In Hannibal, what are some examples of smell that brings back his memories?

1 Answer | Add Yours

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Lecter's characterization in Hannibal is one in which memory is constantly shifting between what was and what is.  The past is never fully gone, and always lingers.  Lecter understands this as a part of psychology.  He also experiences this in his own being.  

One such instance is when he is in Florence.  The Florence etched in his mind and within his experience is also one where his sense of smell brings back memories.  When Lecter is in Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella, the power of scent is overwhelming. With this in mind, Harris writes, "For good, anatomic reasons, scent fosters memory more readily than any other sense." This line indicates how much Lecter recognizes the power of scent and memory.

While Lecter is in the store, his own memory is triggered by the power of smell. To the trained professionals in the store, Lecter had already impressed them with his understanding of the delicacy within the power of smell: "...the fragrances and essences were chosen and combined with a sensibility startling and gratifying to these scent merchants, who live by the nose."  This reflects how Lecter himself understands the capacity of smell to trigger feelings and experiences that can only be released through sensory experiences such as smell.

At this point in the narrative, Lecter recognizes the power of smell in his own memories. As Lecter engages in the power of smell, his own past becomes evident:

Here Dr Lecter had fragments and flashes of memory as he stood beneath the soft light of the Farmacia's great Art Deco lamps, breathing, breathing. Here there was nothing from jail. Except  -  what was that? Clarice Starling, why? Not the l'Air du Temps he caught when she opened her handbag close to the bars of his cage in the asylum. That was not it. Such perfumes were not sold here in the Farmacia. Nor was it her skin lotion. Ah. Sapone di mandorle. The Farmacia's famous almond soap. Where had he smelled it? Memphis, when she stood outside his cell, when he briefly touched her finger shortly before his escape. Starling, then. Clean, and rich in textures. Cotton sun-dried and ironed. Clarice Starling, then. Engaging and toothsome. Tedious in her earnestness and absurd in her principles. Quick in her mother wit. Ummmm.

Through the power of smell, Lecter is overcome by his own memories of imprisonment and Starling.  The fact that Lecter could imagine himself embracing the power of smell with "his face and his heart" reflects how smell brings back his memories.  He recalls the physicality of Clarice even though she is not there.  The smells of the shop enable Lecter to think back to Clarice and her "skin lotion."  Smell also enables him to go back into his own mind and experience his imprisonment, and the touch both shared before his escape in Memphis.  The brief moment of their touch is what Lecter keeps in his mind, something that smell is able to recapture.  Smell is what allows Lecter's own memories to become real and distinct, a sensory experience that brings the past into the present.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,916 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question