Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

by Patrick Suskind

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Student Question

Analyze how the relationship between Baldini and Grenouille in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer illuminates the theme of power.

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Baldini is a foil for Grenouille because he shows what an ordinary, practically-minded person would have done with Grenouille's ability. Their contrast points to the theme of power and control by contrasting appearance with reality. Though Baldini is the master and Grenouille his apprentice, it is really Grenouille who is in control and manipulating his master.

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Baldini serves as a foil for Grenouille by illustrating what the average person might have done with Grenouille's extraordinary powers. When Grenouille first comes to deliver goatskins to Baldini's shop, he encounters an apparently prosperous perfumer with a very ostentatious establishment which is, in fact, in decline. Baldini has been reduced to copying his rival's perfume in the struggle to maintain his position. If he had Grenouille's olfactory genius, he would undoubtedly use it to create fashionable and expensive perfumes to sell to aristocrats and plutocrats, making himself the richest and most celebrated perfumer in Paris, perhaps in Europe. This is a very normal and understandable ambition, to be at the top of one's profession, and it contrasts sharply with Grenouille's obscure and sinister motives.

The encounter and subsequent relationship between Baldini and Grenouille illuminates the theme of power and control by contrasting appearance and reality. Baldini is a master perfumer, while Grenouille is a poor errand-boy who wants to work for him. All the power appears to be vested in Baldini. However, from the very first, Grenouille manipulates and dominates his ostensible master. He decides that he will become Baldini's apprentice and, as soon as he makes the decision, has not the least doubt that he will gain this position. He learns everything he needs to learn, then leaves while Baldini's house and business collapse into the river. Grenouille's abilities, his certitude, and his curious force of character mean that he is always in control, even as Baldini is using him to further his own conventional aspirations.

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Analyze a foil in perfume and discuss how the relation between Baldini (minor character) and Grenouille (major character) illuminates a specific theme.

Although many of the other characters in Perfume are eccentric by normal standards, they all serve to illustrate how monstrous and extraordinary Grenouille is by comparison. Grenouille is operating on a completely different plain, that of pure scent. In this area, he is an unparalleled genius, with no one else coming close to his abilities.

Giuseppe Baldini is a professional perfumer who has enjoyed great success, though at the time when Grenouille comes to him, his reputation is rather faded.

Baldini has everything Grenouille needs to create outstanding scents. First, Baldini is well-versed in the technical processes of perfume-making. He knows all the methods of preserving scents of which Grenouille is ignorant. Then, he has a wide range of ingredients with which Grenouille can experiment. Finally, and most importantly in his role as a foil, Baldini has a respectable establishment and a place in the social structure of Paris. Grenouille's position as his apprentice puts him in a context which the sight and sound-based society around him can understand.

Baldini has spent his life dealing with scents but, like everyone else in the novel except Grenouille, he does not really understand them and their power. The height of his ambition is to be a rich, successful perfumer, bowing and scraping to his aristocratic customers.

Grenouille is a monstrous genius who finally rejects the opportunity to become emperor of the world and meets an end more grotesque and gothic than Baldini's simple collapse into the river. The theme this contrast illustrates is the monstrous nature of the man who lives by one sense alone, who is so extraordinary that even another who has devoted his entire life to and founded his fortune on that scent is a layman by comparison.

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