Introduction to Psychology
Critical 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 1950 s 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 author s 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 Lecter s 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 Starling s pragmatic way of thinking, to Jame Gumb s inclination towards wearing the skin of another human being.
Another aspect of the story is Gumb s fascination with the metamorphosis of moths, particularly the death s 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 writer s fast paced style more than make up for the weakness of some parts of the plot.
Brown, R. & Kulik, J. (1977). Cognition.
Harris, T. (1988). Silence of the Lambs. New York: St. Marten’s.
Martingale, M. (1995). Cannibal Killers. : St. Martins’s Paperbacks.