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Perfume by Patrick Suskind – Analysis

The novel Perfume by Patrick Suskind explores deep into raw human emotions, such as love, hate, and death. By doing so, the novel purposes a universal question that supports numerous themes in the novel. The universal question: are human beings ever extremely detached and cruelly inhuman? is examined throughout the novel with many themes such as the importance of childhood, the hatred for humanity, and the power of scent. With these themes in mind, the question is further analyzed and answered.

Madame Gaillard, who was brain-damaged by a blow from her father in her childhood, is entirely incapable of emotion. She is also unable to smell anything, so Grenouille’s lack of personal scent does not bother her. Thus she raised him for years, and with her as a role model, Grenouille did not have much chance to be capable of normal human emotions such as having concern for other human beings. Already hampered by the horrors of his birth, his strange fascination with his sense of smell, and his regrettable looks, he was not cared for with any kind of love or affection. This is explained when a past wet nurse says “This baby makes my flesh creep because it doesn`t smell the way children ought to smell,” (Suskind 11). His basic needs were taken care of (as if he were a domestic animal), and Madame Gaillard gave him away as an apprentice to Grimal because the parish stopped paying for his room and board. Therefore, Grenouille was never taught that he was a valuable human being, and therefore his psychotic tendencies were magnified. Grimal the tanner also treats Grenouille no better than a domestic animal. The tanner locks Grenouille in a closet to make sure that he doesn’t run away. While Grimal does not actively try to hurt Grenouille, he does not treat him much like a human being either. This is shown when Suskind narrates the following “By evening his clothes were dripping wet and his skin was cold and swollen. After one year of an existence more animal than human, he contracted anthrax,” (Suskind 31). The tanner also seems to feel no regret over how he treats Grenouille. This is shown when Suskind explains “He was no longer locked in at bed time. His food was more adequate. Grimal no longer kept him as just any animal, but as a useful house pet,” (Suskind 32). In consequence to the fact that Grenouille was not treated as a human being, he began to become less attached to society. When Baldini is willing to take him off of Grimal’s hands (for a good price), Grimal couldn`t wait to get rid of Grenouille and send him off to Baldini. Baldini treats Grenouille only as a source for perfume invention, and he feels extremely uncomfortable in the presence of the young man, yet he is too concerned with appearances to treat Grenouille cruelly when Suskind states “Baldini was shocked of the magnificent scent, and realized he had to be firm on Grenouille in order to get full results,” (Suskind 85). All of these factors diffidently contribute to a person’s personality when they reach adulthood. Grenouille as an adult progressively becomes extremely detached from society because of his neglected childhood. As a result of the characters: Madame Gaillard, Grimal, and Baldini, the protagonist Grenouille forced upon characteristics by how they treated Grenouille during the course of the novel. Due to these characteristics, they allowed the protagonist to become a very detached and inhuman individual. In addition, these characters also nurtured the protagonist to have hatred for humanity, which is another rising theme in the text.

Grenouille’s hatred of humanity, while not surprising (considering his upbringing and early adulthood), is so complete that he retreats to the farthest point he can to get away from the smell of human beings. This takes the form of a seven-year hermitage on the top of a volcano in the Massif Centrale in what amounts to solitary confinement. This is shown when Suskind clarifies “He had withdrawn from society for his own personal pleasure, only to be near to himself,” (Suskind 123). He retreats so far into himself that the only thing that matters to him is his own very pathological fantasy life. To call this a hatred of humanity is an understatement; Grenouille tries to be the only person in his world. Once Grenouille has concocted his ultimate scent, which is the scent that inspires love from all other human beings, Grenouille finds that he has no use for this love. It doesn’t fulfill him. Since he has no more places to explore Grenouille is ready to die the author describes “He had experienced that life once and it had proved unliveable,” (Suskind 251). Nothing in this world other than the pursuit of scent has any attraction for him; no human being holds any interest or love for him (or he for any of them other than scents to collect), so he decides to die. Thus substantiates that the character Grenouille is a perfect example of a human that has become detached from society and inhuman. His final rejection of humanity and life goes beyond a hatred for human beings and extends to himself. Grenouille is perchance the perfect pessimist.

This novel takes as a premise that scent controls a large portion of human behaviour, usually on an unconscious level. It is important to note this evidence, for the entire internal plot turns on this idea. It is not only his supernatural sense of smell that is the focus of Grenouille’s life, but the idea that humans’ scents are integral to their humanity. Grenouille is subhuman, both in his own mind and, at least unconsciously, in the minds of others because he has no personal odour. When he discovers this personal characteristic in his hideout in the Massif Centrale, he is shocked and somewhat horrified Suskind clarifies “Grenouille needed a long time to believe what he was smelling,” (Suskind 121). He has never met another human being with no smell; that he cannot smell himself, despite his marvellous nose, seems monstrous to him–demonstrating why he seems monstrous to everyone else. This shows a factor as little as scent can have a huge role in whether or not a person will be disconnected from society. Grenouille suffered inflictions with his lack of scent, and has contributed to the protagonists’ downfall. Grenouille’s collapse occurred when the character decided that there was nothing more to live for. In June 1766, Grenouille arrives in the city of Paris. Grenouille goes to the Cimitière des Innocents and waits for nightfall. A ruffian-looking group gathered around a small bomb fire; they are mostly murderers and criminals. Grenouille comes to their bomb fire and immediately covers himself with the entire contents of the bottle of the exquisite perfume. In short order the mob surrounds Grenouille, tears him to pieces, and eats him alive. The cannibals feel incredibly happy, if a bit embarrassed, when Suskind explains “For the first time they had done something out of love” (Suskind 255).

In any case, Suskind’s novel Perfume is much more than a spine-chilling tale of a murderer. It is visibly shown that Perfume goes further into the subject of humanity by exploring the universal question: are human beings ever this detached and cruelly inhuman? In Addition, the novel explores this concept with the many themes depicted in the novel such as the search for acceptance, the hatred for humanity, and the sovereignty of scent. Through these themes and the knowledge from the novel, perfume explains that human beings can, in fact be detached form society and very inhuman, and can be clearly shown through the character of Grenouille.

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