Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

by Patrick Suskind
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This well loved, critically-acclaimed novel by Patrick Suskind is a veritable wonderland of ironies, contradictions, and satirical portrayals of human behavior and societal hypocrisy. The notion of supposed authority versus reality is an interesting window through which to view this novel's themes and plot points.

The main expression of supposed authority in the novel is most eloquently and compellingly portrayed through the character of Grenouille. Having survived a brutal childhood, his single-minded conviction that he is special and brilliant drives him forward and leads to his success as a perfumer. He learns quickly and his natural talent for recognizing scents is unparalleled. Of course, the novel suggests that one reason for this natural talent is an unusual quality Grenouille possesses: he has no natural scents of his own. The suggestion is also that this oddity makes him somewhat less than human, and causes other humans to fear and shun him. So while Grenouille considers himself an expert and authority on human nature and rejects it outright, the reality is that he is apart from the realm of humanity because of his strange affliction (lacking scent, yet being unnaturally sensitive to smells).

Grenouille's quest to create the finest perfume known to humanity, which to him is the essence of a virginal girl, is a metaphor for his search to be human. But his emotional strangeness and lack of social skills make it hard for him to interact with other people, and he develops twisted views of right and wrong. His belief that he must murder a young girl in order to possess her essence is a rather disturbing metaphor that suggests what Grenouille really seeks is love and human connection. Grenouille's authority as a perfumer and calculated victimizer of women pales next to the reality that he is a lonely man incapable of finding love or companionship.

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