Analysis of Silence of the Lambs
In the book “Silence of the Lambs”
(Harris, 1988) the whole plot is based around three main characters.
Clarice Starling is a precociously self-disciplined FBI trainee who is
put into the position of trying to unravel the mind of an evil genius,
Hannibal “the cannibal” Lecter, in order to find the answers needed to
capture the serial killer, Jame Gumb, also known as “Buffalo Bill.” The
psychological background is very strong in all of the characters, lending
to their believability, except for some fragile associations between the
characters Lecter and Gumb. The intrigue of Gumb with moths is particularly
worth noting, since there is very little evidence of prior criminals being
documented as having used this sort of post mortem decoration, yet the
logic of the idea is impeccable.
Starling is the protagonist in the
book, and the majority of the story line takes place from her point of
view. She is driven by memories of her childhood, which is a recurring
theme throughout the book. Most of these are in the form of flashbulb
memories, a recollection of an event so powerful that the recollection
is highly vivid and richly detailed, as if it were preserved on film (Brown
& Kulik, 1977). She draws upon these memories for courage, and
they give her the strength of will to accomplish whatever task it is she
is about to perform.
Hannibal Lecter is neither an antagonist
nor protagonist, but more like a middleman throughout the novel.
He doles out parcels of knowledge to Clarice Starling in order to test
her strength of mind, and to benefit himself by getting rewards for helping
the FBI, such as a room with a window and unlimited access to books and
any other sort of research material he might want, especially the criminal
file on Buffalo Bill. He also wants to learn more about Starling,
and the only way she usually got any information from him was through exchanging
his knowledge for tidbits from her childhood.
Jane Gumb is an enigma during most
of the book, and is an unseen antagonist except for brief periods when
the author switches to his point of view to enlighten the reader to exactly
what Gumb is thinking about before he commits his murders, and shed some
light upon what sort of personality Gumb has. He is a heavy-set cross-dresser
who kidnaps girls of his size and then flays them in order to make body
suits out of their skin. He is based upon the real life sexual psychopath,
Edward Gein, who was also classified as schizophrenic. During the
1950s he gained notoriety as one of the most famous combinations of necrophilia,
transvestitism, and fetishism (Martingale, 1995). With the exception
of necrophilia, Jame Gumb had an almost identical psychological make-up.
The only true weak link in the authors
psychological profile of the characters is exactly how Lecter knew of Gumb
and how he relayed the information to Starling. Lecter prided himself
on being able to figure things out on his own, yet the revelation of his
knowing Jame Gumb came about through recalling a memory of one of his past
patients, who was also a lover to Gumb and one of Lecters final victims.
The fact that Lecter did not use any of his ample critical thinking skills
into coming up with a suspect for the “Buffalo Bill” murders seems very
out of line with his nature. This is the only inconsistency the author
makes; yet it plays an intregal part in the book and its outcome.
There are no other discrepancies
in the psychological backgrounds of the other characters, from Starlings
pragmatic way of thinking, to Jame Gumbs inclination towards wearing the
skin of another human being.
Another aspect of the story is Gumbs
fascination with the metamorphosis of moths, particularly the deaths head
moth. After the killing of each victim, Gumb places a moth just coming
out of its chrysalis into the back of the throat of the victim. The
significance of this is that with each skin Gumb is becoming more and more
of a woman, with larger breasts, and a more effeminate body shape.
The skull on the back of the moth is to signal the death of the old Jame
Gumb, whereas the chrysalis is communicating the birth of the new Gumb.
A tenuous theory put forth by Starling, and since it is fiction, the author
could write the story in order to prove this theory.
In conclusion, the research that
went into the book “Silence of the Lambs” is remarkable. The psychological
profiles of each of the characters remains strong even against the most
rigorous of skepticism, and although the plot is very frail and almost
over reaching in some parts, the depth of each of the personas as well
as the writers fast paced style more than make up for the weakness of
some parts of the plot.
Brown, R. & Kulik, J. (1977).
Harris, T. (1988). Silence of the
Lambs. New York: St. Marten’s.
Martingale, M. (1995). Cannibal
Killers. : St. Martins’s Paperbacks.