Two Functioning Psychos: Emily Grierson and Hannibal Lecter
In William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily, the narrator begins by informing the audience that Emily Grierson has passed way. The narrator continues by reminiscing, revealing various events that took place in Emily's life. Ultimately, the narrator reveals a secret about Emily. After her funeral, Horner Barron (a love interest of Emilys) is discovered in an upstairs bedroom. Emily had murdered Horner approximately forty years before the discovery of his body at her funeral. The town is shocked by the evidence that Emily killed Horner. There is slight difference between Emily and the functioning psychos that invade our protected society today. Hannibal Lecter, for instance, is a flawless example of a functioning psycho. The similarities between Hannibal Lecter and Emily Grierson suggest that Emily was a functioning psycho.
Both Hannibal and Emily are in a deluded state of control. They both seem to have the ultimate or definitive word in their various situations. Also, they are both firm in their belief that what they say goes. However, a closer look at their situation reveals that they only control an incredibly small portion of their situation.
Emily's life is full of her illusion of having control. For example, at first glance it appears that Emily has control of the town. A perfect example of her control is shown when she receives a letter from the sheriff concerning her taxes. Not only did the sheriff write her a letter, he sent city authorities to talk to her regarding her taxes. However, instead of paying the taxes Emily expels them from her home. She never pays her taxes and she never suffers any consequences for not doing so. Likewise, her illusive control over the town causes them to probe continuously into her life. It almost seems as if they can't get enough of what goes on in her life. Specifically, when Emily's father passes away, the town involves themselves in her affairs because she doesn't bury him right away. Also, when there is a smell coming from her house, they have a meeting to discuss it. When no one has enough courage to talk to Emily about it, they sneak into her yard and attempt to solve the problem for her. The saddest example of the town's constant probing occurs when Emily decides to take up with Homer Barron. The women in the town go into a frenzy. This frenzy leads to the minister of the town writing a letter to Emily's family concerning her behavior. So, although she thinks she is in control of her life, the townspeople actually control it.
In comparison, Hannibal Lecter loves having control of every situation he finds himself in. In the movie The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal also has the illusion that he has control. For example, when FBI agent Clarice Starling comes and meets with him, Hannibal appears to be in control of the meeting. He asks most of the questions, manipulates, insults and gets into Agent Starling's head. And, in fact, Agent Starling is only visiting Hannibal because he gave her permission to. On the eve of Valentines Day, Dr. Lecter and Clarice have the following dialogue:
I'll give you what you love most, Clarice Starling.
What's that, Dr. Lecter?
Advancement, of course. (Robbins 1)
This statement indicates that Hannibal believes he has the power to give Agent Starling the one thing she wants most. Reasonably, it is logical to conclude that Hannibal believes he has control over Agent Starling's career.
In reality, both Emily Grierson and Hannibal Lecter are not in control of their situations. For instance, Emily may not pay taxes in her town but in the end she does what her society wanted her to do; she just accomplishes it in her own psycho way. This idea is best stated by Judith Caesar who describes Emily's crime as "a bizarre literal enactment of precisely what the town wants her to do metaphorically when Homer Barron does not marry her" (7). Specifically, "they expect her to live with her dead memories and the ghost of her lover" (Caesar 7). Emily accomplishes the town's expectations, according to Caesar, "although not quite the way the town has expected" (7). Likewise, Hannibal has less control than he realizes. Hannibal may get into the head of Agent Starling when she visits, but he is still helping her. By helping Agent Starling, Hannibal is doing exactly what the FBI wants him to do. When the smoke from all of Hannibal's games and illusions clear, Buffalo Bill is caught. This is mainly thanks to Hannibal. Hannibal was never really in control; he did exactly what the FBI wanted him to do.
Before the discovery of their crimes, neither character is what society would label as dangerous. Neither are feared in their communities. For instance, they both interact with other members of their societies in various ways. Emily gives china painting lessons while Hannibal is a therapist in the community and consultant for the FBI. Outside of their isolation (Emily more than Hannibal) they lead normal lives (Hannibal before his imprisonment).
Emily Grierson is not what society would consider a threat. Specifically, Emily is an aging woman who isolates herself from society. Emily secludes herself in her home and survives by sending her servant to run errands for her. No one in the town is fearful of her. In fact, they pity her. The narrator explains that the town began to feel really sorry for her after four men sprinkled lime in her cellar and all the outbuildings (32). In addition to their pity, Emily receives trust from some members in her town. Specifically, some people send their children to her for china painting lessons. Emily gives lessons for a while and then stops. The town wonders about her but they never suspect her of a crime like murder. By comparison, Hannibal was not suspected of murder until he was arrested.
In the movie Red Dragon, no one suspects Hannibal of murder until he tries to murder Agent Will Graham. In fact, Hannibal was a consultant for Agent Graham; he would help Agent Graham with his cases. It wasn't until Hannibal attacked Agent Graham that Agent Graham knew (without doubt) Hannibal was the killer he was looking for. However, before the attack Hannibal was considered a model citizen. Thus both characters are opposite of the customary profile of a killer. Furthermore, they both belong to an elite group.
Emily's family was among the wealthy and elite in her town. For example, it was rumored that Emily's family loaned money to the town in 1894. Consequently, Emily argues that is why she doesn't have to pay taxes. Additionally, when Emily begins seeing Homer Barron, the people in the town begin to whisper about her. The narrator describes Emily's reaction: "She carried her head high enougheven when we believed she had fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson" (33). Emily considered herself high class. No matter what she was doing, she demanded the respect of the town.
In a similar manner, Hannibal was very wealthy and a member of the elite. For instance, he went to operas, ate the finest food, and drank the finest wine. Most of the time Hannibal was a complete gentleman. In Red Dragon, after Hannibal attends an opera full of very wealthy people, all the performers come back to his house for an after party. This was a service he provided for them year after year. So Hannibal was very well known, a household name within his elite circle. Moreover, Hannibal murdered his victims while listening to Bach. Finally, both characters' lives also contain homosexual themes. Homosexuality is an issue that Emily deals with. For instance, Emily's love interest, Homer Barron, is known as a man who likes the boys and is not a marrying type. However, Emily holds on to him. It is uncertain if she believes she can change him. Or perhaps she thinks she can handle it. It is unclear exactly how Emily feels about it, but she dealt with it in her attempt to love Homer.
Likewise, Hannibal deals with homosexuality. In the motion picture The Silence of the Lambs, it is one of the reasons behind his cannibalism. David Sundelson says that "Lecter's cannibalism expresses a wish to do what only women doto have another life inside his bodyand a primitive fantasy about how to satisfy that wish" (3). Furthermore, the killer that Hannibal is helping the FBI track down is described as "a reject for transsexual surgery" (Sundelson 6). Thus Hannibal and Emily deal with very similar problems.
There are many similarities between Emily and Hannibal. They both believe they are in control, they both are enormously dangerous (mostly because no one suspects they are), they are both members of an elite circle, and they both deal with homosexual issues. Hannibal is more violent than Emily, but they both represent different levels of functioning psychos. Hannibal is no more and no less crazy than Emily. Hannibal eats his victims, while Emily sleeps with hers for over forty years. If the two had ever met, they might have sickened each other.
Caesar, Judith. "Miss Leonora When Last Seen: Why Americans Run Away From Home." Studies in
Short Fiction 34 (1997): 449-58.
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Faulkner, William. "A Rose For Emily." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetrv, and Drama. Ed.
X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 9th ed. New York: Longman, 2005 29-36. Print.
Robbins, Bruce. "Murder and the Mentorship: Advancement in The Silence of the Lambs." Boundary 23
(1996): 71. American Humanities Index. Web. 11 Oct. 2004.
Sundelson, David. "The Demon Therapist and other Dangers: Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the
Lambs." Journal of Popular Film and Television 21 (1993): 12. Literature Resource Center.