The novel Perfume by Patrick Süskind explores the issue of isolation and the effects it can bring on human beings. The novel is based on the main character Jean- Baptiste Grenouille who is an extraterrestrial from the time of his birth. He is forsaken by his mother, his surrogate mother and the church. Every character drawn in by Grenouille feels that something is unusual and frightening about him, mostly because he has no scent of his own. Grenouille at the outset struggles to find his own personality through scent, which turns from allure and revulsion. We can see through a close analysis of two excerpts from the book, one from near the beginning and one from the end, Süskind develops the character of Grenouille through the portrayal of scents throughout the novel as the central character matures. Süskind uses devices such as metaphors and juxtaposition to name a few, emphasize the smell or aroma which Grenouille observes and relate this to the theme of novel.
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In the first extract of the novel, the severity of the unpleasant smell or stench is portrayed in the region of France where Grenouille is born in Paris. Süskind gives an imagery how, “People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions” (3). In this section of the novel where, “the streets stank of manure, the courtyard of urine” (3) Süskind describes the birth of Grenouille. At the time of his birth, he is unwanted by his mother and is left to die in a pile of ‘rotting fish’ which literally symbolizes the smelliest place on the earth. The place of his birth in such setting sets the tone for the rest of the novel and the background which welcomes Grenouille in the world. The use of word ‘stench’ portrays the miserable future which is implied to Grenouille even before his birth. The reader anticipates a tedious future of Grenouille based on the setting he is born. It displays a lack of opportunity available to him to build up his identity in the left out world where he is unwanted by everyone due to the reason that he has no smell of his own.
Süskind links the lack of odor with a lack of identity of a person or lack of his soul Grenouille’s Isolation from the society is mainly due to his lack of scent. Süskind demonstrates that, with no smell of his own, Grenouille goes by the people without being noticed by anyone like a demon would fly by unexposed. At the young age, the children in the house of Gaillard felt that something is different about Grenouille and for that he was alienated from the beginning, as described “They could not stand the non-smell of him, they were afraid of him” (23). Süskind emphasizes the importance of sense of smell creating identity of one’s personality in the novel. A person’s identity has a direct relation to his smell; however this means that Grenouille has no identity of his own. Even though Grenouille lacks a scent of his own, he still has a unique ability to re-establish occasions, places, and people in his mind due to his ability of his great sense of smell. As Grenouille knows “every single odour handled here and had often merged them in his innermost thoughts to create the most splendid perfume” (75), he impresses Baldini by making the famous perfume for him ‘Amor and Psyche’. The strength of Grenouille is his great sense of smell and through this, he wants to create a “perfect scent” for himself by which people love him and he gets his own identity. He wants the humankind to be on his knees and the way they are looking at him as anti- human, he wants to be noticed by every single person because of his scent and wants to be loved by the people.
In a search for creating a perfect fragrance and his own identity, Grenouille becomes besieged by the stink of mankind. He feels that the smell of human is basically venomous for the natural world. Grenouille hates mankind not only because of its foul stink and sweat, but also because of the human behavior and the world filled of debaucheries. Even though Grenouille is alienated his entire life, he didn’t get any respect from Baldini. By using the skills of Grenouille, Baldini becomes a rich men and “build his factories in the faubourg Saint -Antoine, succeeded in his scheme for exclusive perfumes at court, received a royal patent” (111) and after succeeding in his life, Baldini turns to self imposed isolate from Grenouille. Rather than being thankful to Grenouille and accepting him in the society, he gets rejected even after he tries to help the human kind. After being rejected from the human kind, Grenouille is described by saying, “He was not out to make his fortune with his art; he didn’t want to live from it if he could find another way of living. He wanted to empty himself of his innermost being, of nothing less than his innermost being, which he considered more wonderful than anything else the world had to offer” (112). The aim of Grenouille is to get accepted in the society where he is looked by the people as an anti human but despite being rejected, his nature changes and his hatred for the mankind turns to a desire to rule mankind through smell.
Creating an enormous fragrance by capturing the smell of virgins, Grenouille makes the finest and the most irresistible perfume and an identity of his own. The alienation which Grenouille had experienced in his entire lifetime turns around. In order to overtake the humans and to create a enormous fragrance, he commits murders of the virgins to capture their fragrance to make the best perfume and his own identity. When he is taken to the execution field, he proves to the mankind that he is something more than a normal human being. After his exposure of the fragrance he makes, no one wanted to identify Grenouille as an emotionless and an evil person to have committed those murders. As said “these people were now pure liquids, their spirits and minds were melted; nothing was left but an amorphous fluid and all they could feel was that their hearts floating” (245) He creates such as strong and irresistible smell that, it is well sufficient to overshadow the thinking of the people present in the execution field. The smell he creates was so strong that, a single drop of it in the handkerchief makes people to participate in gathering sexual acts in the execution fields
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“He Jean- Baptist Grenouille, born with no odour of his own on the most stinking spot in the world, amid garbage, dung and putrefaction, raised without love, with no warmth of a human soul, surviving solely on impudence and the power of loathing, small hunchbacked, lame, ugly, shunned, an abomination within and without- he had managed to make the world admire him. To hell with admire! Love him! Desire him! Idolize him!” (248).
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