Name: Elena ThompsonSection: 11/10Faith is Manipulated How much free will do humans truly have? Are we all controlled by powers that we are unaware of? In the book “Perfume,” the author Patrick Süskind criticizes the manipulation that leads to faith through Grenouille’s rise to power, Baldini’s self-serving faith, Grenouille’s hatred of god, and the portrayal of Grenouille as a Christ figure.
Patrick Süskind uses Grenouille’s power to criticize the ease in which humans are manipulated. Grenouille realizes that all he needs to control people is a beautiful scent that clouds their judgement; “they would love him as they stood under the spell of his scent… they would sink to their knees… as if under God’s cold incense… to smell him, Grenouille… omnipotent god of scent” (61). Grenouille realizes that the power of smell and to create manipulative fragrances is a path to power.
This also helps him begin to realize that all of the power in the world is an illusion driven by scent. Grenouille smells the incense in a church, recognizing that the smell is not truly frankincense; “How ridiculous… the scent… of…
this God… It was not even genuine frankincense… . A bad substitute…” (61). Grenouille sees that humans don’t even have to have genuine experiences to believe. The fake frankincense at the church epitomizes Grenouille’s belief that the people around him can easily be influenced by a mirage. After Grenouille saves himself from execution with his perfect smell, the town Bishop falls to his knees in bliss:the Bishop… for the first time in his life basking in religious rapture, for a miracle had occurred… the Lord… had personally stayed the executioner’s hand by disclosing as an angel the… man who had … appeared a murderer… And now the Lord had performed a miracle! Oh, what splendid humiliation… what grace to be a bishop thus chastised by God. (92)The Bishop, a man who had dedicated his life to the existence of God, experiences true excitement about faith and religion due to Grenouille, even though this pleasure is artificially created. This exemplifies the inability for the humans to control how they feel, especially since the Bishop was first manipulated towards God, even though he felt no passion for it, and then toward Grenouille, however only due to his scent.
After viewing the chaos and passion caused by his scent, Grenouille once again grovels in his power; “He was in very truth his own God, and a more splendid God than the God that stank of incense and was quartered in churches…they would all renounce their God and worship him, Grenouille the Great”(93). All Grenouille needs to manipulate thousands and make them shed their firm beliefs in Jesus Christ and God is smell. He realizes that since God is so abstract and limited, it would be simple to pull his followers into worshipping him: write the pope a perfumed letter and reveal himself as the new Messiah; be anointed… God come to earth… He could do all that, if only he wanted to. He possessed the power… stronger than the power of money… terror… death: the invincible power to command the love of mankind.
(97)Grenouille realizes that humans are easily manipulated by illusion. It took very little for the townspeople to be changed into animals, with purely carnal desires. He could have it all, and control even the purest of emotions, love. Grenouille’s abilities to smell helps the author show the simplicity it takes to manipulate others. Baldini’s character is used to show how religious people are still able to manipulate themselves into believing all actions are messages from God. Baldini feels at peace once he decides to sell the perfumery; “God… had given His sign. That golden, blood-red mirage of the city had been a warning: act now, Baldini, before it is too late” (27). Baldini treats the actions of the natural world as a sign that he is making the right personal decision.
It is clear that this is not the case to outsiders, but he needs it to be to feel sure about his decision. When Baldini discover’s Grenouille’s talent, he forgets his faith; “Nor did he walk over to Notre-Dame to thank God for his strength of character. Indeed, that night he forgot, for the first time ever, to say his evening prayers” (35).
Baldini only looks to God when he needs to excuse his actions, but not when fortune falls on him. This shows the frailty of his faith, and the comfort in which he sheds religious beliefs when it suits him. Baldini excuses his exploitation of Grenouille by describing it as God’s will: Perhaps it wasn’t chance at all, but God Himself, who sent this wizard into my house… Perhaps Divine Providence was… directing Himself… against Pelissier… How else would God have been able to punish Pelissier other than by raising me up? … divine justice has achieved its end, and thus I… must… without shame and without the least regret. (44) Baldini feels that the way he is using Grenouille is ethically wrong, so he describes his meeting Grenouille as an act of God, that God wants him to use Grenouille to create fortune for himself.
This shows that people allow themselves to be manipulated to be comfortable with themselves and the morality of their actions. Baldini’s use of his faith to feel comfortable with his actions and his ability to shed his faith when he is content symbolizes the ability for one to manipulate oneself into being comfortable with oneself. Grenouille is portrayed as being immoral, having a hatred of God to distance him from the rest of society, allowing him to remain above manipulation. Grenouille learns how to speak, but is unable to understand the concepts of morality; “With words… of an ethical or moral nature, he had the greatest difficulty. He … as an adult used them unwillingly and often incorrectly… what these were meant to express remained a mystery to him” (11). Grenouille is depicted as unable to understand what is right and wrong to make him unable to be manipulated. People often allow themselves to be manipulated to feel ethical, but Grenouille doesn’t know what is moral, so he cannot be manipulated.
Grenouille isolates himself from society for his own pleasure; “Others, however, live in caves… to be nearer to God… They act in the belief that they are living a life pleasing to God… Grenouille’s case was nothing of the sort. There was not the least notion of God in his head” (49). Grenouille has no illusion that he is a Godly or moral man. Instead, he is fully comfortable with his selfishness. This allows him to not need another force manipulating him into believing his actions are moral.
Grenouille determines that God is just as manipulative as he is; “God stank. God was a poor little stinker. He had been swindled… or was Himself a swindler, no different from Grenouille-only a considerably worse one” (61). Grenouille determines that only God can manipulate the way Grenouille can, and he doesn’t do it as well as Grenouille could. When Grenouille was asked to confess, the, “priest mentioned the name of God, the condemned man had looked at him with total incomprehension” (89). Grenouille still is unable to understand why anyone deludes themselves by believing in God.
Since he does not believe in God or any other false hope, he has no shame in his immorality, making him immune to the manipulation of others. The priest only visits Grenouille to make himself feel like his God is righteous. Because Grenouille is comfortable with his immorality and hatred of God, he is unable to be manipulated by illusion. Suskind portrays Grenouille as a Christ Figure to draw a comparison between religious faith and the passion the people feel for Grenouille. After Grenouille is eaten by the crowd of thieves and prostitutes, their hearts are, “definitely light. All of a sudden there were delightful, bright flutterings in their dark souls.
And on their faces was a delicate, virginal glow of happiness” (255). In the Bible, Jesus tells his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood to become enlightened. The people who eat Grenouille are described as “virginal”, “bright” and glowing, all adjectives that bring to mind enlightenment.
Suskind uses these similarities to show that the passion people feel for Grenouille is just as worthwhile as the illusion of God. In “Perfume”, Suskind grapples with the manipulation that leads to faith through Grenouille’s journey to power, Baldini’s self-serving faith, Grenouille’s immorality and immunity to illusion, and the comparison between Jesus and Grenouille.