Quote of the Day : Truman Capote & A Christmas Memory

“It’s bad enough in life to do without something YOU want; but confound it, what gets my goat is not being able to give somebody something you want THEM to have.”

Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory

Origins of the Quote

The quote is from Truman Capote’s unforgettable book, published by Random House in 1956. It is a story about a time that is long past, spent well in doing good. A story of Christmas preparations, where nothing is perfect but a wholehearted effort is made to keep alive the spirit of Christmas.

A little boy and his older relative put their hearts and hand to bake batches of fruit cake that they intent to share with strangers. Capote’s brilliance lies not in the extraordinary – but finding the extra in the ordinary. His story is staggeringly simple and yet armed with great complexity. When the cakes are made but the two indulge in some drink, albeit our protagonist is underage – it become s a large issue. But Capote constantly draws attention to what he perceives as the real issue.

The Person Behind the Words

Truman Capote was one of the most controversial writers of the 20th century. Born in New Orleans in 1924, his parents broke up when he was 4. Unable to decide what she wanted to from her life, his mother – left him with her relatives in Munroeville.

The love Capote had in Monroeville came from his elderly relative, Miss Sook Faulk, the archetype of the aging innocent. A beautiful character who he honed an nurtured.  He projected simple people with an inarticulate wisdom and a childlike capacity for joy and strange imaginings.

They lived, the young boy and the old woman, in the womb of their joint imaginations in which delights and demons cohabited.

Young, Sensitive & Talented

Though there was Miss Sook and their communal spooks, Capote felt in those years in Alabama “like a turtle on its back. You see, I was so different from everyone, so much more intelligent and sensitive and perceptive. I was having 50 perceptions a minute to everyone else’s five. I always felt that nobody was going to understand me, going to understand what I felt about things. I guess that’s why I started writing.

This was the heart of what really made the man – his childhood. Truman was intelligent, beautiful and smart. He knew who he was long before most children figure out. In that sense he had a unique maturity. But when he left his youth behind, he carried inside the longing for a family, fame and fortune.

He chased all three and found all except the family. His books were slow in catching on popularity but eventually talent like his couldn’t be hidden. In his mid teens he moved to New York to live with his mother. This shift left an impression on him as she wasn’t very stable herself and committed suicide before she was 29.

In 1959, Capote set about creating a new literary genre — the non-fiction novel. In Cold Blood (1966), the book that most consider his masterpiece, is the story of the 1959 murder of the four members of a Kansas farming family, the Clutters. Ever the fan of the small town, this was close to heart and the novel was a massive success. And Capote inched closer to his dreams.  

Some Final Thoughts

In Monroeville he was lost, lonely but for the friendship of an odd, sturdy girl. It was one of the most interesting twists in story as the girl was non other than Harper Lee, who would later write one book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The ascended to cultish status and remains a study of the Southern cultural values.

“She’s a lawyer, a recluse,” Capote said about Lee. “Every single person who’s really been close to me in my life has been a recluse. I can’t imagine why I’m attracted to them when my attitude is, ‘Let’s go to a party.’ “ it explains the complexity that he lived under, quote comfortably. Lee’s Mocking Bird has many elements that cross over with Capote’s Christmas Memory. In the characterization of children at play and the depiction of adults, and the take on racism.

All together a delectable read, especially during the holidays.  


Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.