In perspective, Süskind utilizes this flaw to
In the fictitious horror novel, Perfume, by Patrick Süskind, the author portrays the protagonist of the novel, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, to most as a murderous, moraless lunatic whose hatred for humanity had led to his downfall. Despite these abhorrent traits, Grenouille withholds the traits of what Aristotle defines as a “tragic hero”. Throughout the novel, Grenouille perfectly matches all of Aristotle’s contentions for a tragic hero, including hamartia, peripeteia, anagnorisis, hubris, and a fate greater than deserved. Due to these traits and his impotence in his character, Grenouille’s cynical view on humanity and pessimistic attitude that is cultivated at the end of the novel classifies him as a tragic hero. Grenouille’s tragic flaw, or hamartia, is established at the very beginning of the novel.
In the first paragraph, Süskind states, “In eighteenth-century France, there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages… because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted… to the fleeting realm of scent.” (3). This tragic flaw is, at first, not realized by Grenouille until his time spent in isolation. From the reader’s perspective, Süskind utilizes this flaw to incite a feeling of sympathy for Grenouille, which can be classified as a common trait of Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. Along with sympathy, Süskind establishes the fact that Grenouille is doomed from the start.
His inability to smell anything and his abandonment by his own mother sets the stage for a tragic ending. It shows that he has reduced potential and reveals that he has no responsibility for possessing his flaw. Süskind’s portrayal of Grenouille’s tragic flaw is critical to the novel and its readers. The compassion established towards Grenouille and his diminished abilities show that he retains a characteristic of his life that will lead to his downfall in the future. Grenouille’s reversal of fortune, or peripeteia, is exhibited towards the end of the novel. Süskind states, “What he had always longed for–that other people should love him–became at the moment of its achievement unbearable, because he did not love them himself, he hated them.” (240). Grenouille had realized that he had received no satisfaction from love.
Despite being neglected and mistreated for most of his life from the hands of Madame Gaillard, Grimal and Baldini, Grenouille’s desire to be loved and to feel something other than himself had fainted at this instance. His error in judgement upon humanity had misled him and stripped him of any sense of humanity that was left in him. He was seeking for love and its gratification, and yet he only received a newfound enjoyment for hatred among himself and humanity.
In this section of the novel, Grenouille had fully developed his hatred for humanity and only wants someone to apprehend him for who he truly is. He wanted to meet someone who would respond to his hatred and disgust with an emotion that does not praise his actions. At one point, he believed that this would be a true. Grenouille thought to himself “He is going to kill me… He is the only one who has not let himself be deceived by my mask.” (242) as Richis approached him. Despite having his daughter murdered by Grenouille, Richis falls under Grenouille’s guise of tyrannical scent and apologizes to to Grenouille.
Once again, Grenouille experiences a reversal of fortune, expecting Richis to react in an emotion that would strike at his hatred. Instead, Richis becomes blinded by Grenouille’s scent, despite that scent being his own daughter. Grenouille’s moment of anagnorisis, or recognition of an important finding, occurs when he realizes that he could not smell his own odor while stuck in isolation.
His realization occurs during his seclusion within his own “self-made empire”. As the catastrophe is outlined in the chapter, Süskind narrates, “And the awful thing was that Grenouille, although he knew that this odor was his odor, could not smell it. Virtually drowning in himself, he could not for the life of him smell himself! As this became clear to him, he gave a scream as dreadful and loud as if he were being burned alive” (133, 134). Grenouille had discovered his own tragic flaw, which had caused him to escape his life of solitude.
Through this dream of his, Grenouille had believed that this tragic instance was of his own doing. He states that “…my nose is therefore dulled by my own smell.” (135).
Grenouille recognizes that his own actions and willingness to “separate” his scent from others had caused him to undergo the consequences associated with his tragic flaw. Grenouille’s hubris is shown in his death. While his death may be interpreted as Grenouille’s transcendance from the human world, it was nonetheless caused by tunnel-vision view of his singular purpose of developing the greatest scent. At the end of the novel, Süskind states, “He had sprinkled himself all over with the contents of the bottle and all at once he had been bathed in beauty like blazing fire… they drove their claws and teeth into his flesh, they attacked him like hyenas.
” (254). This action not only signifies his death, but shows how his pride in his creations had led to his downfall. Grenouille had accepted his death with honor by willingly dousing himself with his greatest creation. However, what Grenouille would describe as his “ultimate scent” only reveals the pride he takes in his work. He felt as if he had transcended humanity and maintained a God-like complex. At his execution, Süskind states that “..
.no scream would help to wake and free him, no flight would rescue him and bring him into the good, warm world.” (241, 242).
After the amount of adoration and love that Grenouille had witnessed at his scheduled execution, he had no gratitude left in humanity or any desire for love. These actions had inflated his ego and pride, leading to him thinking that those who fall under the guise of the tyrannical scent is beneath him. He felt that only those who could apprehend him for who he really is are worthy enough to have his respect. However, not a single person had met this standard. Thus, his death had not only exhibited an exorbitant amount of courage and honor, but it had also showed how egotistical and prideful he had become.
His interactions with other people had contributed to this mindset as well. Everyone that he has connected with had been flawed emotionally or mentally. They had only reached out to Grenouille when they wanted to get something out of him, typically money. Nobody had showed any actual love or compassion towards him in his early adolescent years nor his childhood. People, such as Madame Gaillard, Grimal and Baldini, had only used him for financial purposes or some other goal that they have.
He was never taught to care about anyone else other than himself, because prideful or conceited people are all that he had dealt with. Because of these experiences and interactions with people, Grenouille had developed a strong sense of pride for his work and himself. Grenouille’s fate, while uncontrollable, had certainly been greater than deserved. Due to his abhorrent childhood and tragic flaw, Grenouille had established a singular purpose in his life: To create the ultimate scent. As seen through his fascination with adolescent women, Grenouille does not have the same standard of ethics or morals as most people would.
As Süskind states in the novel, “Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” (82). In this quote, Grenouille is aware that the power of scent can be so intoxicating that even the strong-willed are unable to resist a fantastic scent.
Beyond his actions that he had committed in order to obtain a scent such as this, Grenouille had proved that he had transcended humanity and did not belong with the rest of these people. Instead of becoming a person who had utilized his talent to become a master perfumer and become recognized across the world for his astounding deeds, Grenouille had been pushed into becoming what everyone around him views as a serial killer. His fate had been determined once he had come into contact with a series of people who displayed a sense of arrogance or pride. These people had a largely negative impact on Grenouille’s life by pushing him to become prideful and conceited as well.
His fate of being eaten alive by cannibals due to his own ultimate scent that he created was certainly greater than what he deserved. Grenouille’s hatred of humanity, as shown in chapter 49, had driven him to the realization that his respect for love had ceased once it was achieved. While his fate may describe his death, his desire to be apprehended for who he really was had also succumbed. As Süskind states, “For once, just for once, he wanted to be apprehended in his true being…” (241). Grenouille had wanted people to recognize what kind of person he was molded to be, and not have others blindly follow what his scent presents him to be. As Grenouille died, so did his respect for anyone.
From these five contentions by Aristotle, Grenouille is a great example of what he would define as a tragic hero. His hubris, hamartia, peripeteia, anagnorisis and fate had all constructed Grenouille’s identity and how he is a metaphor for the excessive amount of pride and the nature of humans to blindly follow others. Süskind had made Grenouille a tragic hero for the purpose of revealing these repulsive traits of humans to society and the reader, and he does so perfectly