Scent and Hatred in the novel Perfume

July 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

Scent and hatred in the novel Perfume Everyone has characteristics that define or individualize them. Without these characteristics, it becomes difficult for one to be considered unique. The novel Perfume, by Patrick Suskind, presents a character, Grenouille, who is distinctive, yet conflicted with his individuality, or identity. For Grenouille, life experiences are defined by what he observes through scent, and the actions he takes are based on interpretation of scents. Given the notion that scent acts as Grenouille’s lens, much as we use sight to interpret our world, it follows that scent also represents an individual or identity. In essence, the function of scent has given rise to the theme of identity in the novel, which has in turn given scent symbolic meaning. This interplay between theme and symbol not only drives the plot forward but also enlightens Grenouille’s understanding of his world. However, Grenouille’s understanding of himself and the world at the end of the novel lead to his disdain for the human race, and ultimately his suicide. Patrick Suskind incorporates the concept of scent in Perfume not only to serve as a means for Grenouille to interpret the world, but also as a symbol that intensifies Grenouille’s hatred for humanity.Within the novel scent symbolizes identity, and Grenouille’s lack of scent causes him to pursue the crafting of emotion instilling perfumes. The idea of scent symbolizing identity is most significantly emphasized during Grenouille’s retreat at Plomb du Canal. He awakens to the realization that he “who could smell other people miles away, was incapable of smelling his own genitals not a handspan away!,”. This alarms him, and he begins to feel “the fear of not knowing much of anything about himself”. For Grenouille, scent is his vision and his passion, and for him to be completely void of any sort of scent is equivalent to being dead. This existential crisis compels Grenouille to leave his retreat and seek some kind of validation of his existence. However, on a more symbolic level, Grenouille’s quest for validation represents what we as humans also seek in life. For Grenouille, being able to smell is his passion and makes him feel “blessedly wonderful” (Suskind 126). This more human characteristic of Grenouille, validates Grenouille’s quest to find his scent. Grenouille’s solution to his lack of scent is to imbue himself with scents that are not his own to evoke strong emotional responses from those around him. Grenouille internally defines his identity with the amount of love or attention he receives: The more people who acknowledge him, the stronger his foundation for identity becomes. This idea is primarily shown during his stay in the company of Marquis Taillade, the scientist, with whom Grenouille first begins to associate love and identity. After Grenouille concocts a perfume composed of “cat-shit, cheese, and vinegar” (158) he walks the streets of Montpellier to test the effects of his new odor. He finds that rather than others reacting in shock or oblivion to his presence (as they have previously done), they react as anyone would to a normal human, apologizing when bumping into one another, and smiling courteously. Grenouille then realizes, that it matters not who you are when seeking attention or love, because it can all be erased with an alteration of one’s scent. Grenouille uses this epiphany to his advantage and sets out to make a scent “so indescribably good and vital that whoever smelled it would be enchanted and with his whole heart would have to love him” (160). Aside from this declaration of conquest (of the human heart) setting into motion the series of murders Grenouille performs, the desire to conquer the human heart is indicative of how Grenouille defines identity: being loved and accepted. This definition stems from Grenouille’s lack of affection growing up. Since childbirth he has been constantly rejected or disregarded; starting from his mother’s attempted infanticide, which shows that even from childbirth he was neglected. Furthermore, Grenouille experienced years of abuse, and neglect under the dehumanizing working conditions of Grimal the tanner. In the latter half of the novel Grenouille falls into the hands of Marquis Taillade de Epinade, who treats him well, although it is only because the Marquis sees Grenouille as a means to his scientific success, not as an actual human being. Thus, Grenouille has never once experienced a form of true acceptance or love in his life, and because of this, he associates the feeling of acceptance and acknowledgement with legitimate identity. However, the fruits of Grenouille’s labor (the finale perfume) do not deliver the feeling of acceptance and identity. Rather, the final perfume highlights what Grenouille detests about humanity. Grenouille immerses himself in developing a perfume that will make him loved by everyone, regardless of the wearer. However, in this immersion Grenouille loses sight of what was important to his being, which is his hatred for the human race. Thus, the “contempt for them” (the human race) (191) that Grenouille held at the start of the conquest changes to a genuine desire to gain acceptance through the perfume. Grenouille leaves Montpellier and stumbles upon a perfumer’s workshop. The workshop is run by Madame Arnulfi, who hires Grenouille to work for them but with very little pay. However, from this experience, Grenouille learns to extract the purest scents from living and still life. Grenouille is “enchanted by their meaningless perfection” and taken by “truly innocent happiness” (191). The only reason Grenouille creates what ends up being the final perfume, is to satisfy his unwavering ambition and curiosity. However, in this ambitious pursuit, Grenouille fails to realize that he would in fact rather live in solitude than live surrounded by false affection. When Grenouille retreated to Plomb du Canal, the reason for doing so was to be “truly completely alone” (125). Grenouille even “erupted with thundering jubilation” (125) in his solitude. This truth becomes more evident at the pinnacle of his achievement (the final perfume), and in observing its effects on those around him. As he is about to be executed for murder before a crowd of people, the perfume takes its effect, and he witnesses adoration growing for him. However, “the more he hated them, the more they worshipped him,” because Grenouille realized that their reactions were not to Grenouille but a facade. He still possesses no scent, and thus no identity, yet he is still loved. The fact that perfume could so easily sway the perception of humanity, driving those it affected to insanity, leaves Grenouille feeling mutually disgusted with the triumph. Because he is scentless, people will never “respond with an answer to his one true emotion, hatred” (250). This leads to Grenouille’s suicide at the Cimetiere des Innocents. Grenouille sacrifices his life after realizing that no one, not even the father of the girl Grenouille murdered, will ever come to truly hate him; and hatred is Grenouille’s only emotional connection. Since no one will ever hate him, he feels rejected from the world. Through Grenouille’s death, Suskind suggests that Grenouille is also very human. If we were denied by everyone we met for who we were, how could we possibly continue living in the world?Grenouille’s existential crisis, which is his inability to recognize his own scent, or lack of it, inspires him to create a perfume that will garner him love from everyone. He does this because Grenouille feels that love will give him a stronger foundation for identity. However, in achieving his goal, he realizes that these humans who are so easily tricked by smell into loving a murderer, could never make him feel validated. In this way, Patrick Suskind incorporates the symbol of scent in the novel Perfume not only to serve as Grenouille’s lens, but also as a concept that intensifies Grenouille’s hatred for humanity. But why did Suskind choose to use scent rather than sight? Or hearing, for that matter? Perhaps it is because scent is something we can never really rid ourselves. It is a distinct part of us because no matter how much perfume we use to mask or alter the way we smell; we still know that our natural scent lies beneath our facade. For this reason, scent can be symbolized as an inescapable truth about who we are, and it serves to emphasize Grenouille’s hatred for the human race, which possesses a scent quite foul.

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