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English Literature Perfume; Suskinds Representation of Grenouille

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Submitted By sophie6803
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How does Suskind present the character of Jean Baptiste Grenouille in the extract Perfume?
PP. 248-251

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the remorseless and inconceivably complex protagonist of Perfume is first and foremost presented as a narcissistic megalomaniac. In fact, the extract itself describes him as such, ‘in his narcissistic fantasies of old’ and his self-conceitedness is further exemplified when the author states ‘He was even greater than Prometheus.’ The fact that Grenouille see’s himself as comparable (and even better than) to a God helps to give an accurate depiction of his egotistical demeanour. Another example of his vanity is displayed in the title in which he gives himself, ‘Yes, he was Grenouille the Great!’ In this self-styled title he uses the adjective ‘great’ to describe himself, which is a sharp contrast to his typically repeated description by the author of him as being a ‘insignificant’ and ‘solitary tick’, which is repeated throughout the novel that does invoke sympathy from the reader, and yet also stirs disgust as a tick is a foul creature which feeds of another’s blood, or ‘life’, similar to what Grenouille does to the other characters in the novel. There is also something childish and self-indulgent in the way he calls himself ‘Grenouille the Great’, it’s almost endearing, but not as endearing as for the reader to forgive Grenouille of his sins.

Grenouille, in these pages especially, is perceived by the reader as a contemptuous misanthrope. His contempt and disregard for humanity is shown when he finds his ‘achievement’ of making them all love him as ‘unbearable.’ His misanthropy is further shown in the following passage ‘ ..because he did not love them himself, he hated them. And suddenly he knew that he had never found gratification in love, but always only in hatred-in hating and being hated.’
This shows that Grenouille, though loved by the masses of people present at his execution, cannot and will not love them back. His twisted superiority complex disallows him from ever feeling anything but hate for other people.
Suskind uses a large amount of adjectives in his writing and in the sentence ‘He would have loved right now to have exterminated these people from the earth, every stupid stinking eroticized one of them..’ the rule of three which is present (stupid, stinking eroticised) is very profound, and reflects what Grenouille must perceive other humans to be like, as simple, bestial and carnal creatures. These adjectives are underlining the superiority that Grenouille feels towards other humans. The rule of three ‘stupid ,stinking, eroticised’ could also be seen as a motif, as the idea of humans being ‘stupid’ ‘stinking’ and ‘eroticised’ is a recurring theme throughout the novel. The word ‘stinking’ is especially poignant as the entire novel focuses on the power of scent, and how Grenouille, the scentless protagonist lacks one, and how this ostracises him from society. The extract itself states that Grenouille feels ‘total contempt’ for the adoring Parisians who surround him, the word ‘total’ is very significant because it is such a powerful word, and it is suggesting that Grenouille’s contempt is absolute, unquestionable and unequivocal. Suskind also repeats the word ‘hate’ and ‘hated’, which just amplify the understanding we have of Grenouille’s hatred. Grenouille’s hatred and lack of respect for the humans stems from them being so easily controlled by the power of scent, and how he, lacking a scent is an outcast. In the extract there is an interesting character development; narcissist Grenouille loses any shred of humanity he has, his perfume gives him all the power in the world, but it cannot help him smell himself or know himself, and he comes to believe his life is pointless, and so in the climatic end of the novel he commits suicide.

To even further back up the way Grenouille is presented as a misanthrope, is the quote ‘..realize how much he hated them and for them, realizing it was the only emotion that he had ever felt’ this states that the ONLY emotion that Grenouille has EVER experienced is hatred and it just confirms the fact that Grenouille is a complete, utter cynic and misanthrope.

The protagonist, due to his dehumanizing and misfortunate childhood is desperate to experience love and to be loved. This is glaringly evident when Suskind states ‘ What he had always longed for-that other people should love him’, the verb longed assists the reader in realizing the depth as to how much Grenouille wishes to be loved and also evokes sympathy from the reader as it paints Grenouille as the lonely, troubled and misunderstood artist archetype.
Earlier in the extract, Suskind writes ‘-he had managed to make the world admire him. To hell with admire! Love him! Idolize him!’ The exclamation marks that Suskind uses with those short sentences makes the reader take note, they indicate the strong emotions that Grenouille is experiencing. His elation that the masses love him however is short lived; he realises that the people before him have no will of their own and are simply controlled by scent and that having their love will never make him happy. Grenouille as a result of this, now has nothing to strive for as nothing has any value, any meaning to him. Grenouille’s desire and longing to be loved in this extract is strikingly stark, however in these pages is also the moment in which he accepts that he will never love nor be loved. This portrays him to be quite a pitiful character.

Carrying on from the previous point is Suskind’s portrayal of Grenouille as a character to be pitied. Suskind in the extract uses an almost excessive amount of adjectives to describe Grenouille, listing words that would fit in to a lexical field that overwhelm the reader ‘..small,hunchbacked,lame,ugly,shunned,an abomination.’ These emotive words create sympathy for the ugly Grenouille, however they do not excuse the atrocities he has committed. Suskind also uses semantics. ‘He, Jean Baptiste Grenouille, born with no odour of his own….raised without love, with no warmth of a human soul, surviving solely on impudence and the power of loathing..’ These words are very emotive, it presents to the reader Grenouille’s misfortunate predicament and upbringing and that this makes the murders that he has committed more understandable. Suskind presents Grenouille as a pitiful, lonely character whose future due to his unusual nose seems predetermined which creates sympathy, however the readers sympathy does not extend to the point where it excuses his crimes.

Finally, Grenouille is presented as suicidal and mentally inadequate. His unstable mentality is shown by the rapid mood swings he experiences, going from elated to being terrified. His rapidly changing moods allow for Suskind to use juxtaposition effectively, as seen by the positive words used on page 248 (‘Love him! Admire him! Idolize him!) And the more negative words page 249 onwards (And he was terrified. He was terrified because he could not enjoy one second of it.)

In the same paragraph, Grenouille is feeling ‘great’ (and styles himself as such) and by the end of it, he is terrified. ‘Yes, he was Grenouille the Great! Now it had become to manifest. It was he, just as in his narcissistic fantasies of old, but now in reality. And in that moment he experienced the greatest triumph of his life. And he was terrified.’ One could almost say that Grenouille is presented as cowardly here, as he has finally achieved what he has strived for for years, yet is frightened of the result of his work and dream.
His instability is exemplified by the reappearance of ‘the fog.’ ‘Suddenly (this adverb also shows the rapid changes in his mood) he was sick to his stomach, for he felt the fog rising again.’ The ‘fog’ that Grenouille is plagued by is a completely imagined fear, the fog is meant to be his odour, which he cannot smell, which frightens him to an unfamiliar degree. His desire for death is shown when Richis appears, and Grenouille ‘ already could feel the thrust of the dagger or sword tickling so wonderfully at his breast’ and he considers Richis to be an ‘angel’. The word he uses to describe the thrust of the dagger that would kill him is the adjective wonderful, which is abnormal and shocking considering the context it is being used in. When Richis, instead of killing Grenouille (which is what is expected as Grenouille murdered his beloved daughter) grasps him in to tight embrace and begs Grenouille to ‘Forgive me my son, my dear son, forgive me!’ he loses all respect for humanity (or whatever respect he held) and faints as the ‘fog’ overcomes him. ‘He wanted to flee, for God’s sake, to flee, but where…He wanted to burst, to explode, to keep from suffocating on himself. Finally he sank down and lost consciousness.’ This passage could be takes as symbolism; the fainting signifying Grenouille’s desire to leave this world.

In conclusion, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is an incredibly complex character that is presented by Suskind as a misfortunate, misunderstood, isolated individual yet an utterly evil macabre artist. He is pitiful, but the reader’s sympathy doesn’t extend far enough to forgive him for his ruthless murder of 26 young girls, or to feel like his grisly end wasn’t an appropriate end.

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