Hannibal Lecter the Character

Topics: The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling Pages: 5 (1672 words) Published: January 29, 2013
It's been quite some time since there's been new material on this blog, but with summer cooking like it has been, I'm afraid I've been too busy to post! However, I don't want to leave my blog a dusty corner of the Web so in the next week or two I will be posting some material that's just been sitting around on my computer. The following is from an essay originally titled "Human Beast: Analysis of Dr. Lecter" which I wrote for my Textual Analysis class last year. Man is the world’s most dangerous animal. Though we do not possess sharp teeth, claws, poisonous stingers, or the ability to perceive heat radiated by other creatures, we do possess an unsurpassed ability to reason and think. Man has intelligence, the deadliest natural weapon of all. In Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, readers are introduced to Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic psychiatrist, who fuses a razor-honed intellect with the savage qualities of a beast. He is both man and monster, but it is the balance of these two aspects that gives him the depth that still fascinates and horrifies to this day.

Even before the readers see Lecter, other characters make references to his monstrousness, giving him the presence of a Bogeyman. In the first chapter, Jack Crawford warns Clarice Starling to not let Lecter into her head and tells her to remember “what he did to Will Graham.” Without even seeing Lecter, the readers know he is dangerous in more ways than one. He not only has a penchant for consuming human flesh, but also for feeding on the emotions of his victims. Frederick Chilton fans the flames of fear when Starling goes to the asylum to visit Lecter. He shows her the photo evidence of what Lecter did to a nurse when he was freed from his restraints. Like a wild animal, Lecter had broken her jaw, eaten her tongue, and ravaged the rest of her face. The image is enough to make Starling cry, which is significant because she only cries a few times throughout the novel. This scene adds to Lecter’s dark shadow, but it is an addendum by Chilton that makes it even more horrific. “His pulse never got over eighty-five, even when he swallowed it,” Chilton says, referring to the nurse’s tongue. Lecter ate the nurse’s tongue, an action one would attribute to a wild animal, but did so with the calm, coolness of a rational human being. This suggests that Lecter’s powers of self-control -- a human trait -- are astounding.

If intelligence is the deadliest natural weapon of all, then Lecter is like a lion, the apex predator of the savannah. Yet, for all his bestial qualities, Lecter also possesses characteristics that are undeniably human.

For one, rudeness is abhorrent to Lecter. He may be a cannibalistic serial killer, but he is nothing if not polite. When Miggs surprises Starling with his come, Lecter summons her back to his cell. He is agitated by what has happened to her and tells her, “Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me.” Then he helps Starling out by cluing her in to look in Benjamin Raspail’s car and thus setting her along the path of hunting Buffalo Bill. Lecter is also proud, though it seems that he has every right to be. Surrounded by madmen like Miggs and Sammie and pestered by who he considers a quack, Chilton, Lecter holds himself above those around him. When Chilton tried to use Lecter for psychiatric tests, Lecter turned the tables on him and instead published his own findings on Chilton and made a fool out of him. In fact, Lecter refuses to talk to Chilton, deeming the man unworthy even of his attention. This pride is another human trait that separates him from a mere animal.

To pass his time, Lecter amuses himself by playing with people’s emotions, getting into their heads, and tormenting them. It is in this mental and emotional torture that he derives his pleasure. When Starling goes to him for information on Buffalo Bill, it is readily apparent that he knows more than he lets on. He teases the FBI with information, dangling it in front of...
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