Analyzing Protagonists In Metamorphosis And Perfume English Literature Essay

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The novels The Metamorphosis and Perfume both contain characters that change in many different ways. The term "metamorphosis" is defined as a noticeable change in appearance, character, condition, or function. The Metamorphosis was written in 1912 by Franz Kafka and most members of the family in the novel undergo some sort of metamorphosis. The protagonist of the novella, Gregor, is the first to transform. He awakes one morning and realises that he has changed into a gigantic insect. This is of course only a physical change; however as the novella progresses mental transformations occur as well. An example of this is his outlook on life and his views of the family members. On the other hand in Perfume by Patrick Süskind, the protagonist Grenouille has a mostly mental change as he grows up and learns more about the world. We see him alter from a seemingly innocent boy to an experienced violent murder. Gregor's transformation in the novella is passive as is due to the impact of others; the way that his family treat him forces him to change. The family member's actions result in Gregor's attitude to life changing and at the end of the novella Gregor commits suicide because he believes that his existence in the house is the cause of all the sorrow and the loss of income. His transformation was not his choice. Conversely, Grenouille is active in bringing about the way he changes as he moves from an orphan to a perfumer and then finally a man who could enslave the world with his perfume.

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As a contrast to Gregor's immediate change; Grenouille transforms slowly throughout the novel. He grows up in several different environments and learns that the only way to survive in the world is to adapt to his surroundings. Grenouille changes by educating himself as he wants people to notice him. He realises that people are "unaware of his existence" [5] and therefore tries to alter the way society perceives him. "From his youth on, he had been accustomed to people passing him and taking no notice of him" [6] therefore he changes in order to gain an identity in society. Grenouille realises that he has no smell when he spends seven years in a cave away from civilisation. He "could not smell anything in his armpits, nor on his feet, nor around his genitals". [7] This is the reason why he starts to work for Marquis, so that he could gain an identity in society. Grenouille becomes very worried that he does not have an identity which is metaphorically represented as a distinct smell and he sets out back into to civilisation in order to gain a distinct smell for himself. Furthermore he starts to work for the Marquis because he knows that it is the only way to become a respectable perfumer so that he could produce the ultimate perfume. The Marquis "has to instruct him in the basic poses, gestures and dance steps he would need for his coming social debut" [8] and this shows how he has transformed and learnt to deceive people by the way he looks and talks. Throughout the novel, Süskind shows how Grenouille succeeds in life; he shows the reader that adapting to the society is the only way to progress further. The reader witnesses Grenouille's change throughout his life, therefore the change is more believable than Gregor's metamorphosis. This is because Gregor's change is more sudden and it occurs at the beginning of the novel, which is a surprise for the reader.

Gregor's change can be described to be mainly physical because he transforms into a gigantic insect. At the beginning of the novella Gregor enjoys the fact that he is now a 'beast' as he can do things that he could not do while he was human. However as the novella progresses he loses his mobility from the rotting apple in his back. This is significant as it shows that his transformation has caused his loss of freedom. There are some mental changes too, such as him becoming more dependent on his family as the novella develops. At the start of the novella Gregor cared and provided for his family as he was the sole breadwinner; he seemed proud that he was able to provide for his family to have a fairly comfortable life. Gregor then becomes increasingly less responsible for his family and his sister becomes the breadwinner of the family. By doing this is Kafka is showing that men are not the only dominant gender in society and that society could become less patriarchal in the future. We see this as Gregor's sister Grete essentially takes his place in the family; she becomes a "salesgirl" [9] , learns "French" [10] and learns how to write in "shorthand". [11] With these attributes she would be more likely to make her way up in life and provide a comfortable life for her family. Another way that Gregor transforms mentally is when he becomes selfish. At the start and the end of the novella, Gregor seems to place his family's desires ahead of his. He works exceptionally hard at a job he loathed to pay off his "parents debts". [12] Also at the end of the novella he commits suicide as he believes that "the peace, the comfort [and] the contentment" [13] of his family would disappear if he stays alive. However at particular times, he becomes slightly selfish and he puts his own desires before his family's. An example of this is when he wants to keep his belongings in his room whilst Grete wants to move them. He wanted to keep possession of a picture so eagerly that "he would rather fly in Grete's face" [14] than "give it up". [15] 

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In contrast to Gregor's physical change, Grenouille's change is mostly mental. Grenouille begins with a thirst for knowledge and success then this changes with his development of a new perfume. This made him transform his passion for perfumes into an obsession which ends up ultimately causing his death. He is so eager to produce the ultimate perfume that he would do anything to make it. This forces him to commit murders of innocent girls, to preserve their scents and use them in his perfume. At the end of the novel he is transformed into something so irresistible due to his perfume that people tear him into bits and feed on him like cannibals. The change from it being a passion to an obsession is significant because Süskind could be hinting to the reader to never to give up on our dreams even if we fail. However, it could also be Süskind, warning us that if our goals turn into an obsession, it could lead to our downfalls just like what happened to Grenouille.

In conclusion, both characters change dramatically and significantly throughout the novels. They have changed in different ways but in both cases these transformations allow the plot to develop. Gregor's transformation was passive and sudden which makes it shocking for the reader. However Grenouille brought the change upon himself and it was a gradual transformation throughout the novel. I think that Kafka's purpose in The Metamorphosis was to show how people need take responsibility for themselves as anything could happen. He shows this as Gregor's change was unexpected and was not his choice. On the other hand, I believe that Süskind's purpose in Perfume was to show how obsession can lead to chaotic things, in this case, death. He illustrates this by showing how Grenouille slowly educates himself and gradually becomes more and more sinister to an extent that he murders people even though it seems unconscious initially.

Word Count: 1487