Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms is an exploration into role reversal, gender definitions, and the risk involved in sexuality and love against the harsh contrast of southern ideals. The novel acts as Capote’s catharsis in developing his younger self, in the character of Joel Knox, innocent and self-exploring, as he transforms into his older, liberated self in the character of Randolph who truly is the voice carrying the books message. However, to reach his destination of Randolph, Joel must begin his journey with Idabel Tompkins.
Joel sees Idabel soon after entering Noon City, and is so mesmerized with her boyish antics that he is oblivious to the man offering him a nickle to capture her, something Joel would not be capable of anyway. She notices him later as well, watching Joel in the soda shop from the doorway and asking about him in her”boy-husky” voice. Immediately, Joel is intrigued on the verge of infatuation and most often referencing her boyish attributes in the same breath. On the way to the Landing, his new home, he finds Idabel on the road and picks her out from her sister as, “[t]he other moved as jerky and quick as a boy” (p31).
The pair become friends and later during a fishing trip, Joel learns not only the risks invilved in loving someone but also Idabel’s evaluation of what they are together.. When she tells him to undress so they can swim naked Joel sheepishly replied, “But you’re a girl” (p131) Idabel, frustrated, replies, “What you’ve got in your britches is no news to me, and no concern of mine….I never think like I’m a girl; you’ve got to remember that, or we can’t never be friends” later on proclaiming, “I want so much to be a boy” (p132). During the same trip, Joel felt he needed to put his arms around Idabel as, “the only means of expressing all he felt” he kisses her cheek and in return she becomes so mad that he pulls his hair and fights him. Joel learns the danger of loving someone, could mean loosing them or being betrayed by them.
Idabel comes to get Joel at the Landing, in hopes of picking up a partner in crime to run away with. Joel mistakes this as affection and suggests they run off and get married, picking grapes to support themselves. Idabel rebukes him sternly, “I don’t want to get married….Who the hell said I wanted to get married? Now you listen, boy: you behave decent, you behave like we’re brothers, or you don’t behave at all. Anyway, we don’t want to do no sissy thing like pick grapes. I thought maybe we could join the Navy” (p174) on their way to running away, they first stop at the carnival in Noon City where they meet the alluring blonde midget Mrs. Wisteria, a 25 year old carnival worker who also wants to be loved in a society that does not value her. Idabel is immediately smitten with her and Joel notices, to his dismay, “Idabel, more excited than Joel had ever seen her, rushed up and asked [Miss Wisteria], please, wouldn’t she have some soda pop with them” (p191)
Joel Later realizes Idabel is in love with the circus performer. This provokes Joel into a dream where he fears Idabel’s loss and tells her he loves her. He begins to realize he can never have her love. During their conversation, Miss Wisteria talks about her horrible experiences trying to find love and her sorrow that boys must grow tall and therefor, never want her. We see the perfect triangle of unrequited love that can never be fulfilled and can only bring sorrow. Joel longs for Idabel who is in love with the golden curls of Miss Wisteria, who molests Joel while trapped in a ferris wheel in her attempt to find a boy who will never grow tall. In an affirming signal of Joels realization of who he is, Joel sees Randolph, the homosexual transvestite cousin of his step-mother, at the carnival, while being molested by Miss Wisteria. He runs off scared looking for Idabel and hides from Miss Wisteria in the old abandoned house in town.
He realizes he has a home and a bed at the Landing with Randolph, while Miss Wisteria is doomed to always be searching rooms for love, as she is now looking for Joel in the old mansion, until she finds her final room, where death awaits. Joel realizes who he is now and is almost comforted by it. He forgets Idabel for most of the rest of the story and assumes she has run off with her circus girl. Joel is content to remain at the Landing, especially after his one connection to the real world is lost when his friend Zoo comes back to stay after a rape has driven her a little crazy as well. He knows he belongs there with Randolph, the ‘ghostly lady’ in the window who wears women’s clothes and wig, but is more like him than whats outside. He hides from his old life in the form of a visit from his original caretaker, his aunt Ellen, and moves towards Randolph, looking back and leaving his innocent self, the other Joel Knox.
Capote, Truman. Other Voices, Other Rooms. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print.