Hannibal Lecter seems to be a successful man with him being a physiatrist and before that a surgeon, his wealth is seen in through the Tv show with his interior decorations, stylist suits, and a taste for the finer things in life. So, how can this immaculate man be able to hide the darkness that is his taste for human flesh? There isn’t really a defining reason as to why Hannibal is how he is. What we will be looking at are the various aspects of his life that could have influenced his path from the possible abandonment issues he as, to his love of being in positions of power, to it just being his nature, to try to answer, ‘Why does Hannibal Lecter kill and eat people?’
We will be identifying three characteristics of Hannibal Lecter, but one wonders why he is considered a monster. To answer this question, we will have to look towards Cohens ‘Seven Theses’ of what makes a monster a monster. The one I would say truly fits Hannibal is the third thesis ‘The Monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis’, in which the thesis says that the monster “refuses easy categorization” (Cohen 6) and that it is “a form suspended between forms” (Cohen 6). This is the what Hannibal is, a mixture of contradictions. One of those happens to be the vary acts he does because “Lecter’s introduction in ‘Apéritif’, however, problematizes this connection, for the character is both linked to the cultured taste of classical music and the barbaric taste of human meat; he is simultaneously a connoisseur of fine art and a brute driven by instincts and neither of the two” (Fuchs). Cannibalism is usually seen as done something done by savages, ones are not refined like us; but Hannibal eats people, this well dressed, cultural man has elevated human meat into a ‘fine dining’ experience and is that not just contradictory.
Hannibal Lecter was orphaned at a young age when both of his parent died, he became the guardian of his younger sister Mischa. All changed when he lost her, causing untold grief to him for being abandoned by his ‘light’ which was his younger sister. Overall, according to an article on the website ‘Crime Traveller’ suggests that “childhood abuse is quite strikingly more prevalent among serial killers than it is in the general population in the United States” although “we should be aware that they may not have been truthful”(Guy).There are numerous cases were feelings of being abandonment, which to a child could be considered a form of a childhood trauma, by family has led to cases in which horrible acts have been committed, one such case would be that of Jeffrey Dahmer where “lack of contact with his mother and little brother…father…may have compounded Dahmer’s feelings of isolation and abandonment” (Higgs 10). We all have heard of the depravity and horrible acts that this ‘person’ has committed and childhood abandonment trauma maybe a possible factor that drives the person to do such acts like cannibalism because if they are eaten they can never leave you and will always be a part of you.
As Hannibal grew, he became educated in fields that comprised of the human body, first he was a surgeon that dealt with the body then transitioned to be a Psychiatrist which deals with the mind. One of the things that these jobs have in common is the power that they hold over the person. For a surgeon, they have the power of your life in their hands, we put our trust in the doctors that what they are doing will save our lives. In the case of a Psychiatrist, they are privy to our inner most experiences and have the job of both helping us resolve the problems we have and keeping everything said will be kept confidential. In both cases we put our lives in another person’s hand as stated with the surgeon it is our lives, but in the case of the Psychiatrist we put our social lives in their hands. On the website ‘Changing Minds’ when talking about power, it mentions the a ‘powerful behavior’ that is often displayed is that they “Believe they are untouchable and above the law” (Power Corrupts). Hannibal is a bit like this, because he loves the power he used to have as a surgeon, he held your life in his hands, literally, in the way that he got to decide if you lived or you died, and the act of killing is intoxicating to him because in an episode he says to Will Graham that “Killing must feel good to God, too. He does it all the time, and are we not created in God’s image?” (Fuller, Amuse-Bouche) and uses Gods actions to justify his own.
A complex of superiority seems to be at times common in serial killers. This was seen in the case with the ‘Zodiac Killer’ in which he taunted police with encrypted letter about his killing and how he would kill again if the letters were not published in the newspaper. Another example would be the ‘BTK Killer’ as he to left clues to authorities about who did it and took credit for his victims. The only reason that he was caught was because of his superiority complex that no one was on his level and that authorities would be unable to uncover his identity and he would remain free. Hannibal also has a superiority complex, although his is more along the lines of being on a different level; like how we as a collective perceive ‘animals’ they are lesser beings. This was clearly seen in the scene when Hannibal says to his impersonator that “This isn’t cannibalism, Abel. It’s only cannibalism if we’re equal” (Fuller, Antipasto), then proceeds to feed Abel his own leg, showing how he sees people, as animals to be slaughtered for when he is hungry. Also, it can be noted his superiority shined when he was asked to be help a consultant of the FBI that helps catch serial killers, and used this opportunity to use the available details of the murders to ‘copycat’ the murders and further confuse whatever trail he is leaving behind; further showing his skill in being able to maintain numerous ‘faces’.
We have discussed experiences of Hannibal, but each experience individually is a part of what drives him to kill and eat people. First, we have Hannibal who has faced a traumatic childhood experience of losing first his parents then his younger sibling, a situation like Jeffrey Dahmer. Next, he is addicted to positions that give him some sort of power over others, positions like surgeon, psychiatrist, serial killers. Then, he shares a superiority complex that sees everyone as inferior, comparable to the ‘Zodiac Killer’ and the ‘BTK Killer’. Considered a monster for the difficulty to categorize his actions that contradict each other. Everything combined has ultimately led to this man who is able and willing to kill and eat people because of his past experiences, current occupation, and personal views of the world.
Fuchs, Michael. “Cooking with Hannibal: Food, Liminality and Monstrosity in Hannibal.” European Journal of American Culture, vol. 34, no. 2, June 2015, pp. 97–112. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1386/ejac.34.2.97_1
Fuller, Bryan, director. Hannibal., Amazon Digital Services LLC., 12 Apr. 2013, https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B00C7KXUOE/ref=atv_dp.
Guy, Fiona. “Serial Killers And Childhood Abuse: Is There A Link?” Crime Traveller, 24 July 2015, https://www.crimetraveller.org/2015/07/serial-killers-childhood-abuse/.
Higgs, Tamara. “Jeffrey Dahmer: Psychopathy and Neglect” (2012.) All Regis University Theses. 240. https://epublications.regis.edu/theses/240
Jeffery Jerome Cohen. Monster Culture: Seven Theses. Excerpt from Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1996 http://www.englishwithtuttle.com/uploads/3/0/2/6/30266519/cohen_monster_culture__seven_theses__3-20.pdf
“Power Corrupts.” Power Corrupts, http://changingminds.org/explanations/power/power_corrupts.htm.