In Perfume by Patrick Süskind the idea of love, normality, and what it means to be human is presented through a motif of smell and religious allusions.
Grenouille had a very harsh childhood, he was given to a woman called Gaillard who suffered brain damage as a result of being abused by her father. This incident left Gaillard unable to smell and completely incapable of feeling any emotion. This had a major impact on Grenouille because she raised him throughout his childhood and with her as the only mother figure to look up to he was greatly distorted. This impacted Grenouilles idea on what it means to be human or to even be normal because he doesn’t care about others emotions or feelings because he was never taught compassion. Throughout Perfume we see Grenouille being taken advantage of by all his elders starting with Gaillard because she only used him for the money she was provided. She gave him basic needs such as food and water and nothing more.
This planted the idea in Grenouilles mind that humans aren’t important and can be treated like animals because he was never shown his importance. His childhood ultimately turned him into the murderer he established that being human wasn’t important and lives were not important, humans are something that you can manipulate for your own benefit when you see fit. Whereas others raised in “normal” ways would know each life is a free spirit and very vulnerable, and rather than trying to bestow these ideas Madame sold him to Grimal for money because that’s all she thought Grenouille was good for. In the next chapters of his life Grenouille was raised by Grimal. Here Grenouille is again treated inhumanely, being used only as free labor, who at night is locked in a closet to prevent his escape.
These actions take away all ethical boundaries that “normal” humans are entitled to, such as freedom. Grimal just like Madame took away Grenouilles humanity and used him only to his benefit, he would give him better treatment only when he served Grimal well, but he is still seen as inhuman and less superior. Grenouille is rewarded slightly when he pleases Grimal in fact “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,” (Süskind 32). Grimal didn’t bestow love upon Grenouille and this affected his idea of what it means to be a human by making him believe that he was only good for working and doing jobs no one else would dare to do, and this only feeds into the idea planted by Madame that humans can be manipulated whenever one person sees fit. His perception or human nature continued to be distorted only feeding into his gruesome ways of life that later came to him through a man named Baldini whom Grenouille was sold to by Grimal once again for money. Baldini recruited Grenouille to work for him only because of his amazing sense of smell, and the talent it created for imitating famous and eloquent perfumes.
Proving again that humans are only good for what you need from them, by manipulating him into plagiarizing his enemies perfume to save Baldini’s business. When he is able to create scents Baldini quickly realizes his potential and allows him to use his supplies to create new scents only for the benefit of Baldini. The feeling of praise he receives for his scents is the closest he has come to feeling love from an individual even though it’s still far from the actual concept of love humans believe in.
This feeling however showed him his potential in life and how he could reach that potential and become “the creator of scent”( Süskind 49). Overall, these three people are responsible bestowing a twisted version of what it means to be human, and when sent off into the world to treat people as he was treated, like animals who can be manipulated and mistreated. Grenouille moves on in life feeling removed from life because he doesn’t have a scent of his own, which he discovers when he goes into isolation because of his grudge for humanity due to the way he was treated in adolescents. This establishes the connections between scent and power in the novel Perfume because it shows that people only see him as animalistic and not human because he lacks a scent, and this was seen as being devilish.
Whereas, everyone else has a humanly smell making them normal. The moment he realizes he has no scent the start of Grenouilles downfall because he only wants to be seen as human and craves the power over humanity and he thinks he can do this by creating the world’s most beautiful scent making them love him. As a result of this detachment he begins killings sprees to collect the scents of young girls.
For these actions he feels no remorse because he doesn’t know the value of human life. This relates to the question what it means to be human because without Grenouilles twisted idea of human value he would not be killing young girls or trying to manipulate people into loving him. Grenouille who despite this view on human nature still craves being seen as human and not just an animal, he wanted to be taken seriously and seen as a god like person. This is significant because it changes his mind set and makes him into Grenouille the monster. Süskind shows his success in manipulating the human mind in the end of the story when he states “He possessed the power…. the invincible power to command the love of mankind. There was only one thing that power could not do: it could not make him able to smell himself.
“(Süskind 252) This is significant because even though people loved him he knew that he would never be more than an animal because even though he’s fooled everyone he still doesn’t have a scent, and through Süskind’s comparison to scent and power we can see no matter how far he goes he can never truly possess power. In the religious allusions Grenouille plays the part of Jesus where he is seen as an outcast from everyone from everyone else and for these actions he was to be crucified. Grenouille was sentenced to be “bound to a wooden cross, his face towards to the heaven”(Süskind 229) which is ironically similar to the crucification of Jesus himself, and Süskind did this to show that he is an important figure and to possibly foreshadowing his survival of the cross. By comparing Grenouille to Jesus Süskind is showing how well he was manipulated the people around him into loving him when his whole life he was done nothing but be mistreated. When it’s his time to die he pours the perfume making everyone instantly love in love with him. Had it not been for him being raised the way he was he would not believe he could manipulate people, and would have given up on being loved, but he ultimately succeed and possessed more love in that moment than any human has ever had, just as Jesus himself possessed love from his people and knew dying was the right thing to do.
In the end on the novel Grenouille, “the angel was divided into thirty pieces, and every animal in the pack snatched a piece for itself”(245) painting an allusion to the well known story of the last supper in the Bible where jesus rips his bread into 30 pieces to share among the people. This is showing that manipulation can be very powerful when it comes to love and affection and that human nature is to fragile to be tampered with to extremes. Overall, Süskind uses religious allusions and the motif of scent to answer the question, what does it mean to be human? When examining this question in terms of Perfume Süskind wants us to know that humans are very vulnerable things that can easily be persuaded into love if given the right motives. He writes this novel to show this vulnerability to love in hopes that humans be less open to the power of suggestion and use only our true beliefs to guide us through life. Süskind chose to represent power and status through scent because humans have the ability to detect up to 1 trillion scents, and these scents would represent the people and the world and how each one is different, and by not giving Grenouille a scent it makes him a god like figure to others whom are ordinary, and by letting him smell so extravagantly is letting him manipulate there scents in away that almost changes who they are as a person.