Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Why is scent important in the novel?

- In relation to Grenouille's self identity

- Like what does Grenouille's inability to understand emotions got to do with his talented nose

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This novel takes as a premise that scent controls a large portion of human behavior, usually on an unconscious level. It is important to note this premise, for the entire internal plot (but not necessarily the external plot of Grenouille's social actions) turns on this idea. It is not only his supernatural sense of smell that is the focus of Grenouille's life, but the idea that humans' scents are integral to their humanity. Grenouille is subhuman, both in his own mind and, at least unconsciously, in the minds of others, because he has no personal odor. When he discovers this personal characteristic in his hideout in the Massif Centrale, he is shocked and somewhat horrified. He has never met another human being with no smell; that he cannot smell himself, despite his marvelous nose, seems monstrous to him--demonstrating why he seems monstrous to everyone else.

A corollary to the premise that scent is nearly tyrannical--determining a great deal of how people treat each other--is that adolescent girls have the best scents. This idea is further refined with the perception that beautiful girls have better scents than other girls, and with those of the red-haired type having the finest. It is also maintained that these teenage female scents are appealing to everyone, not simply heterosexual males. This last idea is perhaps the most fantastical notion of all. It creates the possibility of the ending, in which Grenouille, drenched with the scents of the dead girls, becomes so appealing that the Paris mob eats him.