Topics for Further Study
Research the evolution of the insanity plea, from the ancient M'Naughten Rule to the Durham Test, the Irresistible Impulse Test, and today's Moral Penal Code. What external political and social forces compel the courts and legislatures to amend insanity plea requirements? What cultural shifts, changing priorities or advances in psychiatry required updating insanity plea legislation? What were the landmark cases which established each new step in its evolution?
Critic Jon Tuttle claims that the influences of Flannery O'Connor on Capote's In Cold Blood are too profound to miss. Read Flannery O'Connor's story ‘‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find'' and compare the characters of Perry Smith and the Misfit. Compare their attitudes toward the families they murder, their methods of murder, their speeches, and their revelations about their pasts. In what way are both the Misfit and Perry Smith archetypal criminals or archetypal psychopaths?
Some critics assert that the publication of In Cold Blood ultimately led to the United States Supreme Court's striking down capital punishment across the nation, a moratorium that lasted into the 1970s for some states. Research death penalty statistics for mentally ill criminals or criminals who attempted to use the insanity plea to exonerate themselves. What are the arguments in favor of institutionalizing the mentally ill? What are the arguments in favor of capital punishment for truly heinous crimes? What are the benefits for society of either option?
Southern Gothic literature derives some of its grotesque, macabre elements from the gothic writing of the Romantic period, with its horror stories, violent scenes, and gloomy settings. Which components of In Cold Blood are particularly gothic? How does this nonfiction novel fit into the Southern Gothic genre? What gothic elements must be altered or subverted in Capote's account of a horrifying, but true, incident?