Grenouilles Search of Identity
The search for identity that the protagonist, Grenouille, in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer occurs differently than others because his identity is driven by the beauty of the innocent scents which appeal to him. Grenouille is brought up with a gruesome environment, thus influencing the indifference between his personal needs and society’s expectations. He has been unawarely pushed into this quest of finding his identity rather than having a choice causing his mindset to differentiate at time as well as his goals to capture his identity. As Grenouilles urge to hunt strengthens, scent starts to become the symbol for identity which Suskind uses. He greatly emphasizes on the olfactory scents as an aid for Grenouille in trying to pursue his sense of identity. In “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”, Suskind uses the format of bildungsroman to form Grenouilles quest as well as olfactory imagery towards the scents he captures which guide him through his transformation to find his identity.
As a consequence of Grenouille being thrust into his horrific childhood background, he wasn’t able to give an influential decision on choosing what his quest was meant to be and couldn’t select his own calling. As Grenouille entered the world, “[H]e was an abomination from the start… [H]e decided in favour of life out of sheer spite and sheer malice… ” (22) and he had “… an urge to hunt. ”(34) Grenouille is brought up with hatred and a cruel background, which builds him up for the need to start the quest for his search of identity. The urge he has to pursue his hunt foreshadows the way he is going to act while he tries to create an identity while claiming the scents of others. Grenouilles goal was to “… become a creator of scents… not just an average one…. [B]ut, rather, the greatest perfumer of all time.”(45) This is the first time Grenouilles goal has been discussed. He begins to realize the quest he has to fulfil due to it being that thrown upon him rather than something he has decided to create. In the calling Grenouille introduces his reasons about his urge for his hunt and he begins to become familiarized with his goal and his surroundings that come in the way of him excelling further to pursuing his goal.
Now that Grenouille is aware of his goal and his journey, he encounters some trials and tribulations dealing with objects and humans that suppress him causing him to delay his findings of his identity. When Grenouille reached his goal, “… he was taken captive.”(124) Grenouilles goal throughout his whole experience with finding the perfect scent to allow him to find his identity in the process. As he’s achieving his goal, he is slowed down and held captive by the influence the different scents and people have on him. One object that came it in the way of Grenouilles search was the difficulty of finding the scent of glass and “[W]hen it finally became clear to him that he had failed, he halted his experiments and fell mortally ill.”(104) Because Grenouille no longer could do the one thing that makes him gain an identity, he falls sick because he can’t stay strong. This is also one of the things that keep him captive because he almost dies, keeping him back for gaining the scents to create a disguise and get closer to finding his identity. The trials and tribulations Grenouille faced slowed him down from capturing his scent because of the effect the action of achieving his goal has on him.
While Grenouille faced trials and tribulations he manages to fight through them because of the importance he has to finish his goal of finding his identity. When he has created a disguise “ … he came out of the street, he was suddenly afraid, for he knew that for the first time in his life he was giving human odor.”(157) Grenouille is set into a new environment for the first time which he has never entered before and is not used to, causing him to have the fear instilled within him. He has this sense of fear because he has never experienced respect or any kind of treatment from humans, which is described as his new environment. After Grenouille has examined people and has gotten the hang of this new environment “… he wanted to acquire them, for he needed them for his own purpose.”(172) The search that Grenouille has for a new odor is used to manipulate the people surrounding him he needed to follow his personal needs which goes against the social orders of the society. He believed if he obtained untouched women’s scent he would acquire the base scent of a human because he saw the virgin girls as unprocessed. As his personal needs clash with the social expectations he comes to a realization of his hatred he has developed throughout the quest of searching for his identity. Once Grenouille progresses through his trials and tribulations within his quest, he eventually realizes his quest has failed in terms of finding his identity because of the way he was treated with his disguise, versus the hatred he had. He has changed and “[H]is mood was not euphoric as he formed his plans to rule humankind… he asked himself why he wanted to do it because he was evil, thoroughly evil ”(161) Grenouille realizes the reason behind his destruction of human society was because of his pure hate towards them, which is ironic because the people faced him with love once he carried “the mask” of the virgin girls which ended up regretting because he thought it was wrong. He was never able to posses his own scent because whatever he processes will just be an illusional mask. After removing his disguise of the innocence of the other girls, “[P]eople left him alone. And that was all he wanted.”(188) After achieving his highest ambition of being loved unconditionally and then realizing that this love is only a manufactured illusion Grenouille now describes his hate towards society and how he could not even stand them. He has become fed up of the treatment he receives because of the disguise. Eventually Grenouille ends his fate due to the failure of possessing his own scent and this is all created because of his misconception of viewing humans as something to seize like objects and not as beings.
Progressing through the plot as well as Grenouille’s growth, it is seen that scent plays a major role in terms of identity as Grenouille is pushed into a quest where he is left to figure out he obtains no scent and is off in search for one of his own. After going on into his trials and tribulations he realizes he is misled with his conception of virgin girls equating to a basic scent (because they are untouched and unrefined); this is due to his idea of them as being flowers. With this misconception he fails his journey as he figures out he will never have an identity because whatever he creates will just be a mask and not his own. Looking at Grenouille’s case, Suskind successfully exhibits one of human’s flaw which is greed in searching for things we don’t have.
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