Favourite Book: Silence of the Lambs *SPOILERS*

  SotL

     Thomas Harris’ book Silence of the Lambs is my favourite book.
When compared to the other novels and short stories that we have
read, Harris’ main characters and plot keep you engaged in this tale of the
search for a serial killer. The development of the main characters, language
used and the idea of using one serial killer to find another was an interesting
concept. The relationship which develops between the main characters and how
they interact with one another as well as the development of their individual
character is a thought-provoking one. This combined with the public’s
fascination with idea of serial killers and how their minds work have all added
to making this book a success and the movie based on it an even bigger success.

The language used with in the story is more modern then that of
other stories and the story line follows one character at a time while travelling
along a specific time line. Harris doesn’t jump from one character to another
nor does he utilize a writing style like that of Stoker in Dracula where all the
characters in the story tell the tale and one of the main characters story
appears to be told by those around him.
Other stories we read also use this singular time line and character development
style and it is one that I personally find easier to read. This style of writing
with one or two main characters is easier for readers to follow and doesn’t
require the reader to continually shift through the writer’s ideas to find and
follow the main characters development. The more direct writing style used by
Mr. Harris helps the reader to follow the plot while still giving him the
ability to add layers to his characters and not have the reader confused as to
which character he is discussing. Unlike, Stoker where the plot is not always
easy to figure out mainly due to the writer’s swapping continually back and
forth between characters which makes it easy to lose part of the story while
trying to remember which character is currently being discussed.

This style of writing is difficult to follow and many times you become more
involved as a reader trying to figure out the characters than you do in
following the specific story line. In my opinion many readers today tend to
appreciate the story lines which are more straight forward and follow one or two
main characters rather than a group of characters all telling their sides of the
story. The style of writing employed by Harris allows the reader to be led in
the direction the author wants without the reader having to decipher the main
character through the eyes of another character.

Harris not only tells the story of the hunt for a serial killer but he also
develops a relationship between the two main characters as he does this. The
relationship which develops between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lector is not
one which easily descripted. Clarice is the young, haunted FBI trainee while
Lector is this complex serial killer locked in a cell in maximum security of an
asylum.

We first met Clarice when she is entering the Behavioural Science division
offices of the FBI, fresh off the firing range. Clarice had been summoned by the
head of the department, Jack Crawford to the office who stated she should come
to see him “now”. This summons precipitate’s Clarice’s eventual meeting with
Hannibal, she is summon by Crawford mainly because of her background and her
familiarity with the way mental institutions work. She is sent by Crawford to go
and interview Lector and to write a report to be given to him and possibly the
director if he deems it worthy. He reminds her to listen to the instructions
given by Dr. Chilton and not get too close to Lector and follow the rules
surrounding Lector’s care.

Her meeting with “Dr. Fredrick Chilton, fifty- eight, administrator of the
Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane” (8) doesn’t go as well as
she would have liked, she did not read him as well as she could have and once
she turned down his request for her phone number or a way she could be
contacted, his tune changes to one of dismissal. Clarice beats herself up over
what she perceives to be her inability to have read him “better”. Clinton
dismisses her very quickly after that once he has given her the security
measures in place. He leaves her with the orderly for the area where Hannibal is
contained. In order for Clarice to get to Hannibal’s cell she has to walk down a
corridor with cells on both sides. The inmates call out obscenities as she walks
toward Lector’s cell. She introduces herself to Lector and they have a brief
conversation before he sends her away. It is not until she is leaving and one of
the other inmates behaves inappropriately that Dr. Lector calls her back and
designs to speak with her. He talks about Valentine’s Day and tells her to look
Raspial’s car.

Raspial is a former patient of Dr. Lector‘s, that he had eventually
killed. Lector leads Clarice to expand her knowledge of herself and of what she
is willing to do in order to accomplish her goals. The dialogue which takes
between herself and Lector doesn’t always reveal something about the serial
killer but it does help the reader to better understand Clarice and her character.

In the discussion with Lector, Crawford, and her own internal dialogue
we are able to discover the development of her character from an unsure but
determined trainee to a woman full of confidence in her own behaviour and her
abilities. In her interviews with Lector and her interactions with Crawford you
begin to see not only her determination to accomplish what she had set out to do
but her budding confidence in herself as a woman and the power that she has. She
is a stubborn individual and she uses this trait to push herself and to learn
from those around her. She is not above requesting help in finding out how to
accomplish her goals, for example, when she was first looking for Raspial’s car
she did not know how to find it because she did not have a valid registration
number, the only number she had was the vehicle’s serial number and make of the
car to find the answer she need. Clarice asks one of her instructors at the FBI
academy. When he gives her the answer, he asks”.. “How‘d you know to ask me?”
“You were ICC enforcement; I figured you’d traced a lot of vehicles” (25) this
shows her determination to find answers and that she is not afraid to ask for
instruction on how to find the answers. Clarice knows how to use the resources
around her which includes using Lector and putting up with his games in order to
find a serial killer.

Just as Lector helps to mould Clarice so too does Crawford, both men assist
in moulding Clarice in becoming the woman she is at the end of the book. Crawford
by sending and taking her out into the field, showing her how profilers in the
behavioural science division work and Lector by his cryptic clues which sends her
out to find answers. There almost seem to be a competition between Crawford and
Lector as to exhibits the most influence over Clarice. She is useful to Crawford
because Lector willing talks to her. Lector likes to barter with her for
information regarding her past and uses her to break up the boredom of his life
within the asylum’s cell. Crawford on the other hand uses her to get insights
into the serial killer they are after in the hope that he will give information
to Clarice that can be used to find the killer.

Lector helps with the investigation into the serial killer “Buffalo Bill”
in trade for some information about Clarice and some concession to his care.
Lector leads Clarice towards the answers to her questions regarding the serial
killer without giving her the killer’s name, which he knows as Raspial had given
it to him. Clarice plays along with Lector determined to stop the serial killer.
Her character changes from that of an unsure young woman to confident young
women and by the end of the book she has resolved her nightmares about her early
childhood memories of the sound of lambs being slaughtered. This is in part due
to the self-analysis she goes through when she is trading her childhood memories
for assistance from Lector in the hunt for the serial killer.

Dr. Hannibal Lector is a more complex character than Clarice, for not only
is he a former psychiatrist but he is also as Dr. Chilton says a “pure
sociopath” and this makes his character more difficult to understand. At one
point, Harris describes him as a man with “extensive internal resources and can
entertain himself for years at a time. His thoughts were no more bound by fear
or kindness that Milton’s were by physics. He was free in his head.” (172) When
he first meets Clarice, he was very polite and had impeccable manners. It was in
fact his perception of the discourtesy done by another inmate which had him call
Clarice back and give her the information about Raspail’s car and starts the
whole process between them.

Once Clarice finds the head in Raspail’s car and the Senator’s daughter is
taken by the “Buffalo Bill” serial killer then Lector and Clarice’s relationship
begins. Lector gives Clarice clues in the serial killer’s motives which she
passes on to Crawford and exchange for small concessions given to Lector.
Crawford gives Clarice insight into Lector’s reasons for offering to help them
with the case; he is doing this for fun in Crawford’s opinion and will not
snitch on the other serial killer. Lector was a successful psychiatrist who did
numerous psychiatric evaluations for the courts up and down the East Coast prior
to being caught. Crawford figures that he knows who the killer is but will not
“snitch “on a fellow serial killer, he might give them clues to the killer is
but to Lector this is all “fun”. Harris proves Lector’s intelligence and memory
skills by having him run an internal dialogue about Raspail’s last session and
how he would play with the information he would give to Clarice and ultimately
Crawford.

Lector’s plans change when Dr. Chilton makes a deal with the assistance
of Senator Martin to have Lector transferred to Tennessee. Dr. Lector shows how
much control he has over those around him by choosing to answer or not to answer
their questions. What Dr. Clinton failed to recognize is that Lector’s one
weakness is his lack of tolerance to boredom. As the orderly, Barney tried to
explain to Clinton prior to him taking Lector away to Tennessee and the
interview with Senator Martin. Lector is extremely intelligent and what the
Senator and Clinton seem to have forgotten is that he has nothing to lose and
everything to gain. He also has an incredible amount of patients which is shown
when he escapes using items collected over a number of years. He bided his time
waiting for the right moment when he could escape.

Lector’s character is very complex. Although he is a sociopath, he doesn’t
exhibit all of the normal characteristics of one. His ability to plan and wait
for what he wants is an example of this. He sees those around him as pieces in a
game, one which he manipulates. Like a master chess player he plays with the
individuals around him purely for the amusement it gives him. Unlike Clarice’s
character, Lector is exposed to us fairly quickly and it is the differences in
his behaviour we notice, those that do not meet our expectations. Things such as
his courtesy to Clarice and his acknowledgement of Barney’s “many courtesies at
the asylum”. (366) His letter to Clarice is another example of this, he states
“I have no plans to call on you, Clarice, the world being more interesting with
you in it. Be sure you extend me the same courtesy.” All of this shows Lector’s
total preoccupation with his wants and needs and his disregard for those around him.
All in all this style of psychological thriller is far more interesting to read
than any other. The story gives insight into the minds of the both the
investigators and the killers. Through Lector we are given a window into the
thought processes of a serial killer while with Clarice and Crawford we get a
look at what the investigators of these killing look at and how they go about
investigating the deaths of the victims.

We also get insight into the minds of two very different serial killers,
Lector who is very controlled and precise. When asked by Clarice early in the
book “what happened to you”, Lector replies “Nothing happened to me, Officer
Starling, I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences.” (21) Harris
leads us to believe that Lector killed because he could that he played games
only he had the rules to. For example, we are told of Raspail’s death, he was
“the first flutist for the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra” and after his death
he was found in a church sitting in a pew with two of his organs missing. It was
believed by the Baltimore detective that these same sweetbreads (organ meat)
were fed to the conductor and president of the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra,
the evening after Raspail had disappeared. Not only is this type of serial
killer very rare but the fact that he was able to not be caught for a number of
years and run a very successful psychiatric practice during this time is quite
amazing. This is totally unlike the “Buffalo Bill” killer who although he has
been killing for years was beginning to unravel during the time of the book. He
is leaving clues that are easily discerned by Lector and with a little
investigating we can see how he is beginning to fall apart mentally.

This style of writing is one that I personally find interesting and
psychological thrillers always seem to be more disturbing to me than the slash
and gore style. Maybe it is because of the reality factor, we can all imagine or
have read of real life cases about serial killers and the horrific things they
have done. Examples of cannibalistic serial killers are not as common but they
are out there, in real life killers such as Dahmer, Bundy and Rader many who are
only caught by coincidence. Like many other members of the public, I am
horrified but interested in why they did the things they did and was going on in
their head and why they chose the victims they did.


Works Cited:
Thomas Harries. Silence of the Lambs. St. Martin’s Press edition. June 1989

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