Silence of the Lambs (second half)–Group 2

Silence of the Lambs is an almost intfinitely allusive novel, persistently referencing known people, places, and things to tell its story.  In the slides, I talked about Florence, Belvedere, Orvietto, Threave, and several other prisons, dungeons and forts.  Find a reference to a real world person, place or thing not already discussed in the slides and explain how the book’s reference to it works in the novel as a whole or simply in the paragraph where it appears.  Don’t choose a reference that someone else has posted about in your group.  There are many, many possibilities available: Picasso, expressway overpasses and rivers that you could probably find on Google maps, buildings, insect life, food, TV shows, and dozens more.    

It would be helpful to include paste in a link to an image of the person, place, or think you’re writing about.

6 thoughts on “Silence of the Lambs (second half)–Group 2

  1. Elizabeth Srulevich

    In Chapter 34, Clarice visits Catherine Martin’s apartment to “get to know her better” and, in the first few pages, name-drops a place we’re all more or less familiar with: “Starling had read the brief biographical material the FBI had gathered, and it showed Catherine Martin to be a bright underachiever. She’d failed at Farmington and had two unhappy years at Middlebury. Now she was a student at Southwestern and a practice teacher.”

    Although this isn’t my first time reading Silence of the Lambs, this is my first time noticing that Catherine Martin went to Middlebury — albeit for “two unhappy years,” which (admittedly) isn’t shocking. The fact that Thomas Harris creates this little backstory of Catherine having gone to Middlebury makes her character that much richer, and I mean that in both a literary “fleshed-out” sense and in the financial sense. Of course, it’s not hard to believe that a senator’s daughter went to Middlebury for a little while, and it’s even more believable that Catherine had a tendency to downplay her wealthy background, which is another classic MiddKid habit. This attention to detail — a mid-tier “elite” New England liberal arts school as one of several sites of Catherine’s education — builds, like all of Harris’s references in the novel, an even stronger setting. It’s also perhaps such attention to detail that contributes to the novel’s endurance in popular culture.

  2. Annabella Twomey

    “Some duck hunters in West Virginia found a body in the Elk River around daylight. In a Buffalo Bill-type situation. Deputies are bringing it out. It’s real boonies, and Jack’s not inclined to wait on those guys for details.” Brigham stopped at the door to C Wing,” (97).

    And again, ““Elk River, about six miles below U.S. 79,” he said. “We’re lucky on this one. The body was snagged on a trotline—a fishing line set out in the river,” (108). (A couple photos)

    The Elk River in West Virginia is a real river that runs through Central West Virginia and is known as a popular spot for trout and fly fishing. In “Silence of Lambs,” it is where Clarice witnesses for herself the first body discovery of Buffalo Bill’s latest victim. This river isn’t the only one where Buffalo Bill dumps his victims, but rivers do frequently appear in the novel. As Clarice and the FBI examine it, the novel remarks, ““He dumped each body in running water when he was through with it. Each was found in a different river, downstream from an interstate highway crossing, each in a different state…“The rivers left no fingerprints, no trace evidence of hair or fiber,” (118). Besides the logical reasonings for Buffalo Bill wanting to dump his victims in a remote, nature location with water to destroy evidence, there is possible symbolic meaning in the frequency that rivers appear as opposed to other options. This could be a reach but since the river, and what it means for the forensic findings of a dead body, is mentioned so frequently and is a pattern for Buffalo Bill I tried to examine the psychological choice behind Buffalo Bill’s actions, in the context of his methods of murder. He confines them in his home in a dungeon-like hole, while he himself is using their skin, hair, etc. to build a feminine figure for himself. He then dumps this particular victim in Elk River, and others in other rivers, where there is consistently running water to wash away parts of their bodies/evidence. Buffalo Bill is a psychopath who wants to feel like a woman and feels confined/trapped in his own body. He confines the women he murders until he has scalped them, and he is pursuing a psychopathic sense of freedom by using their body parts to build his own physique. He then “sets them free” by throwing their bodies in the river to perhaps emulate the new freedom he feels. However this feeling for him doesn’t last long as he is not satisfied and continuously murders more women to chase that brief feeling of elation for himself. It is very creepy thought process to examine!

  3. Colston Merrell

    “Frederica had several issues of Big Beautiful Girl, a magazine for large women. Here she was advised to ‘come to New York City, where you can meet newcomers from parts of the world where your size is considered a prized asset.’… Here’s what to do if your toes hang out over the ends of your shoes. Jesus! All Frederica needed was to meet Buffalo Bill, who considered her size a ‘prized asset'” (317).

    Unfortunately, I’ve so far been unable to find an image of the Big Beautiful Girl magazine that Harris is referencing, here, but I was able to find a magazine from the eighties called “Big Beautiful Woman” which seems to be a fashion magazine marketed toward larger women and would make sense for Frederica to be reading given her interest in fashion. Here’s a link to a cover of the magazine, article unrelated:

    My current theory is that the magazine “Big Beautiful Girl” either doesn’t exist and is being used here by Harris as a sort of similitude of all those types of magazines or that it was an offshoot of “Big Beautiful Woman” directed at teens. Either way, I wanted to point to its inclusion, here, because I think it has a lot to do with what the novel is saying about women and women’s bodies more broadly (though perhaps never quite so directly as here, in the above passage). From the second chapter of the book (when we meet Chilton) on, we’re subject, with Clarice, to a constant barrage of micro– and macro– (see: Miggs) aggressions directed at her because of her body, which is constantly objectified by almost all of the men in the book, whose preoccupations with Clarice’s appearance frequently impede her from carrying out her work. For his part (and to his credit) Harris doesn’t train the camera of his prose for too long on his apparently striking protagonist; we know Clarice Starling for her sharp mind and tireless ambition and are thankfully spared the leery prose lesser authors might have used to get the point across: this is a beautiful woman who men want to “couple” with. It’s significant that Clarice’s detective work, as it becomes increasingly interior and emotionally fraught after seeing the body of Kimberly Emberg, also becomes increasingly empathetic. She repeatedly finds herself doing a version of what Buffalo Bill does, imagining herself in the vulnerable female bodies of these young women in an attempt to understand their motives and routines. In the world of the novel, just as in our own world, it seems impossible to separate the value of one’s person from the market value of its appearance, its stock conformity or lack thereof to a fluctuating suite of beauty standards. Even in reading that her size could be a “prized asset” the teenage Frederica would not be moving toward any true kind of self worth, but rather an opportunity to view herself as a kind of specialty item, something that could be altered (her toes mustn’t hang, after all) to still be marketable under a narrow series of conditions. Her emotional vulnerability as a result of her bodily insecurity related to her size is at least part of what pushes her to form such a bond with the man who will ultimately kill her, but our time with Clarice shows us that, even for women who are more naturally seen as assets, there is no way to escape the market consequences of one’s body in Harris’ Reagan-era U.S.A.

  4. Carl Langaker

    “He gutted Will with a linoleum knife when Will caught up with him. It’s a wonder Will didn’t die. Remember the Red Dragon? Lecter turned Francis Dolarhyde onto Will and his family. Will’s face looks like damn Picasso drew him, thanks to Lecter” (my page numbers are off but this is the penultimate paragraph of chapter 1).

    Here I first wanted to point out the reference to Red Dragon, a book that was written by Thomas Harris in 1981, seven years before he released Silence of the Lambs. The primary antagonist in this novel is named Francis Dolarhyde, and similar to Lecter, is an utter psychopath who is known for his gruesome methods of assassination. This reference is not the primary point of my blog-post, but I just wanted to note how meta it is of Harris to reference his own book, comparing one of his iconic serial killer antagonists to another!

    What caught my attention here is the comparison between Will’s face and a Picasso painting. While Picasso needs no introduction, it is worth noting that he is often regarded as the face of the Cubist art movement. One of the key features of Picasso’s style was altering reality – Cubism followed the Impressionist movement, which was an epoque devoted to glorifying God’s given earth, where artists generally attempted to replicate reality through the lenses of various emotions ranging from melancholia to euphoria. Cubism, however, spun this on its head – Picasso and his fellow cubists would distort traditional art-norms by making artworks far removed from the real world. For instance, here are two portraits of a teenage girl named Sylvette, the first being a primary sketch, while the second is the final product:

    Here we see Picasso’s style of altering a face (and body) by shuffling around the order of different organs (the second painting above is, if anything, quite restrained compared to some of his more aggressive reality-distortions, e.g.:

    The reason I really like this reference is that it effortlessly paints a picture of Lecter’s morbidity – the second Picasso is mentioned, the reader immediately understands that Will’s face will never be the same, likely having been gruesomely handled by Lecter. What I also found interesting about this quote is that there is a comparison here being made between Lecter and Picasso with regards to ‘being an artist’. While I do not think that Crawford is intentionally making this comparison, I do posit that Harris is undoubtedly characterizing Lecter’s meticulous approach and his intelligence. It feels in line with Lecter’s appreciation for the fine arts that he should be compared to Picasso, much in the same way that he enjoys listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, as Michael discusses. This reference comes at the very beginning of the novel, and establishes that Lecter is not to be trusted.

  5. Michael Taylor (Glenn Gould, Bach’s Goldberg Variations)

    If someone asked me what my favorite song was and I really, reaaaally wanted to seem smart, I might fib and tell them, “Why, friend, though recorded music can never capture the je-ne-sais-quoi of a live performance, I must say I do enjoy Bach’s Goldberg Variations on particularly foggy and contemplative mornings.” I couldn’t help but give a chuckle when Hannibal Lecter requested just those from Senator Martin upon his arrival in Tennessee (202). The Goldberg Variations are indeed very good – especially Glenn Gould’s performance, which Lecter specifically requests, but they are also such a trope, as if someone answered the question, “What’s your favorite novel?” with Beowulf. Given the general quality of Harris’s construction of Lecter, I am inclined to assume that Harris was conscious of the superficiality that accompanies Lecter’s ostensibly refined choice in music. Harris seems to be dropping a cherry on top of his character, the epitome of superficial refinement. He seems to be pointing with a wink that just below the surface of Lecter’s culture and urbanity, there exists a great cavern of emptiness or carnal, self-conscious darkness; he reminds us that Lecter is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, no matter how shiny his golden fleece – a fleece that is shortly dispelled with anyhow by Lecter’s brutalization of his guards and subsequent escape.

  6. Andreya Zvonar

    “Jack Crawford’s office in the FBI’s Washington headquarters was painted an oppressive gray, but it had big windows. Crawford stood at these windows with his clipboard held to the light, peering at a list off a God damned fuzzy dot-matrix printer that he’d told them to get rid of” (309).

    The building in question is the J. Edgar Hoover Building, a brutalist beast built in 1975 by Charles F. Murphy and Associates. For those familiar with Boston, it looks a lot like City Hall. I think this passage is interesting to analyze because brutalist architecture is perhaps the most recognizable type of architecture, and most people have an aversion to it. Brutalism is characterized by simple forms devoid of decoration in which the main building material (most often concrete) is left exposed. Brutalist structures seem heavy, impenetrable, and bleak. Nevertheless, this passage makes note of the “big windows”, which suggest that despite the architecture, there is plenty of natural light that enters the office. This is supported by the fact that Crawford uses this light to read. Immediately, there is an opposition between person and place. Crawford sits in a box of light within a building that resembles something of an above ground dungeon. This imagery thus falls in line with that which the slides referenced. While I do not want to read too far into this, as it wasn’t Harris who created the FBI Headquarters, it is certainly interesting that even the office of justice resembles something of a prison. As for Crawford sitting in this box of light, I find it suggestive of his two-sided personality. On the one hand he is respected and trustworthy, but on the other he still uses Clarice, making him slightly manipulative. Contrasting dark and light is a common technique, and Harris ultimately uses it to suggest that in this world, there is no one person or place that is not at least slightly guilty of something shady. My final thought is that Harris’ use of dark/light as well as bringing in specific pieces of architecture reminds me a lot of Bartleby. In one of our first posts, we analyzed the architecture of New York and the use of light versus shade. The same elements are at play here.

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