THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS The novel The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris is said to fall under the genre of psychological horror. The stories that fall under the genre of horror include a few essential elements: a villain or one seen as evil to create an initial story line. The foil is the next element; a foil is a person who tries to stop the villain from going through with the evil plan or plot. These two elements naturally lead to conflict between the two persons or groups and then from this conflict – suspense, the last element is added. Suspense is important to keep the reader interested and to keep the story line going. When psychology is added to a story, the definition of horror is changed completely. There are still those few essential elements above but there is also a few more added. The story now has something to do with the mind and how it works, and there is really no definition for that.
The mind and it’s workings are a mystery to us and that mystery of the mind adds to the suspense and therefore the idea of psychology and horror are able to go together and become one. This essay will prove that The Silence of the Lambs is indeed a psychological horror according to the five criteria above along with other sources. The first element to a psychological horror is a villain, and the villain is The Silence of the Lambs is Mr. Jame Gumb.
He is a white male in his mid thirties, “most serial killers are white male, unemployed, intelligent and experience financial difficulty.”(Bonata, 3) Gumb is all of these things, he is unemployed but a very skilled seamstress, and using these skills is making himself a second skin out of women who he is able to take control of and render them powerless. He is also very intelligent but is anable to interact with other people and therefore remains unemployed. He experienced financial difficulties until he was the recipient of a large sum of money from an inheritance. “The unconscious fear of women goads some men with a compulsive urge to conquer, humiliate, hurt, or render powerless some available sample of womanhood.” (Menninger, 183) Gumb was deeply disturbed and unable to overcome the death of his mother and he wanted to be like her and resented any woman because he feels that he should have been born a woman instead of the man that he is.
He is sewing a skin of women to try to become more like his mother and less of the man that he is. This is how he received his nickname “Buffalo Bill” because the way he murders and then skins his victims. Jame Gumb is a very disturbed individual and his “violence and crimes are often attempts to escape from insanity.” (Menninger, 181) Jame Gumb is in a word where he believes that he can become a woman and live somehow be with his mother again or even attempt to become her. “Men who are violently afraid of their repressed but nearly emergent homosexual desired often try to overcome these fears with violent demonstrations.” (Menninger, 183) Jame Gumb did not know what he was in terms of sexuality and decided that he would rather be a woman than a man.
This desire drove him to commit such horrible crimes and try to become a woman using their skins. The foils to Jame Gumb are a much stronger force that he is or could ever be, they are the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the FBI. They want to stop the murders as soon as possible so that no other lives are lost and the country can get back to normal without living with the fear of a serial killer on the loose.
Along with the FBI, an X-psychiatrist named Dr. Hannibal Lecter and, Clarice Starling they try to stop the murders and regain order to society, this is not an easy task and there are many obstacles along the way. The first obstacle is that the whereabouts of Gumb are unknown and his identity has alluded the FBI since the murders first begun.
The only link that they have to the murder is Jame Gumb’s X- psychiatrist named Dr Hannibal Lecter. Lecter gives Clarice Starling a few hints with every visit she makes she makes to him about the murder. While revealing hints about the murders is, at the same time revealing something about Clarice’s childhood. This causes Starling to search inside of herself for the answers to the questions she has been looking for about her life and childhood while at the same time trying to solve the case of Buffalo Bill.
Lecter proves to be a trustworthy aid and does help the case and Jame Gumb is eventually found. The next element in not just a psychological horror but in any novel is the idea of conflict. There is a great deal of conflict between not only the FBI and Jame Gumb but also between a few other parties.
The reasons for the conflict between the FBI and Jame Gumb are evident- the FBI would like him to be captured and Gumb will do anything to stop them. He keeps quiet and avoids contact with other people, he hides the bodies of the murdered women and drops them away from his home to avoid being caught. He wants to achieve his dream of being a woman and he will let nothing stop him. The next conflict in the novel is between the FBI and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The FBI sees Lecter as a threat to the case and does not advocate his involvement with the case of Buffalo Bill. The FBI knows how brilliant Dr.
Lecter is and they are not sure if he can be trusted to tell the truth about what he knows about Buffalo Bill. The last conflict involves Clarice Starling and the struggle that she is facing within herself. She is searching inside herself for answers to the questions that she forgot she knew about, things about her past, childhood and about her entire life. Dr. Lecter brings up things in Starling’s life that she needed in order for her life to be complete. She is able to straighten things out in her life that have stopped her from achieving her full potential in the past. With doing this the case of Buffalo Bill is solved.
The closing of the case did not come without suspense however. Through the entire book there was some sort of suspense weather it concerned Buffalo Bill, the actions of Hannibal Lecter, or the situation that Clarice Starling was in. The last seven chapters are the most suspenseful chapters of the story. They deal with the capture and killing of Jame Gumb, the rescuing of the prisoner that he held hostage and finally the freeing of Clarice Starling from the “screaming of the lambs”. Clarice starling murders Jame Gumb and his prisoner is set free with a few minor injuries. Clarice Starling finally finds peace within her and is able to enjoy life to the fullest and she owes it all the Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
The location of Lecter is left unknown which leave the reader without a final closing further adding to the suspense of the novel. Novels in the genre of psychological horror are said to have the elements listed above. This essay has proven that the elements are indeed in the novel The Silence of the Lambs and therefore the novel is a psychological horror. The elements listed above are found through out the novel and are just a few of the many instances in which they occur.