It was as though committing murders had purged him of lesser rudeness

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esther927

Member
Korean
Hi guys,
Can anyone tell me what this phrase from 'Silence of the Lambs' mean? The context is like below:

“I would not have had that happen to you. Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me.” It was as though committing murders had purged him of lesser rudeness. Or perhaps, Starling thought, it excited him to see her marked in this particular way.

Purge someone of something is to get rid of something from someone, right? So would this mean that committing murders have made him more rude? I don't know the exact characteristic of Lecter(the speaker of the sentence) in this novel, so I can't really see how this sentence connects to "Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me" either.

Anyone familiar with this novel, or anyone who gets this, please help me. Thanks in advance!
 
  • Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    So would this mean that committing murders have made him more rude?
    The opposite. It made him more polite. He says discourtesy is ugly to him. Starling was wondering if the fact that he committed murders had removed from him the capability to do lesser acts (like being discourteous) against others.

    I don't know the exact characteristic of Lecter (the speaker of the sentence) in this novel,
    I haven't read the book but it's a well-known one and I don't want to spoil it for you. You'll find out soon enough.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Yes, it sounds like he tries to act very proper in respect to every small rule to compensate for breaking a very big rule.
     

    esther927

    Member
    Korean
    The opposite. It made him more polite. He says discourtesy is ugly to him. Starling was wondering if the fact that he committed murders had removed from him the capability to do lesser acts (like being discourteous) against others.


    I haven't read the book but it's a well-known one and I don't want to spoil it for you. You'll find out soon enough.
    Thank you for your response!
    Yes, it sounds like he tries to act very proper in respect to every small rule to compensate for breaking a very big rule.
    Your answer really helped! Thank you so much!
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    “I would not have had that happen to you. Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me.” It was as though committing murders had purged him of lesser rudeness. Or perhaps, Starling thought, it excited him to see her marked in this particular way.
    Don't miss the fact that murder is being presented as a form of bad manners (discourtesy). This is chilling because murder is normally placed in a separate category of behaviour.
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    I'd say "rudeness" here is used to mean roughness or harshness. Discourtesy therefore is a form of rudeness, and a lesser one than murder. That's why Starling's reaction, after hearing him say discourtesy was ugly to him, was that murder had purged him of "lesser" rudeness.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'd say "rudeness" here is used to mean roughness or harshness. Discourtesy therefore is a form of rudeness, and a lesser one than murder. That's why Starling's reaction, after hearing him say discourtesy was ugly to him, was that murder had purged him of "lesser" rudeness.
    I'm not persuaded.

    It's a question of kind not of extent, and the words 'discourtesy' and 'lesser' irretrievably, for me, indicate that he perversely places murder and bad manners in the same category.
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    he perversely places murder and bad manners in the same category.
    I think we're saying the same thing now. He does indeed put them both in the same category, that of "rudeness". Discourtesy is a "lesser" rudeness, one that Starling supposes may have been purged from him by his propensity for a greater one, murder.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, they are all "things you shouldn't do".
    I expect you know the point I'm making: if discourtesy is a "lesser rudeness", then murder is a 'greater rudeness'. This is to place them into the same category. The writer intends this to be shocking because most civilised people place murder into a different category of crime against the person, than, say, telling someone that they are stupid and ugly.

    Saying that the two are in the same category, ie. of things you should not do, is like saying that burglary is in the same moral category as receiving a gift, in that, in both cases, you take possession of something which previously belonged to another person.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think we're saying the same thing now. He does indeed put them both in the same category, that of "rudeness". Discourtesy is a "lesser" rudeness, one that Starling supposes may have been purged from him by his propensity for a greater one, murder.
    Exactly. And this is shocking, because morally the two are of a different kind - it's absolutely not a matter of extent.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Don't miss the fact that murder is being presented as a form of bad manners (discourtesy). This is chilling because murder is normally placed in a separate category of behaviour.
    And in this case it's not.

    The author might be saying something you find distasteful but it isn't mysterious. He is categorizing everything you shouldn't do on one scale. He's suggesting that the character might be doing that. Because the character has ignored the rules and committed acts on that scale that are at the far end, the hypothesis is he tries to compensate by carefully observing the rules at the near end. The speaker is trying to understand or explain a criminal mind, not a normal mind.
     
    Last edited:

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think it is akin to this conversation:

    Pete: I heard that Mike died.

    Donald: Yes, he did. Joe shot him in the back.

    Pete: In the back! That's so rude.

    Donald: He had it coming; he made fun of Joe's new mini-van. Asked if he were going to soccer practice.

    Pete: Ah, yes. Had it coming, for sure.
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    He is categorizing everything you shouldn't do on one scale... Because the character has ignored the rules and committed acts on that scale that are at the far end, the hypothesis is he tries to compensate by carefully observing the rules at the near end.
    Yes, I agree.
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    The 'as though' absolves the writer from any suggestion that he shares this moral view.
    I see it as a statement of Starling's thoughts. Starling takes Lecter's statement that discourtesy was ugly to him, at face value. The idea that committing murder had purged him of lesser rudeness, such as discourtesy, is what Starling thinks may be the reason for his giving importance to courtesy.

    Starling is thinking: This murderer is saying he finds discourtesy ugly. Perhaps it's because he's used to committing murder. It seems as if that significant character flaw has rid him of comparatively minor flaws like being discourteous.

    As Kentix says, the hypothesis is that he tries to compensate for committing murder by being a polite person. That may not actually be the case but that's Starling's hypothesis.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    the hypothesis is that he tries to compensate for committing murder by being a polite person[...]
    I'm afraid I'm not clear that this is right either. I don't see that we are talking of 'compensation'. If I'm purged of sin, my virtuous behaviour doesn't derive from a wish to compensate. I've been purged; the desire to sin has gone.

    Compensation involves the continuing idea of past wrongfulness, which would be erased, surely, by a purging - rendering pure.

    I see that you implicitly accept now Lecter's implied moral code, by talking of 'lesser rudeness'. I hesitate to say to people that such things were probably inadvertent.:)
     

    Barque

    Banned
    Tamil
    I acknowledge what you're saying about what "purged from sin" usually means. But others may think of it differently. Perhaps Lecter did. We don't know. All we're talking of is the impression Starling got, and the thoughts that ran through her mind at that point.

    The meaning of that sentence doesn't have anything to do with whether Lecter's right or wrong. The issue we're discussing is what those words, which reflect Starling's thoughts, mean.

    I see that you implicitly accept now Lecter's implied moral code, by talking of 'lesser rudeness'.
    I haven't said anything about whether I accept it or not. I've only been trying to explain the idea that, in my opinion, that sentence the OP asked about conveys.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Again, we're talking about a very disturbed criminal mind. The normal rules don't necessarily apply. Holding the door for someone doesn't compensate for murder in a normal person's mind. He's not a normal person.

    I had a friend who bent the rules every which way when it suited him. He wasn't doing anything illegal but just taking the maximum advantage of situations to his personal benefit. But when the situation was reversed and he wasn't getting exactly everything he thought was his due, he would get very legalistic and try to hold the other party to the exact letter of whatever it was he thought was owed him. In other words, in his mind, he could bend the rules if it benefited him but that option was forbidden to other people - they had to follow the rules exactly.

    It didn't make sense, but that's how he was.

    A lot of rudeness comes from frustration. It seems that perhaps he had an outlet for his frustration in murder. Having relieved that frustration in large doses, he no longer felt the urge to release it in small doses.
     
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