Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer Summary and Analysis of Chapters 50-51

In Chapter 50, Grenouille awakens in Laure Richis’ bed. The incredible public orgy is still taking place in Grasse, and Antoine Richis is waiting by the bed for Grenouille to wake up. From Richis, Grenouille learns that the magistrate has overturned the verdict against him, so Grenouille is no longer in any legal jeopardy.

Richis continues with a fatuous speech, begging Grenouille to come and live with him as his son, and saying how much Grenouille is like her. Richis is so abject, and so embarrassingly pleading with Grenouille to love him, that Grenouille cannot burst his illusion. He agrees to be adopted as Richis’ son. Grenouille then feigns sleep, and finally Richis blows out the candle and leaves the room.

Once alone, Grenouille carefully and silently leaves Richis’ house. He picks his way through the sleeping town, over the bodies of the debauched and drunken orgy-makers, who have finally collapsed from their revels. Grenouille walks straight away from town, directly over the fields. As the sun rises, the people awaken, shocked at the state of themselves and, even if they had not drunk wine, with great headaches and nausea from the excesses of Grenouille’s master scent. A sort of collective amnesia settles in, and the event is never spoken of again.

Druot is now charged with Grenouille’s crimes, for it is was in his cabin that the evidence was found. They torture him until he confesses and begs for execution. Druot, the innocent man, is hung quietly and without any fuss, and the case is soon forgotten. Travelers can no longer get people to answer about what happened to the notorious murderer; only a few of the insane from the Charité babble about any of these events.

Part Four of the book consists only of Chapter 51, the final chapter. Once again, Grenouille is traveling by night. As in his first journey to the Plomb du Cantal, Grenouille avoids people and lives off of vegetation and the invertebrates he can catch. He goes near his former mountain home but feels no desire to go back to his solitary cave. He feels that he can no longer live either with human beings or without them. “He was suffocated by both worlds” (251). He plans to go to Paris to die.

Grenouille still has the flacon of the incredible fragrance. One drop only had he used to manipulate the entire population of Grasse. Since the flacon is almost full, he has enough to make everyone in Paris think he is the new Messiah, or the next emperor. There is nothing he cannot do with this powerful fragrance, and he has plenty of it. “He possessed the power ... a power stronger than the power of money or the power of terror or the power of death: the invincible power to command the love of mankind” (252).

But Grenouille perceives that this is not enough because he cannot love himself. He knows that, even though he can appear as the most wonderful of individuals to everyone in the world with this scent, he cannot smell himself and, therefore, he cannot know who he truly is. With this lack of self-knowledge, the world and himself have no meaning.

Grenouille also reflects that he is so different from humanity because he understands desires for scents themselves, not just seeing the effects of the scents. Grenouille never desired Laure for herself; he only desired her scent. When Grenouille wore the master scent, people desired him for himself, and they did not know that they were simply being manipulated by the smell. What the people truly wanted was a total mystery to them. Though this seems to be an important truth, Grenouille, who is existentially depressed and suicidal, does not dwell on it.

On a hot day in June 1766, Grenouille enters the city of Paris. Grenouille goes to the Cimitière des Innocents and waits for nightfall. A ruffian-looking group assembles around a small campfire; they are murderers and criminals of every kind. Grenouille comes to their campfire and immediately covers himself with the entire contents of the bottle of the exquisite perfume. In short order the mob surrounds Grenouille, tears him to pieces, and eats every part of him. The cannibals feel incredibly happy, if a bit embarrassed, after this act: “For the first time they had done something out of love” (255).


The theme that humanity does not know what it truly longs for is brought out pessimistically in these last two chapters. Everything that could possibly be called attractive in this world is boiled down to one thing: personal scent. So, when people love other human beings, it is only because their chemical composition creates that effect in other people. If this is as fully the case as Grenouille discovers, there is no free will in the world, no volition, and, most importantly, no love.

That Grenouille discovers this apparent truth through the curious twist of a talent for smelling is a unique method of existential exploration. Are human beings so deluded that they are completely controlled by things about which they understand nothing? Do irrational forces, such as pheromones and personal scents, determine our actions more than free will or logic, or even emotion? Süskind’s book invites this kind of internal exploration of motives and reality.

Yet, Grenouille’s extreme view seems to go too far, calling into question the findings of science that suggest a much wider variety of human motivations and choices. While Grenouille’s universe is controlled by scent--to the subjugation of not only every single other sense but also free will, logic, coincidence, or probability--it also is preposterous. Grenouille is obviously a fantastical construction, for no human being’s sense of smell was ever so fine. Nor is it possible that anyone could be born giving off no personal scent whatsoever. These are not the only impossible premises on which the book is founded, but they are the most central to the story. The extreme case presented by the author helps us think about what really motivates us, consciously or not.

Since a world like Grenouille’s does not exist, his premise of the sovereignty of scent is wrong. Another reason the author may have presented Grenouille’s case this way is so that readers might examine their own false premises about how the world really works, and, subsequently, guard against the kind of dysfunctional, internal life that Grenouille creates for himself. Grenouille is a monster born with no scent, a preternaturally sharp nose, and the power of will, observation, and cognition. He is an impossible human being who ultimately feels godlike in his delusion--which, strangely, is never challenged because in the world the author has created, smells really do become sovereign. As for us, what kind of impossible human beings do people create in their own minds, such as by prejudice or ignorance, and what kinds of impossible human beings do we think we are, magnifying a single flaw or a single asset into the ruling aspect of our being? The presentation of a fantasy world like this one leads us to wonder what in our own lives, including perhaps nationalism, chauvinism, racism, religion, superstition, environmentalism, or science, is based upon false premises or on ideas stretched beyond the breaking point, so that we too easily believe in impossible, improbable, or wholly evil others.

That humanity does not know itself at all, and, especially, has no idea about what it really desires or loves, are two main tenets of this novel. Despite what humans think they know via religion, science, or “common sense,” humanity, it seems, is uniquely situated to misunderstand itself. When a human being has the genius or the misfortune to understand the deeper truths of the world, such as Grenouille does, he or she is wholly out of place and, in the end, a misunderstood force in the world.