"Survival of the Fittest" in "Silence of the Lambs"
In “The Silence of the Lambs,” animal imagery is used to compare the different characteristics of Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill, portraying the proper way to survive in society according to Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest - "Survival of the Fittest" in "Silence of the Lambs" introduction. ” Darwin’s theory suggests that those who are able to adjust to their given environment survive better. It is easier to change oneself and behave according to society’s expectations than to change the ways of society to fit the needs of an individual. Society is just too complex for it to change for one person and it would be impossible.
The film suggest that not only is it important to adjust to the outer surroundings, but it is equally important to adjust within the inside as well. Clarice, who is able to overcome her tragic childhood, succeeds in her environment with the role that society gives her and Buffalo Bill, who tries to deceive who he really is, does not survive. Clarice and Buffalo Bill’s character is symbolically displayed by animals. Clarice’s last name, “Starling,” can be related to a type of bird. Starlings are small, very commonly found birds.
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They have the ability to change its color in order to adopt in different environments. In addition they have the quality in which most birds acquire since birth – flying. Their diet is very simple and, they have the flexibility to survive both in the country setting as well as the city setting. Buffalo Bill’s character is portrayed by the Deathhead moths. Moths start out as unpleasant caterpillars that are preyed upon by birds. They undergo through a process called metamorphosis and eventually transform into a creature considered very beautiful.
With her small physicality, Clarice has good mobility and an advantage of easily blending into her surroundings. Her ability to think and move quickly helps her in solving Buffalo Bill’s case. People are willing to share their information with her. Clarice’s appearance is not intimidating or authoritative and people do not feel obliged to obey her in any way. Clarice has an image that does not stand out in a crowd, but it is friendly so that people feel comfortable cooperating with her.
Buffalo Bill, like the moths, has two different identities: an identity hidden in the inside, which relates to the cocoon, and an identity he displays on the outside, which relates to the caterpillar. Many times we don’t make the connection of caterpillars with moths because they don’t look anything alike. It is very deceiving to observe that something so ugly can transform into something very pretty. Buffalo Bill starts out as an unpleasant caterpillar attempting to go through a transformation to look more beautiful like the moths.
His homosexuality forces him to desire something that exceeds from his boundaries, even his gender. His desire to change who he is causes him to victimize innocent lives of women so that he can hide his ugliness under the purity of their skin. The colorfulness of the moths can symbolize how Buffalo Bill cries for attention. He has been hiding in his cocoon too long and thus, he develops the tendency to wear colorful make-up to show that he wants people to notice him and that he wants to stand out from the crowd. Clarice and Buffalo Bill have different perspectives in adjusting to society.
Darwin, in his theory of “survival of the fittest,” states that those who are able to adjust to their given environment have a greater chance of surviving. The film suggest that not only is it important to blend in with society on the outside, but it is essential to blend in within the inside as well. Clarice reflects back on her past and understands why she is viewed as “white trash. ” She recognizes that her West Virginian accent is considered unacceptable in the higher class and makes efforts to correct herself.
Even the shy and insecure way of her walk in the beginning drastically changes to a very sophisticated and confident walk towards the end of the film. Through her childhood tragedies, Clarice realizes that society is not going to encourage her, but challenge and test her from moving up into higher status. She accepts the challenges as constructive criticism and uses them as motivation, which brings out her passion and determination to make something better of her life. In spite of her lower class background, Clarice is able to move up in class because she behaves according to the standards of society.
Clarice was able to become successful because she did not expect society to change for her, but went about making changes in her interior to fit into society. Buffalo Bill, in the other hand, is too concerned about disguising himself and does not believe that society will accept him unless he literally transforms into another person. His idea of making a new layer of skin for himself made from other people’s skin will help him to be accepted into society. Unlike Clarice, Buffalo Bill fails to understand his faults and does not see what made society reject him.
He expects too much from society and does not realize that the true problem is within the way he thinks. Buffalo Bill’s belief is that if he covers his physical appearance, he can hide his true identity. By linking the animal imageries to the characters of Clarice and Buffalo Bill, the film supports the Darwinian Theory. The scene when Clarice kills Buffalo Bill portrays how each character is related to their corresponding animal imagery. Caterpillars are preyed upon by birds for food, just like the way Clarice, the “starling,” kills Buffalo Bill, the “caterpillar. When Clarice shoots her gun at Buffalo Bill, he collapses flat on his back. Most bugs die when they are placed on their backs. Buffalo Bill’s night vision goggles are similar to a bug’s enormous eyes that are too big for its body and his body wiggles and his fingers curl up just like a bug kicks its legs when they struggle to get back on their legs. Buffalo Bill is not able to fully transform to be something beautiful he desires to be. Instead, he is punished for everything he brings upon himself, which are caused by his insecurities and selfishness to change the views of society.
After Buffalo Bill is shot, there is a ray of sunlight that shines through the window. With the light shining through, we observe the relief and freedom Clarice feels knowing that she solved the case. Clarice is able to put her bad memories behind her and “fly away” freely from her painful childhood. Society is not bound to change for the good of one individual. The film teaches us that we must compromise and sometimes give up certain things to survive in society. Clarice lets go of her past because she understands that it is preventing her from improving her life.
She strengthens her confidence and rises above the expectation society has on her. If she held on to her past, she will not have been as successful or even successful at all in solving Buffalo Bills case. Buffalo Bill is careless and selfish. He wants to be accepted into society, yet he is not willing to compromise. Unlike Clarice, Buffalo Bill does not accept his faults he has within himself. His misinterpretation of changing the appearance being able to erase all the ugliness he has inside of him is deceitful. Clarice survives by facing and defeating her enemy – herself, which is something Buffalo Bill did not do.