Jean-Baptiste Grenouille as characterized by Patrick Süskind

8 August 2016

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille as characterized by Patrick Suskind Patrick Suskind’s Perfume is the gripping tale of a sociopathic young man, Jean- Baptiste Grenouille, who’s passion for scent ultimately leads him to slaughter twenty five young virgins. Suskind chooses to develop Grenouille’s character slowly and methodically, allowing Grenouille’s sociopathic tendencies to emerge and ripen along with the plot. The reader’s first impression of the character is manipulated by Suskind’s clever use of sensory and emotion-provoking details, allowing the reader to feel pity for the character.

Suskind allows each one of Grenouille’s interactions with other characters to reveal Grenouille’s true nature a little more. By the end of the novel, the reader is fully aware of Grenouille’s abhorrent actions and his truly loathsome personality. However, Suskind’s clever characterization of Grenouille as an ambitious hollow man searching for emotions he is incapable of feeling allows Grenouille to triumph as the unquestioned protagonist in the mind of the reader. This ingenious technique causes the reader to unwillingly support or at least tolerate Grenouille’s actions in order to process and accept the disturbing content of the novel.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille as characterized by Patrick Süskind Essay Example

By beginning Perfume with a poignant description of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille’s unfortunate childhood, Patrick Suskind is able to manipulate the reader’s perception of Grenouille. Suskind begins with a description of the tragic circumstances of Grenouille’s birth, including his mother’s contempt for him. The tragedy is further emphasized when Suskind reveals Grenouille’s mother’s intentions of infanticide, and Grenouille’s gruesome impromptu birth surrounded by rotting fish remains.

On page 5, the phrase “[she hoped to] marry one day and as an honourable wife of a widower with a trade or some such to bear real children” (Suskind, 2001) illustrates how Grenouille’s mother did not consider him a “real child,” as he was illegitimate. This rejection of Grenouille continues to be a theme throughout the story, as seen in the events following Grenouille’s birth, such as his mother’s execution and his repeated rejections by Father Terrier, Jeanne Bussie, and the children with whom he lives at Mme Gaillard’s.

Having received no love or nurturing throughout his life, he is unable to comprehend how abnormal his lack of affection is for others. This unawareness renders his character even more pathetic and subsequently more pitiable to the reader. Since Grenouille is a child, his abnormality is not yet fully apparent to reader. When Grenouille is first given to Father Terrier, it is apparent that baby Grenouille makes him uncomfortable, when he describes the baby as “a strange, cold creature…

a hostile animal. ” (Suskind, 2001) (p 17. ) However, since Grenouille has not done anything to specifically deserve these criticisms, he seems innocent. Throughout the novel, Suskind’s strategic introduction acts as an anchor that allows the reader to recollect the emotions they originally felt for Grenouille. When Grenouille demonstrates disturbing tendencies and eventually commits murder as a result of his psychopathic nature, the reader is equipped with background knowledge of Grenouille’s life.

This knowledge allows the reader to somewhat comprehend Grenouille’s actions thus providing the reader with a means to justify Grenouille’s madness. During Grenouille’s 7 year stay in Plomb du Cantal he comes to the realization that he does not emit a body odour. In this book, odour appears to symbolize a soul in an “I smell therefore I am” play on the Descartes Cogito ergo sum philosophy (“I think therefore I am”). Throughout his travels and interactions with society, he also begins to understand that humans subconsciously judge their peers based on their natural body odours.

Since ordinary humans do not understand their olfactory perceptions, they instead attribute qualities such as beauty and charm to people who possess a desirable scent. Grenouille realized that he can manipulate society’s perceptions of him based on the scent he wears. He creates many scents for himself, including a scent to help him be unnoticed and another one to evoke pity. After his many successes, he decided to create one final, ultimate perfume. With this perfume, he hopes to incite love. Grenouille, unbeknownst to himself, is searching for the love he never received as a child.

However, being severely warped by his own loveless past he mistakes submission with adoration, and decides to create a perfume that will force the entire world to love and submit to him. In this process, he takes the scents and thus the lives of 25 beautiful virgins. After he decides to create a perfume with which he can rule the world, the passage states, “and [Grenouille] said to himself that he wanted to do it because he was evil. Thoroughly evil. ” (Suskind, 2001) The reader at this point, knowing Grenouille is evil, and that he himself knows he is evil, should feel

nothing but contempt for Grenouille. Although being a murderer is generally not a winning quality, Suskind manages to coax the reader to tolerate Grenouille’s actions. Grenouille’s desire to be loved and accepted is a very relatable thing. Although this desire pushes Grenouille to commit 25 murders, the reader is able to turn a blind eye to the deaths, and instead focus on the motivation behind them. Though his actions are disturbing, his motivations are not. Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to many characters, all of which Grenouille encounters during his life.

However, none of the characters are ever truly explained in depth. Grenouille’s own mother remains nameless, Father Terrier, Mme Gaillard, Grimal and Baldini are never truly explored on any personal level. This lack of depth serves to emphasize Grenouille’s inability to relate to people on a personal level. The victims that he murders remain for the most part, utterly anonymous, with the exception of Laure. The girls are never given names or personalities. In this way, the reader develops no attachment to these characters and is therefore less affected when Grenouille murders them.

The girls are described as they are perceived by Grenouille, not as people, but instead as objects carrying scents. Grenouille has no value for human life, and a part of this is transferred to the reader during this book. This technique employed by Grenouille is extremely strategic, as it serves to desensitize the reader to the heavy content. By preventing the reader from seeing the thoughts of other characters or learning much about them, Suskind also prevents the reader from siding with them. It is impossible to see Grenouille as an antagonist when there is no protagonist to replace him with.

By only using methods of characterization to develop Grenouille, Suskind limits the reader to supporting Grenouille. On page 1, Suskind refers to Grenouille as “one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. ” After completing the novel, this phrase remains extremely accurate; Grenouille is abominable because of his sense of smell and the things it leads him to do, however he is also extraordinary because of his complete commitment to it.

In conclusion, Suskind’s incredible ability to infuse some humanity into Grenouille’s seemingly inhuman character is truly what allows the reader to continue reading the book, as opposed to giving up instantly. The content is sombre and the main character is less than appealing at many times, but Suskind characterizes Grenouille in a way that ultimately conveys the message of the book; The search for love can lead one to do some horribly twisted things. 1, 222

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