How Süskind has used narrative to develop the plot and the characters in part 1 of “Perfume”

The first part of the novel “Perfume” explores how Grenouille’s meaningless life takes an interesting turn when he is introduced to the world of scents. Grenouille’s dream of becoming the greatest perfumer ever is realised in the first part of the novel and there are many events that led up to this point.

The first chapter of the book, written in first-person narration explores and captures the author’s portrayal of the eighteenth century in the foulest smelling city in France, Paris.

The phrasing and literary devices as well as the use of such powerful and revolting imagery to describe each particular unappealing smell in explicit detail emphasises the supremacy of each smell to the reader. The word order of these descriptions make is easy to overwhelm the reader with mixed feelings of shock and disgust but at the same time, there are feelings of awe and fascination.

One thing interesting about the beginning of the book is the ironic bond between the title of the novel and the content this extract.

The title of the novel “Perfume” contradicts with the repetition of words such as “stink” and “stench”. This makes the reader feel as though Grenouille’s idea of amazing scents aren’t the same as an average person. Grenouille is attracted to the most extreme scents – the most beautiful and the most disgusting – telling us that he is clearly too abnormal to be considered human.

The use of animals is very important in this novel as it helps the reader understand how the author intended his characters to be portrayed.

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There are many references to animals throughout the novel which affects the plot.

Grenouille was born in a fish market during the 18th century. This was a place that was filled with the foul smell of fish and it an ironic way, this fits in with Grenouille’s character. Moreover, he was born in a “pile of fish guts” showing that Grenouille was a victim of social decay where society has degraded to the point where babies – a pure, innocent gift from God – mattered just has much as fish guts. “Beneath the swarm of flies and amid the offal and fish heads” is where Grenouille is first found at the fish market, telling us that he was a very insignificant being and that his birth would foreshadow what was to come in his life. He was born in a gruesome and smelly place and he would grow up and have a death more gruesome than his birth.

His death was a vicious one which somehow made everything that he had already done seem tame. “They lunged at him, pounced on him, threw him to the ground. Each of them wanted to touch him, wanted to have a piece of him, a feather, a bit of plumage, a spark from that wonderful fire. They tore away his clothes, his hair, his skin from his body, they plucked him, they drove their claws and teeth into his flesh. They attacked him like hyenas.” This quote near the end of the book makes the ordinary citizens of France seem like carnivorous animals which helps the reader understand how they were feeling when they smelt the scent that was coming from Grenouille when he dumped the perfume over himself. They couldn’t be anything but brutal as they were so overcome with animal instinct that they forgot that they were human.

The main character – Jean-Baptiste Grenouille – has been given the most interesting and unique name. “Jean-Baptiste” is obviously linked to the religious figure “John the Baptist” who was sentenced to death by being be-headed. The word “Grenouille” in French means “frog” which is a tailless creature. This is one major difference which frogs have from most of the rest of the animal kingdom and this is a major link to Jean-Baptiste Grenouille as he is different from the others. The author suggests that he is not a real human being as he seems to be some sort of sociopath with no feelings for other people. The fact that he has no scent distances him from other human beings; Grenouille is not human. He is missing an important part of humanity. His lack of a personal smell is parallel to John the Baptist’s eventual lack of a head – and to the frog’s lack of a tail. This makes Grenouille very different; he is like an alien creature and is seen as portrayed as even lower than a peasant in the novel.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is also greatly associated with another animal: a tick. This tiny, insignificant creature is associated with Grenouille due to many different reasons. Ticks are small, unpleasant, blood-sucking insects which can wait for the longest time before pouncing and sucking the life – blood – out of an unsuspecting host. This is a direct link to when Grenouille ‘hibernated’ in the cave for 7 years before eventually striking and killing Laure Richis for ‘the scent’.

Süskind’s use of animals has been a significant help in the reader understand the different characters’ personalities and their mind-sets to the situations that they were put in making. Grenouille’s character was especially linked to many animals which aided us in making sense of the plot and foreseeing the future events of the book.

“The cry that followed his birth, the cry with which he had brought himself to people’s attention and his mother to the gallows, was not an instinctive cry for sympathy and love. That cry, emitted upon careful consideration, one might almost say upon mature consideration, was the newborn’s decision against love and nevertheless for life. Under the circumstances, the latter was possible only without the former, and had the child demanded both, it would doubtless have abruptly come to a grisly end. Of course, it could have grabbed the other possiblity open to it and held its peace and thus have chosen the path from birth to death without a detour by way of life, sparing itself and the world a great deal of mischief. But to have made such a modest exit would have demanded a modicum of native civility, and that Grenouille did not possess.” In this quotation, Süskind attributes powers of understanding and free to the baby Grenouille. A newborn making a “mature” decision is ridiculous, and this suggestion makes Grenouille all the more monstrous. It’s already shocking that a child’s cry is the death warrant of its own mother but to say that it was intentional makes the child seem evil. Süskind makes it seem as though this was a thought out decision, laying guilt and blame on the Grenouille from the beginning.

Without really knowing it, the reader has already discovered something that will repeat throughout the novel. The death of Grenouille’s mother is the beginning of a pattern because many of the major characters of the novel end up dying after meeting Grenouille, proposing that he intentionally chose his own life over everyone else’s.

Chapter 8 marks the beginning of the murders that Grenouille commits. It begins on September 1, 1753, the anniversary of King Louis XV’s coronation. This already makes the chapter seem special and significant. Grenouille is present for the fireworks on the right bank of the Seine, but he is not interested in watching them. He has come to see if he can find something new to smell. Here, Süskind seems to emphasise the fact that Grenouille is abnormal as he has come to seek out something that others can’t instead of enjoy the firework display that everyone else is present for. Grenouille, however, does catch a scent: “rolling down the rue de Seine like a ribbon, unmistakably clear, and yet as before very delicate and very fine”. This line shows how rare it is for a scent like this to attract him. Grenouille seems to be very selective of the scents that he deems to be worthy and the way that the narrator describes this scent shows us that he approves and wants more.

There were more descriptions of this scent: “This scent was inconceivable, indescribable, could not be categorised in any way – it really not ought to exist” and also: “It was only purer, and in its augmented purity, it took on an even greater power of attraction. Grenouille walked with no will of his own.” These two quotes show us how unique this scent really is. It is everything to him and his nose is leading him to it in order to find where it was coming from.

“The source was a girl. For a moment he was confused that he actually thought he had never in his life seen anything as beautiful as this girl… And so it happened for the first time in his life, Grenouille did not trust his nose and had to call on his eyes for assistance if he was to believe what he smelled.” The way that the author has chosen to write about the plum girl and the scent that she emits helps us get into Grenouille’s mind set. He was so shocked that this scent was coming from a person that he had to use his other senses to confirm what he was smelling. This tells us that Grenouille had already categorised humans as a normal, nothing special scent for he didn’t believe that there was a human that could smell so good.

Grenouille ends up killing the girl in order to not attract attention to himself. The death scene is very quick and precise making the reader seem as though it was planned but afterwards, the narration makes us ponder whether it was just done as a spur-of-the-moment thing due to the panic that was evoked within him. “After he had smelled the last faded scent of her, he crouched beside her for a while, collecting himself, for he was brimful with her. He did not want to spill a drop of her scent.” This quotation shows that Grenouille cares for her scent and that humanity is not a priority, making him seem even less humane.

“A murder had been the start of this splendour – if he was at all aware of the fact, it was a matter of total indifference to him. Already he could no longer recall how the girl from the rue de Marais had looked, not her face, not her body. He had preserved the best part of her and made it his own: the principle of her scent.” These are the lines that end chapter 8 and are a perfect finish to the murder that has just been committed. Grenouille cares not for the girl at all but for the scent that he was able to smell. He considers himself lucky for finding it and shows the reader that he feels no remorse whatsoever for the innocent life that he took.

The next few chapters introduced Baldini, Chenier (and to a certain extent Pélissier). Baldini is, ironically, wearing a “blue coat adorned with gold frogs”. This is a direct link with Grenouille as his name means frog and also the fact that is a very precious person to Baldini. It could also suggest that a “frog” is about to enter Baldini’s life and this it will make him a lot of gold. Either way, the author has linked these two characters in this way.

There is a chapter in where Baldini and Chenier (Baldini’s apprentice) have a conversation and it has been written in the form of a script. Süskind obviously meant for his to be intentional and there are many different reasons why this could be. The fact that it is a script shows that the conversation was very accurate and that the content has been mentioned so many times that it has become a regular occurrence. We get better insight into Baldini and Chenier’s characters with this script form and the reader finds out the even though Chenier is very talented, he isn’t the “chosen one”, Grenouille is.

Baldini’s character is unveiled even further as the reader finds out that he is a very traditional man and his talents aren’t appreciated as there were before as the people are turning to another perfumer, Pélissier, for his new fragrance “Amor and Psyche”. This frustrates Baldini as he cannot make something new that the people desire. In order to try and save his business, he asks Chenier to buy a bottle of “Amor and Psyche” so that he can try to replicate it. Baldini’s traditional ideas are tainted when he decides to cheat in this way showing that he is a dishonourable, money-loving man. When Baldini is unable to replicate “Amor and Psyche”, has a severe breakdown and gives up hope. He makes plans to retire with his wife as soon as possible. Grenouille is like saviour as he is able to dissect the perfume and make it even better than before. Baldini uses Grenouille’s talent to get more appealing fragrances from him even when Grenouille is dying from a disease, showing us Baldini’s selfish character.

As mentioned before, Grenouille is seen as an agent of death in his novel. It’s not only the murdered victims who suffer at Grenouille’s hands; the main actors in Grenouille’s life tend to come to bitter or sticky ends, and the novelist usually tells the reader of those ends just as that actor is leaving Grenouille’s life. Madame Gaillard, who raised Grenouille to the age of eight but gave him no love or affection (mainly because she was incapable of it), dies with a complete lack of dignity in a public hospital, which was her greatest fear. Grimal, the tanner, who had treated Grenouille abominably by making him do very hard labor and locking him in a closet to sleep, died on the night he “sold” Grenouille’s apprenticeship to Baldini. After Grenouille leaves him, the science-obsessed Marquis decides to go to and sit at the top of a 9,000-foot peak for three weeks to prove his theories correct was never to be found, inferring that he died. Baldini the perfumer dies when his house falls into the river after the bridge collapses, the very night after Grenouille leaves him. All of these deaths suggest that Grenouille carries a curse. He is practically inhuman and almost a demon as he is scentless, unloved, and alone. Everything else he touches withers or dies. Grenouille, a person without sympathy for or from anyone beyond his childhood, is an unstoppable and unpredictable force of death and destruction.

This story focuses on evil, particularly evil in human beings. The examination of “evil” is unemotional and meant to come across as a serious analysis and so I feel as though this story is written in a scientific way. The structure is similar to that of historical writings, with an omniscient narrator and very little dialogue. The scenes in Grenouille’s life are “recorded” instead of experienced. I think that if the story were narrated by Grenouille, the reader would be likely to sympathize with him as we would actually know his real thoughts and feelings.

“Perfume” is a unique coming of age story. It demonstrates how a man grows and matures as a result of his nature and the environment he is raised in. To demonstrate this theme, the novel is structured in four parts, like four stages of development: youth, adolescence, adulthood, and death. The first section shows Grenouille as a young child, learning to interact with his surroundings; then the second section demonstrates his interaction with society. The third section shows him finding a path in life and the last section shows him trying to flee from his inevitable death.

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How Süskind has used narrative to develop the plot and the characters in part 1 of “Perfume”. (2019, Jan 09). Retrieved from

How Süskind has used narrative to develop the plot and the characters in part 1 of “Perfume”
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