Q: Grenouille is introduced as one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. [p3] Does Suskind manage to make a sympathetic character, in spite of his murders and obsessions? Or do you find him wholly repellent? How might you explain Grenouille’s actions? To what extent do his experiences shape his behaviour? Do you think he is inherently evil? In his novel Perfume, Suskind opens by painting Grenouille’s picture as the poor, lonely orphan child but gradually and graphically turns him into a devilish character and a serial killer.
It is the way that Suskind portrays Grenouille that can make readers find him inhuman, but there are plenty of aspects of Grenouille that are completely normal human characteristics. From the moment Grenouille is born, he is faced with neglect. Throughout the novel, Grenouille is searching for love in the only way he knows possible – by means of his nose. Grenouille is an abnormal person because of the way that he is brought up. This shapes his personal feelings and philosophy towards and against humans and humanity in general.
Because pf Grenouille’s irregular stance towards humankind, his ability of being able to use his nose to decipher smells and make succulent perfumes is misinterpreted by civilization in general. Grenouille is not purposefully evil, but his actions are regarded by humankind as certainly considered evil. Suskind challenges the reader to judge what they consider good and evil is. In the beginning of the novel, Suskind shows Grenouille as an unlucky orphan child, whose mother is happy to see him die. His mother doesn’t want Grenouille, and wants to cast him aside and let him die in a pile of fish guts.
But Grenouille’s ability to overcome difficulties that normal humans could not dream of is what keeps him alive here. Although Suskind has described Grenouille as a repulsive person in the opening sentence of the novel, he still manages to make the reader feel a sense of warmth and understanding to Grenouille and his dreadful situation. By describing Grenouille’s mother as a horrible human with sentences like “She wanted to put this revolting birth behind her as quickly as possible. ” [p5] and “She had affected all the others here at the fish booth,” [p5]
Grenouille’s mother, who is never named by Suskind, is revealed as horrible a human being as Grenouille turns out to be. The sympathy that the author created however is lost on the following page, with all the trouble he causes to the wet nurses who look after him. The first real signs that Grenouille is not a completely normal human comes when the wet nurse Jean-Bussie claims to the local priest Father Terrier that Grenouille is possessed by the devil. She claims that because Grenouille has no smell, he must be evil.
At this point in the novel, Suskind has alluded to the scents of Paris, but not to the importance of smell to Grenouille. When Father Terrier tramples over the wet nurse’s concerns, he takes Grenouille away. Father Terrier is represented as the catholic man who helps all commoners to believe in God, but even he, on closer inspection finds Grenouille vile. “Away with it! thought Terrier, away this very instant with this… he was a about to say ‘devil’, but caught himself and restrained”[p19] It is at this point in the novel that the reader can sense Grenouille as something different to a normal human.