Study Guide

In Cold Blood Madness

By Truman Capote


Capote seems to challenge the readers to decide if Perry and Dick are mentally ill, and if this was what made them do what they did. In In Cold Blood, They both have "spells" where they pass out or can't remember what they're doing. Their thinking is definitely pretty warped and their impulse control is nonexistent, but they seem to make sense when they talk and they manage to plan the murders and their escape. When most people think of madness, they envision someone psychotic, all-out crazy, delusional, hallucinating—all that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest stuff. Not all the mental illness in this book is so extreme. We've got postpartum depression, dissociative disorder, sociopathic personality, and simple schizophrenia.

Questions About Madness

  1. Who was the most seriously mentally ill of the death row inmates we read about?
  2. How disturbed would one of the death row inmates have to be in order to be found not guilty by reason of insanity?
  3. Do you think the M'Naghten Rule makes it harder to get a ruling of not guilty because of mental illness?
  4. What allows a person to commit a murder then laugh about it?

Chew on This

Capote would have said that the psychiatrists were right about Dick being a sociopath, but wrong about Perry being schizophrenic.

Perry has less control over his behavior than Dick.