Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 296

In Red Dragon, Harris for the first time takes on one of the most chilling threats in modern society, the killer who consciously and methodically kills one victim after another. Although serial killers constitute an infinitesimally small risk to the average American, we are chilled by their acts far out of proportion to the threat they pose on us. We are also, paradoxically, enthralled by killers such as Ted Bundy, Geoffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy who manage to elude capture while continuing to carry out their crimes. What, we wonder, creates such immoral — or amoral — monsters? Red Dragon is Harris's first attempt to answer that question.

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This novel also investigates the role of the tabloid media in this country. The Tattler, a weekly tabloid newspaper, and its star reporter Freddy Lounds, figure prominently in reporting the exploits and pursuit of the serial killer dubbed "The Tooth Fairy," and Harris expresses contempt for their lowest-common-denominator sensationalism.

Red Dragon continues Harris's investigation of the similarities between the hunters and the hunted. Will Graham, who captured Dr. Hannibal Lecter, became the Bureau's top manhunter because his combination of intelligence and empathy helps him to reconstruct crimes as well as the mindset of the killers. From Red Dragon's opening epigraph, Bertillion's "one observes only things which are already in the mind," it is suggested that Graham's "gift" is instead a curse, a kinship of sorts with these killers.

Harris also argues that society can be a shaping force that contributes to pure personal evil. While Hannibal Lecter is never explained as a product of society — in Harris's work he is a force of evil almost as elemental as a force of nature — Francis Dolarhyde, the killer the tabloids call "Tooth Fairy," is the product of an almost intolerable childhood.

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