Olfactory Confirmation in Patrick Suskind’s Perfume

The scent of the human body is unique and that plays an important role in different spheres of our life. There is a presumption that spiritual awareness is reached by enhancing the power of scent (Streep 2003) The significance of people’s odor also defines sexual attraction. Moreover, it reveals the type of personality and strength of character. Thus, the body is not just a combination of organs; it intermingles with feelings and emotions and characterizes one’s humanity. As such, the humanity of the body is identified by a unique fragrance that helps people to define the character and to describe the body from the emotional and psychological side. In addition, the scent of the body is a specific language with the help of which humans can single out their preferences.

The main character of the book, Jean Baptist Grenouille was abandoned at birth and blessed with the unique sense of smell. His gift empowers him with the ability to make marvelous perfume. Once he experiences to smell the scent of the virgin, he is obsessed with desire to keep it. The protagonist is therefore in constant search of the perfect female scent that would satisfy his lack of humanity.

Grenouille’s ultimate ambition is to create a perfume that captures the essence of that feminine scent, which, for him, is the perfect perfume. His extreme aspiration for female odors is explained by his desire to compensate for the absence of his own. The book which was first published in Germany in 1985, by Patrick Suskind that turned into the feature film. In the novel and the film (Perfume) the female body is opposed to male using scent. The film is also about the power of female fragrance, which is seldom ignored by men, but in fact, scent is the decisive point that constitutes the human sexuality.

The study of human flesh refers back to the nineteenth century when the cult of human body played an important role thus reflecting the religious and cultural aspects (Spooner 2004). The great interest in human body was based on the belief that the body is the material representation of soul. Gothic world perceives the body “as continuously inhabited both by its own past memories and by ineluctable pre-vision of its future fate” (Waugh, 2006). According to that, the notion of the body should be associated with a person’s fate. For Gothic people, the body was more than the coverage for the organs; it was the symbol of individuality and uniqueness. According to Hurley (1996), “Gothic offers a spectacle of a body metamorphic and undifferentiated; in the place of possibility of human transcendence, the prospect of an existence circumscribed within the realities of gross corporeality” (p. 56). Regarding that, human scent was a kind of intermediary between body and soul.

The Gothic representation of the body resorts to the expression of spirituality through material form so that in the nineteenth century, the representation of human body was revealed through gender identification, flesh opposing to soul, and wounds. In most gothic horrors, female body often undergoes some physical suffering inflicted by a man (Balley 1996). Men always tried to reveal their domination over the women. In that regard, the novel Perfume is the manifestation of male power where a woman’s scent is the only weakness that Grenouille wants to eliminate.

In the given story of a murder, the author renders the idea, that body is the somatic limit for people to express their ego. In that way, attempts of the Suskind’s hero to catch the perfect smell were predetermined by his desire to perceive the world. He aimed to find his own aroma and place in the world. In the film, we could observe, how the human’s scent could define the personality and social status. According to Suskind, Grenouille wanted to possess the scent to acquire the humanity and individuality (Natoli 1992)

In the movie and in the book, the young man, Jean-Baptist Grenouille realizes that human language is too limited to express all the smells of the world. Instead, the fragrances around him are too diverse so that the words are not able to render the scent perception. In that respect, the body language helps the human language thus adding the missing expressiveness to it (Suskind 2006). Using the scent, of the movement, the body could reveal a deeper sense than do the words. According to Katharine Young (1997), “The heightening of tactile and olfactory senses is accompanied by an elision of social presence.” The flesh scent is the measure of our humanity (Stoddart 1990). The body establishes the frames that are hard to overcome. The scent given to humans is an inborn gift that predetermines our future and our fate. The body could speak using odors and specific gestures. There exists an inherent connection between the body scent, movement, and social status (Toller 1992). Humans from the upper classes have the scent of luxury and money, humble people are recognized by the primitive adores. In case it is true, then what factor is prior? Here, it is necessary to remind the scene from the film where the Grenouille’s antagonist, the last girl possessing the divine scent belonged to a privileged class.

As the main function of the language is to represent the meaning of different phenomena, the scent should be also regarded as a method to express the different meanings of objects. The scent and the spoken language are differentiated by the different ways of representation. Hall (1997) in his Representation states: “Spoken language uses sounds, written language uses words, musical language uses notes on a scale, the ‘the language of the body’ uses physical gestures.” The main advantage of body lies in expressiveness and diversity, as body scent possesses even more profound meaning than the spoken language does. The main advantage of body lies in expressiveness and diversity. Body signs are even more than spoken language as it provokes the creation of more profound images.

The scent could be regarded as the language of gender and sexuality. We could find other reasons for Jean’s Baptist’s longing for female fragrances. Researchers proved that scent “often produces emotional response…this system also controls emotions related to fear, aggression, stress, and sexuality” (Krychman 2009). His theory is based on the fact that body and soul are closely related to each other so that it is natural when body generated the desire to possess. Therefore, the fragrance of the body is the synonym for erotic sensibility that identifies the sexuality. In the novel, the character is predominantly motivated by the desire to cognate what is prohibited because of his low status and distorted moral values. Jean-Baptiste’s involvement in the world of female odors is conditioned by the biological instincts (Suskind: 245). The final scene of the movie discloses the Grenouille’s life goal. He creates the perfect scent that makes people adore him. The symbolism of the scene lies in humans’ dependence on their sexual desires that are enhanced by the body scents. It should be also mentioned that in Perfume sexuality is rendered with the help of gender factors and inborn instincts. Also, body language can express the desires and primitive needs but not elevated feelings and complicated psychological states. On the other hand, this sex aspect is underestimated. Sex is discussed in medicine and social psychology. The carnal desires were a potential ground for social and cultural disputes (Giddens, 1993).

The body also renders feelings and psychology. For instance, in Gothic literature, the feeling of fear is often described as a bodily experience. The body is the medium, through which fear is materialized, to make it perceivable not only through pain but also through image. Balley (2006) points out that flesh and blood terrify people. They tend to provoke abhorrent associations. As such, the body as depicted in Perfume can be described as a sign and the symbol. Patrick Suskind discloses in his novel the presence of bodily fear in the eighteenth century as the method to control sexuality and desire. Public punishment was an effective tool to restrain the carnal desires of humans. The history witnesses that fear to experience bodily pain helped people uncover the truth and gain new knowledge. Regarding that, fleshly pain was the main weapon for controlling humans and their actions. Such methods were practiced by the church to lessen the crimes. The punishments of the criminals were executed in public so that people could realize what suffering they may endure in care they dare to outrage the law. In that period, “the body became the site of a new disciplinary regime” (Hall: 51).

Referring to film and to the novel, the protagonist lives in his own world of moral and social values. The process of killing is the just the only way to obtain the desirable scent. The bodily fear and the threat to lose the life reveal people’s true character.

The movie managed to convey the main secret of the body and magic of the reality (Zamora 1995). Suskind emphasizes that body is not just the flesh and blood but also a complicated somatic tool that propels the emotional mechanism. The screen version of the novel is a real masterpiece of cinematography. Using skillful shots and splendid and mysterious, accentuation of important details, the picture helps you to penetrate the world of body beauty and divine scents. The director Tom Tykwer uses music and sound as the closest representations of the odors so that the viewer could easily perceive the diversity of smells. In the scene when the famous perfumer teaches Grenouille how to hold scents, the music functions as representation of fragrances. Here, the film discloses the down-to-earth life as something magic because here the life is presented from unusual aspect. The movie also impresses the new concepts and meanings of fragrances that are inserted in an ordinary life of peasants and their masters. The novel and its screen version contain numerous scenes of nudity that were tastefully described. Especial consideration requires the scene that depicts Grenouille’s cognition of scents. Here, we see the expression of greed on his face, his desire to saturate all the scents of the world. Yet Jean-Baptist does not differentiate the bad and good smells until he meets a young girl with plums. This scene renders not only the desire for possession; the author presents how the body can “speak” thus involving scenes that contain but words so that the viewer could comprehend and feel the real value of olfactory capability. This is especially revealed in the killing of the first girl.

Perfumer by Patrick Suskind is a novel that involves the magic world of scents. The novel encourages the reader to appreciate the merits of breath in the odors granted by the nature. The protagonist is in the quest for an “ultimate perfume” – the scent of a young virgin. He believes that this perfume will give him an absolute control over humanity and society. Deprived of sensuality, Jean-Baptist believes that his extraordinary olfactory confirmation would grant him social recognition. The book narrated that body odor is the most powerful communication tool that makes people dependent and subjugated. It is also the expression of sexuality and feminine attraction. The author depicts the attraction of human scent and why the body was the object for discussion in the Gothic era. The book and its screen version are the manifestations of scent as the main sign of humanity, gender and sexuality. Finally, the novel suggests that the body identifies the doom of a person.

List of References

Balley, L. 1996 Writing horror and the body: the fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice, Greenwood Publishing Group, USA.

Giddens, A 1993 The transformation of intimacy: sexuality, love and eroticism in modern societies, Stanford University Press.

Foucault, M. 1990. The History of Sexuality: an Introduction. Vintage, London.

Hall, S and Open University 1997 Representation: cultural representations and satisfying practices Sage, London.

Hurley, K. 1996 The Gothic Body: CUP, Cambridge.

Krychman, M. L. 2009. 100 Questions and answers about women’s sexual wellness and Vitality. John and Barlette Publishers, UK.

Natoli, J. P. 1992 Mots d’ordre: disorder in literary worlds, SUNY Press, USA.

Perfume , 2006 Germany, France, Constantine film production.

Spooner, C. 2004, Fashioning Gothic Bodies, MUP, Manchester.

Stoddart 1990. The scented ape :the biology and culture of human odour. Cambridge University Press, UK.

Streep P. and Glover, J. 2003 Spiritual Gardening: Creating Sacred Space Outdoors, New World Library, China.

Suskind, Patrick 2006 Perfume. Vintage, London.

Toller, S. V. and Dodd, G. H.1992 Fragrance: the psychology and biology of perfume. Springer, US.

Waugh, P. 2006 Literary and criticism: an Oxford Guide. Oxford University Press, Great Britain.

Young K. G. 1997. Presence in the flesh: the body in medicine. Harward University Press, US.

Zamora, L. P. and Faris W. B. 1995. Magical realism: theory, history, community. Duke University Press, UK.

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