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Literature / The Silence of the Lambs

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Dr. Lecter: What does he do, this man you seek?
Agent Starling: He kills women.
Dr. Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does, what needs does he serve by killing?

The Silence of the Lambs is a 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, and the second after Red Dragon in the Hannibal Lecter series. Notably, unlike later sequels in the series, this book is somewhat self-contained (for one, Will Graham doesn't reappear and is only briefly mentioned in an expository narration), and the reader does not need to be familiar with the events of Red Dragon in order to understand this novel.

There's a serial killer on the loose, "Buffalo Bill," who abducts women, kills and skins them, and shoves chrysalitic moths down their throats. Behavioral Sciences, the section of the FBI that deals with violent crime, is stuck; section chief Jack Crawford has no idea how to stop this guy. The game-changer comes in the form of ambitious young trainee Clarice Starling. Pulled into the investigation almost by accident, she’s sent to interview another serial killer, incarcerated psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter— "Hannibal the Cannibal"— for insight into Buffalo Bill's psychosis. Having previously aided longtime adversary Will Graham in hunting down serial killer Francis Dolarhyde, Lecter agrees to fulfill a similar purpose for Clarice in exchange for her most traumatic memories, and the two develop a strange symbiotic relationship. And the clock is ticking, because Buffalo Bill's latest victim is the daughter of a US Senator, and if they can't get him now, all hell will break loose...

The book was adapted into a 1991 film directed by Jonathan Demme, starring Jodie Foster as Clarice and Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, followed by a sequel Hannibal (1999) and a prequel Hannibal Rising (2006).

Like Norman Bates and Leatherface, Buffalo Bill was inspired by Real Life killer Ed Gein.

The tropes, Clarice, tell me about the tropes...

  • Aborted Arc: In the book, a major point is made of Clarice discovering an envelope inside Catherine's jewelry box that was missed by the police. It contains photographs of her with a person she was clearly romantically involved with in the past. The photos are confiscated by Krendler and Catherine's mother. Clarice also finds evidence that Catherine has taken LSD in the form of blotter acid discovered in her room. All of this hints at Catherine's private associations being key to finding out how Buffalo Bill found her, but in the end this turns out to have no bearing whatsoever on the conclusion of the story. This is a red herring, but it also provides some motivation for Starling - not only does it keep Catherine humanized and real to Starling (she makes a big deal of feeling out the victims as actual people, rather than getting waylaid thinking of the crimes), but her mother the Senator accuses Starling of being a thief by taking the photos, which burns Clarice up inside, and adds to her grit and determination. It's also fairly realistic: the LSD is referred to again very late in the novel with the DEA running a check on the batch, in an example of needless bureaucracy when the story is almost over.
  • Absence of Evidence: When Lecter gives his fake profile for 'Billy Rubin' and can only remember that he had elephant ivory anthrax, Clarice knows that this information is fake because Lecter would never come away with so little information about someone he'd met directly, guessing that he only knew of the real "Buffalo Bill" through second-hand information (Lecter did meet Gumb through Raspail, but only once).
  • Accidental Misnaming: Jame Gumb got his name because "James" was misspelled on his birth certificate. Strangely enough he liked the name and would get enraged if anyone mistakenly called him James.
  • Affably Evil: The cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter is an interesting example in that nobody can be really sure if his affability is just an act, particularly as he's prone to sniping insults at visitors who displease him. The simple answer is that he is genuinely nice and respectful to people who are genuinely nice and respectful to him, exhibiting this both towards Clarice Starling and an orderly who broke his arm to stop him from attacking a nurse, but was otherwise always respectful and never rude. As the orderly points out at one point, Lecter "prefers to eat the rude".
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Benjamin Raspail's infatuation with Jame Gumb, despite Gumb's penchant for "the bad thing" and wearing Klaus as an apron.
  • All Men Are Perverts: You can count on one hand the number of men who don't hit on Clarice. And, arguably, the number who don't have some kind of psychosexual disorder, given the subject matter.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Clarice's confrontation with Buffalo Bill.
  • AM/FM Characterization: While in the prison cell in Tennessee, Hannibal Lecter listens to classical music just before his prison break. This tells the audience that even though he's a psychopathic cannibal, he's still Wicked Cultured.
  • Animal Motifs: Moths, as a symbol of transformation; lambs, as a symbol of innocence; starlings, as a symbol of youthfulness.
  • Anti-Villain: Lecter in his other appearances; a serial killer and cannibal who is unfailingly polite, and helps Clarice even when she can no longer offer him anything in return but her story.
  • Asshole Victim: Benjamin Raspail is portrayed as one in the book, carrying on an affair with Buffalo Bill despite already being in a relationship with a sailor named Klaus, being utterly dismissive of Bill's murder of a homeless woman and when Bill finally kills Klaus, Raspail seems more concerned about how it will affect his own life.
  • Author Appeal: Hannibal's detailed knowledge of wines and foods apparently greatly reflects Harris' own expansive knowledge of food and wine.
  • Bank Toaster: Discussed. Stacy describes her job at the bank as "toaster giveaways and Barry Manilow on the speakers all day."
  • Batman Gambit: One of the reasons Lecter agrees to Chilton's deal is it will mean him being transferred to the custody of the Tennessee state police, who won't be familiar with Barney's very strict (and effective) security measures. Instead they'll just use handcuffs and leg irons, which have locks that can be picked and will give him a chance to escape. It works.
  • Berserk Button: Gumb hated his name being pronounced incorrectly. Jame rhymes with name.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Averted when the FBI successfully identify the killer only to end up at the wrong house. In both cases the real climax comes when the hero is unexpectedly thrust up against the killer, unprepared and with no backup.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Clarice kills Buffalo Bill, successfully rescues Catherine, and is officially made an FBI agent. However, Hannibal has already escaped from police custody, and he is now free and able to commit more carnage. Cue Hannibal.
  • Black Comedy: After Clarice exposes Lecter to the most private and painful part of her past, which is her witnessing the slaughter of spring lambs and her inability to save them, Lecter thanks her and tears well up in his eyes. After she leaves he orders a second dinner: Lamb chops, extra rare.
  • Break Them by Talking: Hannibal, given his psychiatrist background, is extremely good at this, to the point that he's easily able to talk Miggs into committing suicide following his disrespecting of Starling.
  • Boxed Crook: Hannibal is offered much better accommodations if he helps the feds find Catherine.
  • Call-Back: In Red Dragon, the very first line we hear from Hannibal Lecter's mouth is him lamenting that Will Graham's wearing the same "atrocious" brand of aftershave from three years ago, having offhandedly caught the smell when Will arrived, and alluding to the brand by mocking its logo. Here, one of the first things he does with Clarice is smell her skin cream and the perfume she wore the other day, deducing the exact brand of both on the spot. Both times set up the fact that Lecter's not quite human on a neurological level, and here it establishes that he's just as dangerous as he was in Red Dragon, if not more so, and is just as willing to use the same mind tricks on Clarice as he did on Will.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Dr. Chilton warns Clarice not to leave anything in Hannibal Lecter's cell and mentions several objects, among them pens. He himself leaves one there, and there’s a long shot of it. He later can’t find it for signing a document. Hannibal Lecter is then seen with a part of it in his hands... He uses it to unlock his cuffs, allowing him to kill his guards.
  • Chekhov's Skill : Clarice's hand strength and firing speed are tested on the FBI range. It comes in handy later. Her trainer even lampshades the importance of this skill she might never use.
  • Chess Master: Hannibal Lecter, who manages to both help Clarice get Buffalo Bill and architect his escape.
  • *Click* Hello: As Buffalo Bill stalks Clarice through the darkened basement, she has no idea where he is—until he pulls back the hammer of his gun. Hearing this, she instantly turns around and empties her gun into him.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Buffalo Bill enjoyed letting his captives loose in his basement, shooting their legs and watching them crawl around in the dark. However, he stopped playing his "basement games" because the struggling women damaged their skins and ended up being unusable to him.
    • Zig-Zagged when Lecter assesses that Bill is not a sadist, because the skins were removed post-mortem instead of flaying them alive.
  • Coming of Age Story: For Clarice. Silence of the Lambs is all about her first assignment and graduation.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Lecter, when he bites one guard on the face, then pepper sprays him, then bludgeons another guard—who is unarmed—to death with a truncheon, and has his hands handcuffed to the cage bars. Then he listens to a piece of classical musicnote  that makes the cell kind of like a high-end restaurant. The scene also acts as a ghastly sort of Brick Joke. Lecter's face is serene, a callback to Chilton's line that Lecter's pulse "never got above 85," when attacking the nurse.
  • Composite Character: Gumb himself is a composite of three Real Life serial killers. His Wounded Gazelle Gambit is a hallmark of Ted Bundy, his tactic of imprisoning women in his basement is that of Gary Heidnik (though unlike Heidnik, Gumb has no sexual interest in his captives), and his skinning the women in order to make a suit of them was part of Ed Gein's MO.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: The novel is the Trope Maker, along with Red Dragon. And most other depictions of this trope are intended as direct Homages to the film adaptation, especially Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lecter. In Lambs, Clarice Starling visits Hannibal in his cell on multiple occasions for help with catching another serial killer called "Buffalo Bill". Hannibal ends up giving Clarice cryptic clues in exchange for information about Clarice's unhappy childhood. Hannibal later uses an agreement to disclose Buffalo Bill's real name in exchange for a transfer to another asylum as an opportunity to escape.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: Buffalo Bill is as much the direct opposite of Francis "the Tooth Fairy" Dolarhyde from the previous book as he is his parallel. While both killers seek to transform themselves through their killing as a means of coping with years of trauma from heavily abusive childhoods, Dolarhyde's goal is to transform himself in spirit and become the culmination of his present state by empowering his "Great Red Dragon" alter, while Bill's goal is to transform himself in body and become the antithesis of his present state by fashioning a Genuine Human Hide suit that would, in his eyes, enable him to become a completely different person.
  • Contrasting Sequel Protagonist: Aside from the obvious difference in gender, Clarice Starling is a world away from Will Graham. Will is a veteran FBI agent by the time the plot of Red Dragon kicks into gear, and has a personal history with Hannibal Lecter that goes back at least several years; Lecter is also the main source of his personal trauma, which occurred quite recently into his life. Clarice, meanwhile, is still in training during the events of this book, and prior to the events of the main plot only knows about Lecter from news stories regarding him. While she herself also has personal trauma, it stretches much further back than Will's, going all the way back to her childhood. Lecter actually uses this to his advantage, managing to interact with and manipulate Clarice in ways he wouldn't have been able to have achieved with the more experienced and personally acquainted Will.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The FBI asks Clarice to consult Lecter in the vague hope that his psychological expertise might give them some insight into Buffalo Bill's mind. By a complete coincidence, it turns out that Lecter already knows who Buffalo Bill is, that he has personally met him at least once, and that his first victim (whom the authorities never found out about) was one of Lecter's old patients. Fancy that.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Buffalo Bill, though it's not a straight example. Both the novel and movie go out of their way to tell the audience that being a transsexual, in and of itself, is not connected to violence—specifically, Clarice says (and Lecter agrees) that Bill cannot be a transexual because transsexuals are not violent. According to Lecter, Bill only thinks he's a transsexual due to his "hatred of his own identity."
  • Creepy Souvenir: Buffalo Bill collects parts of the skin of his victims to make a "woman suit".
  • Creepy Stalker Van: Buffalo Bill lures Catherine by wearing a cast and pretending to struggle loading furniture into a van outside her apartment. When she gives him a hand in the back of the van, he assaults her, shuts the doors and drives off.
  • Criminal Mind Games: A rare version where the criminal is helping the good guys. Rather than outright tell Clarice what he knows about Buffalo Bill, Hannibal Lecter instead uses cryptic clues, coded conversations, and a few meaningful anagrams as a kind of test of her deductive reasoning skills. Once she realizes what he's doing, she's able to solve the puzzles he gives her.
  • Cut Apart: Famously used to set up the Alone with the Psycho climax. The FBI has tracked down Buffalo Bill's residence, and is about the storm the house after drawing him out with a Delivery Guy Infiltration. Bill hears the doorbell ring, walks up to the entrance, and finds only Clarice Starling in front of him, with her colleagues stuck at the wrong address.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: While she still respects his analytical mind, Clarice isn't above doing this to Lecter when he tries to talk down to her once.
    Lecter: What do your two disciplines tell you about Buffalo Bill?
    Clarice: By the book, he's a sadist.
    Lecter: Life's too slippery for books, Clarice. Anger presents as lust, lupus presents as hives. You mean Dr. Bloom's book. You looked me up in it, didn't you?
    Clarice: Yes.
    Lecter: How does he describe me?
    Clarice: A pure sociopath.
    Lecter: Would you say Dr. Bloom is always right?
    Clarice: I'm still waiting for the shallowness of affect.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: Clarice actually manages to deceive Lecter with a fake proposal from Senator Martin – deceive a man who can guess her family history just from smelling the remnants of her perfume. He doesn't even realize it until Chilton tells him, and even then, he doesn't bear much ill-will towards Clarice, with no more than a couple biting remarks near the beginning of their next meeting.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: As a serial killer, Hannibal is known for killing rude people (or getting them to do the job for him); he really doesn't like people who are rude. Mind you, his definition of "rude" can often be different from a normal person's.
  • Double Meaning:
    • One of Lecter's most famous lines has a second meaning that most people miss. In the novel, he tells Clarice, "A census taker tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone", with the movie changing the wine to "and a nice Chianti." Now, Clarice—and most of the audience—believe Lecter is merely confessing to one of his crimes. What most people would not know is that a common treatment for Lecter's "brand of crazy" is to use drugs of a class known as MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors). There are several things one must not eat when taking MAOIs, as they can cause fatally low blood pressure, and as a physician and psychiatrist himself, Dr. Lecter would be well aware of this. These things include liver, fava beans, and red wine. In short, Lecter was telling Clarice that he was off his medication. Not surprising, but very subtly done.
    • A more blatant example comes after Hannibal has been moved to Memphis, and he and Clarice have a conversation while he's in the temporary cell. He tells Clarice the clue is "simplicity." (Butterick's) Simplicity is the name of a brand of sewing patterns.
    • Hannibal tells the Senator "Love your suit". It has a vicious double meaning in that Buffalo Bill is meaning to turn her daughter into a skin suit.
    • Early on Lecter points out that one of his sketches is of "The Duomo as seen from the Belvedere" in Italy; Clarice later discovers that Buffalo Bill lives in Belvedere, Ohio.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "The Silence of the Lambs" can refer to both Buffalo Bill's innocent victims being "silenced", or to Clarice overcoming her trauma from seeing the slaughter of the spring lambs as a child.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Gumb does this purely out of habit, and it's what gets him killed.
  • Empty Elevator: Played with. In search for Lecter, the police find an already empty elevator.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Buffalo Bill has a beloved pet dog named Precious, who he dotes on.
  • Exact Words: "I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner."
  • Failure Knight: Starling, with dead lambs forming the center of the story's central analogy.
  • Fakeout Escape: Hannibal gets bonus points for not even escaping himself, but letting the guards load him into an ambulance, thinking he is their mutilated colleague.
  • Fan Disservice: The Buffalo Bill dance scene.
  • Faux Affably Evil: As respectful or even kind as Lecter can sometimes be, he is still a sadist. For a select few (Clarice, Barney and Sammie) he is genuinely nice, for the rest it is a sham to get him what he wants. Senator Martin is not only courteous to him but actually gives him the transfer he wants, unlike Clarice who deceived him. He expresses sympathy for Catherine, complains about Clarice and Crawford wasting time in the investigation and tells Senator Martin that he will help her without reading her affidavit so the investigation can get underway sooner. Of course, he has known Buffalo Bill's real name the entire time, has sat through six deaths, was perfectly content to let Catherine die until he was given a transfer and didn't actually give his real name anyway. He also needlessly taunted Senator Martin about Catherine's predicament and took pleasure in her pain.
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: Some of the asylum conversations between Starling and Lecter devolve into this. But because both characters have such unique vocal cadences and motivations, and because one of them is always driving the conversation with questions and the other responding with answers, it's hard to confuse them. Tropes Are Tools, after all.
  • FBI Agent: Starling is in training to be one; she only gets her badge at the end of the story.
  • For the Evulz: Gumb gets a kick out of going after Clarice at the end, as "he'd never hunted one that was armed before."
  • From a Certain Point of View: In the novel of Silence, Starling tells Lecter that her father was a marshal. Later on, when she is recounting to him how he died, Lecter catches enough clues to deduce that the man had actually been a night watchman. Starling's defense is that the official job description had read "night marshal" (Lecter doesn't press the point).
  • Genius Bruiser: Hannibal, who along with brains is strong enough to carry bodies.
  • Genre Shift: Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs were cop thrillers with an emphasis on using forensics, profiling and detective work to track down a serial killer. Hannibal was blend of romance and revenge with the detective angle diminished.
  • Genuine Human Hide: Buffalo Bill's modus operandi.
  • A Glass of Chianti: Trope Namer—although in the book, Lecter ate the liver and beans with "a big Amarone." Both are dry reds that pair well with rich meats, such as liver.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: Hannibal unlocks his handcuffs with a pen clip.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Trope Namer.
  • Happy Ending Override: While Will Graham's fate at the end of Red Dragon was certainly not pleasant, there was a prominent implication that he was finally on the path to achieving closure by coming to terms with the relationship between himself and the killers he fights. An expository narration in this book, however, reveals that he was ultimately unable to reconcile with his personal demons and descended into alcoholism. The mention of Graham is cut out of the 1991 film, however, leaving his fate ambiguous; if one considers it the sequel to Manhunter (in spite of the huge changes in cast, set design, settings, etc.), Graham's far happier ending in that film can be interpreted as remaining intact.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Clarice and Ardelia, with Krendler making the sort of comments you'd expect out of a Fan Boy.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Clarice is being hunted by Bill in complete darkness and he has the advantage due to his night vision goggles. He draws a bead on her and prepares to fire, cocking his revolver. This allows Clarice to pinpoint Bill's location and fire first, emptying her own gun into him.
  • Horny Scientist: Clarice gets hit on by two; she may even have wound up in bed with one of them by the end of the book.
  • Hypocrite: For all his famed dislike of rudeness, Lecter does not hesitate to contemptuously demolish Starling's pose of detached professionalism in their first meeting, after deciding that the questionnaire Starling brought him to complete is an insult.
    Lecter: You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well-scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling? And that accent you've tried so desperately to shed? Pure West Virginia. What does your father do? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp? And oh, how quickly the boys found you — all those tedious, sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars ... while you could only dream of getting out, getting anywhere. Getting all the way to the F -- B -- I.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Starling: "Much oblige [sic], Ardelia. I got to make one more call. If I can get done with that in time, I'll catch up with you in the cafeteria, okay?"
    Mapp: "I was so in hopes you'd overcome that ghastly dialect. Books are available to help. I never use the colorful patois of my housing project anymore. You come talking that mushmouth, people say you eat up with the dumb-ass, girl."
  • I Always Wanted to Say That: Upon discovering Klaus's severed head in Raspail's car, Clarice says to herself "Well, Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore", which the narration notes that she had always wanted to say under stress. Although, it also says that saying it out loud makes her feel phony and she is glad that no one else is around to hear it.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: A common response of Lecter's dinner guests, which included prominent local politicians in Baltimore, apparently. Some of his guests ended up hospitalized for crippling anorexia.
  • Idiot Ball: Hannibal Lecter is so terrifying that he is escorted everywhere by multiple squad cars, forced to wear a straitjacket and a hockey mask when not in his cell, guarded by about 20 armed officers waiting outside—and when it's time to open the cage and feed him, two slow-moving, dull-witted cops plus one set of handcuffs will apparently suffice for security purposes. This is explained more thoroughly in the book: Lecter agrees to the exchange of information solely for the chance to be subjected to the lesser security measures of the Tennessee state police, which he knows will not be as effective as Barney's. Barney is aware of this and offers to advise them on how to handle Lecter, but is turned down. The police don't know what he is capable of, so it only takes a bit of chumminess and meek cooperation from Lecter to convince them to abandon Chilton's time-consuming and seemingly excessive security measures.
  • Ignored Expert:
    • Barney, who survived six years as Lecter's jailer without a hitch, warns the Tennessee police not to reduce the security measures around Lecter in any way. His advice goes unheeded and sure enough, Lecter's guards soon decide that one set of handcuffs is sufficient. The predictable happens.
    • Lecter himself is this: one of the inmates in his wing of the asylum has been diagnosed with an untreatable form of schizophrenia, but Lecter, after several weeks of patience, can produce evidence that the man has moments of near-lucidity and may be treatable.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Hannibal Lecter is a cannibal, probably the most famous one in fiction.
  • Improbable Taxonomy Skills: Averted, in which identifying the species of an insect pupa found on the bodies of the victims is a plot point, and the professional entomologist consulted needs time and equipment to answer the question.
  • Inkblot Test : Rorschach is mentioned in passing as one test Billy likely took while seeking gender-reassignment. A whole scene is devoted to describing "House, Tree, Person."
  • Insistent Terminology : Gumb refers to murder and mutilation as "The Bad Thing."
  • Insufferable Genius: Lecter. Crawford tells Starling that this is "the only weakness I ever saw in him. He has to look smart, smarter than anyone." Given a Call-Back at the end when Crawford and Starling are listening to the tapes confiscated from Benjamin Raspail's family, which reveal that Raspail told Lecter pretty much everything about Gumb except his shoe size. Crawford notes that Lecter "would have given you Gumb and looked like a genius if Chilton had stayed out of it."
  • Ironic Echo: "Ready when you are."
  • It Amused Me: The motivation for a fair few of Lecter's actions. It is mentioned that Lecter treated unstable people and set them loose on society for kicks and Crawford says that Lecter killed Miggs to amuse himself.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Buffalo Bill uses this to address his victims ("It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again!"). Discussed beforehand when Senator Martin delivers a televised plea to Buffalo Bill, repeatedly referring to her daughter by her given name "Catherine" in the hopes that he will have a harder time depersonalizing her. Given the above line, it clearly didn't have much effect, or he didn't watch the news.
    • In the book, Bill thinks of Catherine as "the material." He also shines a flashlight on her back and tries to figure out how he's going to insert a zipper into his suit.
    • Inverted as Clarice and the others prepare to do the autopsy on the unidentified victim. She gently, but firmly gets rid of the other cops by telling them "There's things we need to do for her. Go on and let us take care of her.", making it clear that they regard her as a person despite not even knowing her name.
  • Jar of the Bizarre: Hannibal Lecter tips Agent Starling off that a public storage unit may contain something of interest to the hunt for elusive Serial Killer Buffalo Bill. When she searches the unit, she finds a jar containing a severed human head, which turns out to have been one of Bill's very first murders.
  • Just Desserts: At the end, Hannibal, while in hiding, informs Starling that he's "having a friend for dinner." He's staring right at an oblivious Dr. Chilton as he speaks the line.
  • Karma Houdini: Lecter is this in spades. He escapes from prison, kills another five people in the process and remains at large. There is also the fact that he knew who Buffalo Bill was all along but didn't lift a finger to help the first five women he kidnapped and murdered.
  • Kick the Dog: Hannibal murders the pair of cops guarding him at his new cell by beating them to death with a nightstick. Hannibal is a psychopath, but unlike Chilton, those cops were really nothing but decent to him. Even worse, he also murders the ambulance crew who unwittingly assisted his escape.
  • Kubrick Stare: This is Lecter's default expression when revving up the creepy.
  • Living Lie Detector: Downplayed. Lecter's very good at reading body language, but he does miss a few lies and half-truths Clarice feeds him.
  • Macabre Moth Motif: Buffalo Bill and his death's head moths. A moth flapping around is what makes Clarice realize that she has found the killer.
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • Hannibal Lecter; arguably also Chilton and Krendler, with their manipulations being wildly outclassed by Lecter's.
    • Jack Crawford, who intentionally sent Clarice to Lecter with no clue as to why she was really doing it, because if she had known Lecter would have figured it out. He also entices Lecter with a phony deal from Senator Martin, and fakes a sexist attitude in front of the sheriff in order to get him to talk alone.
  • Mascot Villain: Hannibal Lecter is notably closer to this than Villain-Based Franchise. While definitely the series' mascot and quite evil, he could only be considered a flat-out villain in the film Hannibal, and instead usually acts as an adviser to help catch other villains.
  • Meaningful Name: A starling is indeed a songbird, but if you live in New England, it is also a structure placed upstream of a bridge to intercept any large and dangerous objects that may damage it.
  • Monster Misogyny: Buffalo Bill only kills women, although we discover he has his... er, reasons...Somewhat shaken up by the implication that Jame Gumb doesn't specifically hate women as much as he is bitter towards them due to jealousy, as indicated by his last line in the novel. In the film it's hinted at further during the infamous skin lotion scene. He refers to Catherine Martin as "it" and refuses to address her directly. Finally, her pleas for her mother get to him and he starts crying before screaming at her to put the lotion in the basket, indicating that he felt a moment of guilt or remorse for what he's doing, a sensitivity he tries to restrain by treating his captives as objects. This is pointed out by Clarice when she comments on the Senator's plea, noting that she repeats the name to humanize her daughter, making it harder to tear her up.
  • Mythology Gag: Bill's characterization is not too dissimilar from Dolarhyde's from Red Dragon, being a killer who seeks to transform himself by killing others, ultimately dying in a shootout— Bill's death at Clarice's hands also parallels Dolarhyde's death at Will's hands in Manhunter. Additionally, the way Bill spreads his wrap during his dance is eerily reminiscent of the Dolarhyde's own invocations of his "Great Red Dragon" persona in Manhunter, and like Dolarhyde in that film, Bill falls to the ground with his arms spread at his sides when killed.
  • Named After Someone Famous: Hannibal Lecter takes his first name from Carthagian general Hannibal Barca. Buffalo Bill is nicknamed after the 19th century adventurer and entertainer of the same name.
  • Nerves of Steel: A disturbing off-screen example is mentioned by Chilton; Lecter once faked illness to attack a nurse while undergoing an EKG, his pulse never rose above 85, not even when he was eating her tongue.
  • No Kill like Overkill: Clarice empties all six chambers of her revolver into Buffalo Bill's chest at point-blank range. As he's lying on the ground dying, she reloads.
    • This potentially qualifies as showing their work, noting that police officers are often trained to immediately load an empty gun regardless of whether or not the fight is over. Plus, officers are also trained that if you have to shoot, shoot everything you have (or at least a lot of it, depending on how many rounds your weapon carries), since you don't know for certain if or how much you hit the target.
      • Also, Clarice reloads her revolver by shifting the gun to her weak (left) hand and performing the actual reload with the strong (right) hand. This is a Boring, but Practical technique that usually gets missed in films, most preferring to go the wrist-flicking cylinder-twirling route. The rationale behind this technique is that the more dexterous of the two hands should be used for the critical bits of the reload; the off-hand is more likely to fumble and drop the speedloader.
  • Not So Stoic: When "it places the lotion in the basket" fails to instantly become reality, Gumb's "it does this", "it does that" (third-person statement as command) routine becomes:
    Buffalo Bill: PUT THE FUCKING LOTION IN THE BASKET!! [imperative]
    • During the same scene, Catherine's desperate cries for her mother are clearly having an effect on Bill, as tears begin to form in his eyes as she starts to sob. That sobbing, in addition to being disobeyed, reveals the killer's volatile emotions.
  • Patched Together from the Headlines: Jame Gumb is a composite of several different real-life monsters. He uses Ted Bundy's Wounded Gazelle Gambit tactics to abduct women; like Gary Heidnik he keeps his victims imprisoned in a pit in his basement, and like Ed Gein, he uses their body parts for furniture and a skin suit.
  • Pet the Dog: Lecter has a few of these, though being otherwise a totally self-centered, cold-blooded serial killer, the effect is a bit muted.
    • Early in Silence, we find that he has sent a note to Crawford expressing his sympathy for Crawford's wife's terminal illness.
    • He shows some genuine gentleness towards a new inmate named Sammie; he asks his permission before telling Clarice about the violent crime he was imprisoned for and comforts Sammie when he becomes upset. When Lecter is transfered to Tennessee, he asks Barney to say goodbye to Sammie for him, as well as thanking Barney for the courtesy he had shown him during his imprisonment.
    • Later, when Clarice finally tells him that she thinks maybe, if she finds Catherine alive it will help her deal with her own issues, he is genuinely sympathetic to this belief, with the prose noting it is "the moment where he did not mock."
    • In Hannibal, he has a nightmare about his little sister being murdered and wakes up with a scream, on an airplane. A little boy sitting beside him, who had earlier annoyed Lecter by demanding some of his food, assures him that it's okay to have nightmares, but he doesn't have to be scared now that he's awake. Lecter thanks the boy, and advises him to never eat airline food again.
  • Phone-Trace Race: After Hannibal Lecter escapes he calls FBI agent Clarice Starling. During the call he tells her "Don't bother with a trace, I won't be on long enough."
  • Police Are Useless: While the FBI is portrayed in a completely positive, heroic light, policemen and sheriff's deputies are portrayed as dim-witted hicks (West Virginia) or as bumbling incompetents who bring on their own demise (Boyle and Pembry in Tennessee). Lampshaded by Buffalo Bill, who sarcastically asks if the FBI has any leads on the case since "the police around here don't have the first clue."
  • Police Procedural: A reasonable amount of time is dedicated to the techniques used in psychologically profiling and forensically tracking Buffalo Bill.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Swastikas are prominently featured in the interior decoration in Buffalo Bill's basement.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Buffalo Bill, a remorseless serial killer whose behavior outside of his actual killing is closer to a middle school bully than the more conventionally wicked Lecter.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Some people complained that during the night-vision view scene, shadows could be seen even though the room was pitch-black. However, if the night-vision technology uses infrared, shadows can be seen as infrared light can cast them. In the novel it's mentioned that the last thing Buffalo Bill sees is the massive shadow of the moth flying over his head, projected by his infrared flashlight onto the ceiling.
  • Reminiscing About Your Victims: Hannibal does seem rather fond of remembering that census taker whose liver he ate.
  • Reverse Who Dunnit: The audience knows from Catherine's kidnapping who Buffalo Bill is. The tension comes from watching how Clarice tracks him down.
  • Room Full of Crazy:
    • Buffalo Bill's basement has several. The sewing room has a large black wardrobe filled with the skins of women. The doors are plastered with newspaper clippings.
    • Jack Crawford has a heroic version, as his office features the same Buffalo Bill clippings as well as crime scene photos.
  • Same Plot Sequel: It has the same plot as Red Dragon/Manhunter - an FBI agent consults Hannibal Lecter to track a serial killer, only instead of a veteran man, it's a rookie woman.
  • Scenery Porn: Ahh, Florence...
  • Serial Killer: Some of the most famous examples. Buffalo Bill is a composite of several notorious serial killers—Ted Bundy (wearing a cast on his arm and claiming to need help), Gary Heidnik (imprisoning women in his basement), and Ed Gein (murdering women and flaying their skin in order to make a "woman suit").
  • Shown Their Work: A surprising amount regarding Buffalo Bill's choice of weapon. The narration, and medical reports, note that he likes firing .38 Special Wadcutters out of his Colt Python (a .357 revolver.) Not only is he is likely inexperienced with guns and the .38s provide less recoil than the standard .357, but the wadcutter wounds are well-known for causing minimal damage to pelts and skins due to not expanding. Given what Buffalo Bill's plans for them are, this makes total sense.
    • Similarly, Starling's use of the Smith & Wesson Model 13 is accurate to the FBI's service weapon at the time.
    • Night vision goggles notoriously interfere with your sense of depth perception, this is part of the reason that Buffalo Bill keeps reaching out in front of him while hunting Clarice through his house.
  • Significant Anagram: Lampshaded by Clarice, who solves two of Lecter's: Hester Mofet— The Rest Of Me, and Louis Friend— Iron Sulfide (Fool's Gold).
  • Sparing the Aces: Put simply:
    Hannibal: The world is more interesting with you in it.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Lecter definitely counts in relation to Starling.
  • Star-Making Role: Averted Trope in-universe. By the start of Hannibal, Starling has not been the success one might have imagined from such a successful first case; she's become tainted by a reputation for violence and her career has plateaued. It's mentioned that Paul Krendler has been subtly hamstringing her behind the scenes with well-placed comments about some of her rougher actions (he was insulted at being shown up by a trainee agent solving the case), though he also notes her confrontational attitude has done as much to hurt her career as anything he's said.
  • Stealth Pun:
    • When Lecter escapes he murders two people and mutilates their bodies. One he strings up on the wall like a butterfly. He cuts the other's face off and wears it to disguise his identity. Both of these things are references to Buffalo Bill's crimes. Also, Lecter wearing the guard's face as a disguise is foreshadowing to the reveal that Bill wears women's skins in an attempt to change his identity; one last clue to Clarice.
    • The shirt Buffalo Bill is peeling off Catherine has a fruit pattern on it.
    • In the novel, Lecter falsely identifies a man named Billy Rubin (Louis Friend in the film) as Buffalo Bill. A search of Lecter's cell after he escapes reveals a note floating in his toilet with Chilton's name on it with numbers after some of the letters. FBI lab technicians figure out it's the formula for a pigment called bilirubin, which is a chief coloring agent in feces-– and is more or less the same color as Dr. Chilton's hair. Yes, Lecter basically called Chilton a shithead.
    • At the FBI graduation party, when we see a shot of them slicing the cake shaped like the FBI logo, the first slice contains the word "justice." It's a good moment to shout out: "Justice is served!"/"Justice for all!"
    • Some of the book's blurbs revel in this, including "a killer who knows beauty is only skin-deep", "a trainee trying to save her own hide" and— stealthiest of all— "Hannibal's willing to put on a brave face— if it will help him escape."
  • Step into the Blinding Fight: Jame Gumb turns off the lights and stalks Agent Starling while wearing night-vision goggles.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Considering the Downer Ending of the other books in the series, it can come as a shock that Clarice gets an almost entirely happy ending; she not only saves Martin and kills Gumb, but she is finally happy with herself and no longer wakes up to the screaming of the spring lambs.
  • Tear Off Your Face: Lecter does this to one of the guards as a component of his infamous escape sequence.
  • Themed Aliases: Jame Gumb also goes by the name John Grant and identifies himself to Starling as Jack Gordon.
  • There Are No Therapists:
    • Subverted, since Lecter is imprisoned in a psychiatric institution and has been visited by a number of shrinks. Since he's a brilliant psychiatrist himself, this rarely works out right.
    • An even more interesting subversion is that Lecter mentions to Clarice that he's using his skills as a therapist to work with one of the other patients. He gives the impression that he's sincerely trying to help the man, though it's possible he's doing it out of sheer boredom (and more possible he made the whole thing up to screw with her head.)
    • Justified by Lecter's practice. Prior to his arrest he was a renowned forensic psychiatrist who was frequented called upon to testify in court, and Crawford theorizes that Lecter used his position to set dangerous patients loose for his own amusement. Indeed, Raspail introduced Gumb to Lecter and told him he was a murderer with full confidence that Lecter wouldn't turn them in, a fact that briefly shocked Senator Martin.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Young Clarice in the flashback to her father's funeral.
  • Title Drop: The phrase "the silence of the lambs" are actually the last words in the novel.
  • Trivial Title: It refers to an anecdote told in the story. It's also a Title Drop as the last words of the novel.
  • Trojan Ambulance: During his escape, Hannibal Lecter skins one of the officers who was watching over him, wears his face, and tricks the emergency responders into loading him onto an ambulance, knowing no one would stop to search an ambulance carrying a wounded policeman. After the ambulance leaves, Lecter proceeds to kill the responders and escape.
  • Unintentionally Notorious Crime: Buffalo Bill selects his victims based on bodily measurements, but his latest turned out to be a senator's daughter, giving his case far more attention than he'd wished.
  • Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: Clarice is juggling her hunt for Buffalo Bill with her FBI training, knowing she's in danger of being held back for non-attendance despite being a brilliant student who's busy doing Bureau work.
  • Womanliness as Pathos: The character of Buffalo Bill was not meant to be seen as truly homosexual or transgender. Instead, the writers, cast, and actors state (as repeated by Hannibal Lector in-universe) that Bill was a deeply disturbed man who wanted to create a "new him" with the "respect and power" he felt that women were afforded in society. For this reason, he kidnapped, tortured, killed, and then skinned overweight women to create his "woman suit", which made him feel confident and sexy the way he thought "women" would.
  • Worthy Opponent: Zigzagged a little. Chilton clearly feels like he is this to Lecter, but Lecter despises him and considers him an idiot; case in point, he faked going along with a psychological profile Chilton was trying to do on him, then had his own results, of what he had learned about Chilton, published first and made him a laughingstock. Lecter's true worthy opponent is Crawford; when Chilton blusters about Crawford not wanting to openly ask for Lecter's help because Crawford thought Lecter would fake helping for the entertainment, Lecter admits to himself that's what would have happened, and is impressed that Crawford thought of it.
    • Could also be extended to Barney, one of Lecter's chief guards. Lecter has nothing but respect for his professionalism, to the point that after his escape, he makes it completely clear that he bears no ill-will towards Barney and does not plan on coming after him. In fact, his escape is partially executed due to Barney not being there to keep security to its usually-high standards.
    • Of course Lecter sees Clarice as a worthy opponent as well, as seen in his Sparing the Aces attitude after he escapes. His respect for her seems to start growing right from when he throws his page quote Hannibal Lecture at her...and she shrugs it off, getting down to business rather than trying to deny his judgment of her.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: "Buffalo Bill" uses a fake cast and an unwieldy object he's supposedly trying to put in a van to lure Catherine into position to kidnap her. Fun fact: This was frequently the M.O. of Ted Bundy when he was active as a serial killer in the 1970s (Impersonating an Officer being the other). He would put an arm in a sling to fake injury, approach his victims asking for help carrying something to his car, and then beat them unconscious and kidnap them.
  • You Didn't Ask: Played with. By the end of the book, it's clear that Lecter knew who Buffalo Bill was as soon as he read the police report, but he tried to leverage that into improving his circumstances instead of playing the hero (which is a classic sociopathic trait of basically "what's in it for ME?"). Crawford and Clarice at an earlier point theorize that he knows more than he's telling, with Clarice wondering why don't they just ask Lecter to give them the name. Crawford replies that Lecter had only offered his aid with the investigation, not solving it outright, and that simply giving them Bill's name "wouldn't give him enough of a chance to show off".
  • You Monster!: Dr. Frederick Chilton, the head of the insane asylum that houses the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, describes Lecter as a monster.
    Chilton: [to Clarice Starling] Oh, he's a monster: pure psychopath. So rare to capture one alive; from a research point of view, Lecter is our most prized asset.

Thank you, Clarice...

Alternative Title(s): Silence Of The Lambs