The novel Perfume by Patrick Süskind, chronicles the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the anti-hero, whose heightened sense of smell allows him to create the Ultimate Perfume through the murder of virgin women. The quest to create this ultimate scent is what gives meaning to his life. However in the end he experiences an existential crisis – the world around him is defined by its scents, but the lack of his own scent creates doubt about his own existence. Perfume can be read as an existential novel with a character like Grenouille who ignores the ideals of the world around him in order to pursue his own goals – to give his life meaning. During Grenouille's life in Paris, Süskind brings out many existential concepts through his interactions with other characters like Authenticity, Existence versus Essence, The Absurd and Existential Despair. We see these concepts manifesting in Grenouille throughout his life and developing along with him, while also giving Süskind's critique of the philosophy.
Existentialism is a philosophy developed primarily in the 20th Century which emphasizes the individual over society. In its philosophy there is no inherent meaning to life, or the meaning is not capable of being understood by humans, and so we must assign a meaning to our own lives. Individuals can form their own values, morality and goals, and reject the idea of spirituality and fate, believing that man himself is the creator of his destiny. As a character, Grenouille is a perfect existentialist: the circumstances of his birth leave him somewhat isolated from society and so is able grow intellectually with very little external influence; his life goal is what drives him to live, and his morality is different to that of society around him; “there was not a least notion of God in his head” (Süskind 123), he was his own God – “Grenouille the Great” (126).
[...] He drenches himself with the perfume, and the lowlifes of Paris, of love” (255) dismember and eat him. Early in the novel, the story of Madame Gaillard's death ends with might possibly have lost her faith in justice and with it the only meaning that she could make of life” her too long life was spent suffering but believing in a higher meaning. And according to Süskind, this was preferable to living a life aware of the absurd. The absurdity of life became apparent to Grenouille, and despite the power and wealth he could amass, that life was not worth living, so he allowed himself to be consumed by society. [...]
[...] Throughout the novel, Süskind develops the ideas and concepts of existentialism through its characters and their interactions with Grenouille - the epitome of an existentialist. The fundamental ideas of existence versus essence, authenticity and The Absurd are built up by contrasting Grenouille with the characters he encounters in his time in Paris. Parisian society serves to emphasize the character of Grenouille, crystallize the concepts of existentialism and also forms a part of Süskind's critique of it. Works Cited Süskind, Patrick, and John E. [...]
[...] Baldini, on the other hand, craves the respect of the public. His perfume is only as good as how good other people say it is. Rather than return the goatskins he didn't need, he decided to buy them because “people might begin to talk Baldini can't pay his bills” (67). When it comes to perfumery, Baldini's traditional formulas and rigid techniques contrast with Grenouille's instinctive recipes created impromptu. Grenouille's goal out of this is to learn the art of perfumery as best he can, so that he can achieve his end. [...]
[...] In existentialism, authenticity is described as acting according to your existence in accordance with yourself and your being, rather than acting according to essence influenced by others opinions or values. Authenticity is using the freedom life gives you to live on your own terms. Both well versed in the realm of scents, the difference between Baldini and Grenouille lies with their ultimate goal. For Grenouille it is perfumery itself creating the greatest perfume in the world, and he is his own judge to the greatness of the perfume. [...]
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