112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Ghosts in the Closet: Other Voices, Other Rooms and the Queer Gothic Family

Bri Lafond, California State University, San Bernardino

I argue that Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms is less about individual queer actualization, but rather about establishing larger support structures for the queer community, particularly in the form of the specially chosen—or curated—family. In particular, Capote harnesses the tropes of Southern Gothicism by symbolizing family structures—both extant and burgeoning—through a series of “haunted” houses that the queer protagonist must enter and explore.

Proposal: 

Truman Capote’s debut novel is often forgotten in the melodrama and over-the-top performance of Capote’s later work and public persona. Capote himself said of his first novel: “I am a stranger to that book; the person who wrote it seems to have little in common with my present self” (qtd. in Hassan 13). Other Voices, Other Rooms was published in 1948 and became a sensation, largely due to marketing that focused on the flamboyant Capote’s youth and vitality. Despite these origins, Other Voices, Other Rooms is a brooding haunted house story in the Southern Gothic mode with only small glimpses at the camp that defined the Capote of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Black and White Ball. Yet those glimpses are there, suggesting that Other Voices, Other Rooms stands apart from other Gothic tales of haunted houses, particularly in Capote’s use of characters who are coded as homosexual.

Capote harnesses the tropes of Southern Gothicism by symbolizing family structures—both extant and burgeoning—through a series of “haunted” houses that the queer protagonist must enter and explore. While the young queer characters in Other Voices, Other Rooms—especially the protagonist, Joel—are able to carve out a legitimate space for themselves within heteronormative society, they do not achieve full equality, and their fates may even be read as a reiteration of the status quo. I argue that the novel is less about individual queer actualization, but rather about establishing larger support structures for the queer community, particularly in the form of the specially chosen—or curated—family. 

Filled with ghosts both real and imagined, the haunted houses in Other Voices, Other Rooms serve a different purpose than they do in other Gothic haunted house stories. While some houses host antagonistic psychological forces, the “spirits” that populate the “other rooms” in this novel are friendly ghosts that the young protagonist—Joel—must learn to live with in order to come to terms with his burgeoning homosexual identity. The narrative thrust of Other Voices, Other Rooms is to re-form the family, highlighting the shortcomings of the nuclear family model, particularly within the queer community.