An objective answer to the above questions is much more complex than simply A or B, and realistically the better investigation is what does each text represent, that is what is the style, voice and tone of each piece, and how is this information crafted by the author to create his/her prose? The aforementioned
article and Mailer's heralded text is fascinating, and it's implication of bias requires techniques and knowledge already familiar to most English teachers, and could be, in a sense, redundant. However, in no way should this lesson be discourage, in fact, it essential that students are aware that New Journalists are aware of the manipulation of facts. Contemporary novels of New Journalism are often classified as narrative non-fiction, but in the 1950's as Mailer, Capote, Didion, and Thompson reinterpreted societies conception of non-fiction, they also coined New Journalism.
Non-fiction? - In Cold Blood vs. The Things They Carried
The following unit compares excerpts from two texts of varying degrees of non-fiction on a similar theme, murder. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, have distinct styles, are widely heralded, and present murder from drastically different points of view. Although they do not foretell the events of the same murder, a comparative study of their style, their mingling of fact and fiction, and their thematic revelations on murders is intriguing.
By reading these texts, either in part or in full, the unifying element is the notion of New Journalism. "In Cold Blood, the author's ninth published book, represents the culmination of his long-standing desire to make a contribution toward the establishment of a serious new literary form: "the Nonfiction Novel." (Capote, Afterward) Again, this quote asserts Capote's awareness of this fledging genre and his passion to become a contributor. The Things They Carried introduction reads, "This book is essentially different from any other that has been published concerning the "late war" or any of its incidents. Those who have had any such experience as the author will see its truthfulness at once, and to all other readers it is commended as a statement of actual things by one who experienced them to the fullest." (O'Brien, Inset) The notion of "truthfulness" is highlighted to implicate O'Brien as a presenter of the truth of Vietnam; but going one step beyond the New Journalists, O'Brien's stories could possibly have no facts, and the novel is classified as fiction. O'Brien's assertion that his novel is the truest reflection of Vietnam while being marginally factual, lends a trained eye to the presence of New Journalism, a story that is fiction, yet all the while filled with "truthfulness." Because O'Brien's novel follows Capote's by 25 years, (In Cold Blood copyright 1965, The Things They Carried copyright 1990), O'Brien is obviously aware of the contributions to journalism of his elders, Capote, Mailer, Didion, and Thomson.
Yet O'Brien's novel pushes the concept of narrative non-fiction even further. While Capote becomes a living part of the history of the Clutter trial by psychologically mingling with the murderers, and subjectively canonizing their presence in the hearts of readers worldwide, O'Brien invents situations and characters (he does claim they are based on fact), yet gives an account that he believes most accurately represents the soldiers in Vietnam. The distinction is Capote is substantiated historically. On November 15, 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas, Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock murdered the four members of the Clutter family, stood trial and were hung. However, in O'Brien's work the reader is unsure if a Mary Anne really exists, Mark Fosse's girlfriend flown in from the States because she missed her boyfriend, carrying a suitcase and bright blue eyes into battle. The question that surrounds this unit is, do New Journalist's more accurately present the truth? Previously the students defined fact, now students must define truth.