Perfume Written By Suskind English Literature Essay

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Grenouille is born amidst filth in Paris, the streets "stank of manure, the stench of costic Iyes from the tanneries"[2]. He is rejected by his mother at birth who, by cutting of the "umbilical cord with her gutting knife,"[3] disassociates and distances herself from him forever. Unlike her four still births who she left to die, however, Grenouille survived and evolved into a serial killer. This childhood trauma of abandonment and abuse and the grotesque way in which the mother literally leaves Grenouille to fend for himself in the "foetid odour of burnt animal horn"[4] evokes pity and sympathy for the baby. These smells create an atmosphere and prepare us for what has yet to come. He is abandoned on the steps of an orphanage where the other children attempt to smother him to death but "he survived the measles, chicken pox, a twenty foot fallw into a well and a scalding with boiling water poured over his chest" [5] [5]which left him with a "slightly crippled foot" [6] [6]and a limp "but he lived." [7] [7]Any other child faced with such traumatic experience without the care of a mother's warmth would have breathed his last, but not Grenouille.

'The House of the Spirits' by Isabelle Alende is a magical effort depicting social upheaval and political turmoil in Chile, a volatile country in Latin America. Esteban Trueba belongs to that minority of social and economic elite class which controls the fortunes of the majority: peasants and laborers. He is born of a union between his wealthy mother Dona Ester Trueba and a "good for nothing immigrant" [8] [8] father who squanders all the money to leave his children in utter penury. Esteban is, like Grenouille, deprived of the warm, caring touch of his mother though the reasons are different. She was "immobile in her chair" and "was put back into her bed, propped up in the half seated position that was the only one her arthritis allowed." Esteban thus has a difficult childhood. "His had been a childhood of privations, discomfort, harshness, interminable night-time rosaries, fear, and guilt." [9] [9] 

In 'Perfume', Grenouille commits his first murder accidentally to "capture" the smell of a young virgin. We are revolted at such senseless killing but also perplexed because he does not ravish the girl. However, Grenouille realized that the "meaning and goal and purpose of his life had a higher destiny: nothing less than to revolutionize the odiferous world." [10] [10] "A murder had been start of his splendor. If he was at all aware of the fact, it was a matter of total indifference to him." [11] [11]Later, when he begs Baldini to give him work we want him to succeed even though we hope that he fails. In his ruthless killing of young girls in the pursuit of a distilled, pure scent, we are morbidly fascinated by the vials of perfume. We are moved by Grenouille's desperation and his need for acceptance for which he would go to any length. At the end of his self imposed hibernation, he realizes that 'only one odour was not there-his own odour', 'a scream as dreadful and loud as if he were being burned alive' came out of him. Since Grenouille determines identity through smell and the fact that he cannot smell himself brings him the realization that he does not have an identity. He experiences the fear of not knowing anything about himself. The reader identifies and sympathizes with the insecurity that Grenouille possesses, because he has no odour and thus he is an outcast in society.

Similarly, Esteban is savage and barbaric in Tres Marias "tumbling young girls on the rushes of the riverbank…sowing the entire region with his bastard offspring." [12] [12]However, Tres Marias reflects the rule rather than an exception to exploitation of the lower classes by the upper class and Esteban is only living his role- "he could tolerate no opposition; he viewed the slightest disagreement as a provocation." [13] [13] "The peasants had not heard of unions, or Sundays off, or the minimum wages." [14] [14] Atrocities were committed against the citizens as torture, beatings, and rape were common practice. Esteban Trueba's rape of Pancha García is a reflection of the exploitation of the peasant classes by the upper classes. Thus, Esteban serves as a metaphor for all the ills afflicting the society at that time.

Both books follow the tradition of bildungsroman: the protagonists suffer an emotional loss in the beginning of the story and both feature their journey through life, conflicts between them and society and their steely determination to excel and follow the path they have charted for themselves. Grenouille is driven, excessively obsessed with the idea of perfecting the best perfume. We admire his passion, his frantic pace of rushing against time to prove something to himself for which he suffers tiny cramped living quarters, surviving on bare minimum food and winning the battle against life threatening 'syphilitic small pox'.

 In 'The House of the spirits' Esteban Trueba's cruel treatment of his wife, daughter, and female workers represents Allende's depiction of females as sexual objects. But despite the fact that Esteban rapes, pillages, kills and conspires, he never entirely loses the reader's sympathy. It is a remarkable achievement to make him lovable not just to his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, and the other women in his life, but also to the reader. This is done through the third voice that belongs to Esteban Trueba, whose first person accounts serve to express either his intense passion or his acute suffering. "I'm the patron here now." Esteban is a complex character as his words would reveal. Had these words not been there, we would have summarily dismissed him as a fiendish rogue. Despite his hatred of peasants, Esteban is driven by a desire for the attention and affection of others. Approaching death however, he begins to see the negative outcomes of his violent, selfish actions and becomes increasingly aware of how lonely he is.

The gore starts early in 'The House of the Spirits' with Clara witnessing the autopsy of her sister and the assistant ravaging her corpse. When Nivea meets with an accident and her head is split from her body and thrown away, we are horrified, a feeling that deepens when the head is brought and placed in the basement of the house. These gory images coupled with a matter of fact tone to bring forth the massacre, violence and Alba's captivity during the coup serve to highlight that characters and situations are mirrors of the clash and turmoil in Chile at that time.

We respond to the tragic and repulsive nature of the unfortunate Grenouille with a certain amount of horror and pity. Grenouille's mastery at creating an unparalleled perfume is not overshadowed by the mass orgy that he evokes on dousing himself with this perfume made from the skin of virgins. It is ironic that 'each man, each woman, in the hands of the little man in the blue frock coat for better or worse loved him.' Ironic also because of the terror instilled by the murders that went into the making of the scent. He does not kill others for pleasure, but to obtain their scent. For this reason his victims were only the ones who Grenouille thought had extraordinary scents. Since the reader knows that scent represents identity it could be said that Grenouille's motive for murdering his victims is to acquire an identity.

Suskind and Alende's writing techniques are also distinctive in the way they use phrases and imagery to make violent and grotesque descriptions realistic and repulsive. "They drove their claws and teeth into his flesh, they attacked him like hyenas" [15] [15]and "Esteban wore a tiny suede bag …in it were his wife's false teeth, which he treated as a token of good luck and expiation" [16] [16]Through these techniques, we are drawn into the world of Grenouille and Esteban.

To sum up, both the characters chart unconventional paths replete with horror to carve an identity for themselves but they have reasons for their actions- Grenouille is searching for an identity that he lacks while Esteban is just doing what his station in society of that time required and hence, we do not despise them despite the atrocious acts they commit.

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