem actually was. In addition, John Knowles says that Capote "induced epilepsy himself […] by abusing [his] central nervous system with drugs and booze" (qtd. in Plimpton 409). A drug and alcohol problem sizeable enough to cause epilepsy is certain to have a brutal influence on the way Capote reasoned, especially since epilepsy is also a factor frequently associated with pathological liars (Ford 140).
Lastly, "unusual numbers of pathological liars are found to have great aptitude for language" (Healy and Healy). The language fluency includes general conversational abilities and compositional skills (Healy and Healy). Considering Capote was a writer, his verbal skills were noticeably developed. Marie Rudisill remembers that as a young boy, Capote would carry his Webster's dictionary with him where ever he went (Park). In addition, Jennings Faulk Carter remembers that as a young child, Capote was often found having conversations with Nelle Harper Lee's father about words and crossword puzzles (Plimpton 12). Capote even described his fascination with words in a piece he had written. In it, Capote said, "Writing was always an obsession with me, quite simply something I had to do" (qtd. in Plimpton 13). Capote's natural ability for language shows in every piece he composed.
In conclusion, no one will ever know why Truman Capote lied to such an extreme. Maybe he really was a pathological liar; he definitely appears to fit the mold. But maybe he was compensating for the lack of love and attention he received in his earlier years. Or maybe he just thought the lies gave some additional mystery and secrecy to his life. Truthfully, though, Capote might have had the better outlook on life. If life is banal or depressing, make life more pleasurable to remember by making up a new story on how if occurred. Not all lying is wrong, is it?
Creative Quotations from Truman Capote. 10 November 2004
Ford, Charles V. Lies! Lies! Lies! The Psychology of Deceit. Washington D.C. : American Psychiatric Press, 1996.
Hausman, Ken. "Does Pathological Lying Warrant Inclusion in DSM?" Psychiatric News 3 January 2003. 10 November 2004
Healy, William and Mary Healy. Pathological Lying, Accusation, and Swindling. Chicago Psychopathic Institute. November 1997. 10 November 2004
Park, Mary Jane. "Truman's Aunt Tiny." St. Pittsburg Times 3 October 2000. 10 November 2004
Plimpton, George. Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. New York: Doubleday, 1997.
Reiff, Michael I. Psychopathology: Association with Parental Depression and Discord. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Expanded Academic ASAP. Washburn University Mabee Library. 15 November 2004.
Truman Capote. South Bank University. 22 February 2003. 10 November 2004
What Is A Pathological Liar? Osric University. 10 November 2004