During the Second World War, prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps were exposed to medical experimentation. In approximately seventy Nazi concentration camps, two hundred physicians were using around seven thousand prisoners to test their research. An ethical debate arose from these developments: were the atrocities committed acceptable because of the millions they allowed to be cured? Suskind’s exploration of enlightenment, in the post-World War Two text Perfume, can be perceived as a critique of this ethical debate.
Suskind’s paradoxical setting development draws a comparison to the medical researchers. Also, through his characterisation and juxtaposition of the characters, the Marquis and Baldini, Suskind explores the opposing radical opinions towards the medical research. In Perfume, Suskind insightfully uses an allegory to establish his debate of ethics. The writer achieves this by likening the revolutionaries of eighteenth century France to the Nazi medical researchers. Additionally, this setting is key to positioning the reader to see Grenouille’s disparity.
Suskind’s use of it to develop the debate of ethics is evident in the quote “in eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages …his name-in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, de Sade’s, for instance, or Saint-Just’s, Fouche’s, Bonaparte’s, etc. ” (Suskind 3). Suskind’s paradoxical description “gifted abominations” artfully positions the reader to feel confused. Through this, he draws attention to the roles of the “abominable personages” in the setting of revolutionary France.
Marquis de Sade was a famous insurgent writer, Louis de Saint-Just a radical military leader and Joseph Fouche was a minister of police. Fouche worked under Napoleon Bonaparte, who was to become the Emperor of revolutionary France. Therefore, this comparison positions the reader to understand that these “blackguards” were the leaders of change in this ‘age of enlightenment’, despite the atrocities they committed. Similarly to the revolutionaries, the Nazi researchers led the developments in medical research, at the expense of many lives.
In this way, Suskind’s use of the setting of eighteenth century revolutionary France allows him to draw a parallel to the medical testing that occurred during the Second World War. This could be perceived as a way to establish a debate of medical ethics debate; should the immorality condemn the research, despite the vital nature? As the text, Perfume, continues, Suskind’s characterisation of Baldini and the Marquis could be interpreted as a way for Suskind to express his opinion regarding this medical research.
Suskind portrays the characters that welcomed enlightenment, the Marquis, and those that refused it, Baldini, in an equally negative light. The juxtaposition effectively conveys to the reader the intricacy of the enlightenment and suggests that he views neither side as definite. This idea could be perceived to translate to the ethical debate of medical research. It suggests that although the Nazis tortured and killed thousands; the medical developments they made have the potential to save even more.
Maybe you could change this sentence to something like: It suggests that although the Nazis tortured and killed thousands, the medical developments they made have the potential that could outweigh those unjustifiable murder. ) In this way, the character of Grenouille can (also) be interpreted as a parallel to the scientists. Driven by the goal to create an “odour of … those rare humans who inspire love” (Suskind 195), Grenouille became “the slayer of the young women of Grasse, having cut down no fewer than twenty-four of its most beautiful virgins” (Suskind 205).
Similarly, the researchers aimed to discover new cures, sacrificing thousands in the process. Suskind then persuades the reader to recognize that these monstrosities enabled Grenouille to accomplish the feat of making “the world admire him” (Suskind 248). This idea is further amplified by the evocation of sardonic humour. It can be seen since the beginning of the text, Grenouille, whose his mother left him “amid the offal and fish heads” and was then out casted by society, is now in turn worshipped by them (Suskind 6).
Moreover, Suskind harshly sexualizes the situation to convey the people of society’s diminution of dignity. This ridicule is evident when they succumb to their primal urges, “respectable women ripped open their blouses, bared their breasts, [and] cried hysterically” (Suskind 247). (How about combining the sentence? “Moreover, Suskind harshly sexualizes the situation to convey society’s diminution of dignity, which is evident when they succumb to their primal urges; “quote”) Therefore, Suskind’s satirical description of the setting, displays the success his perfume has in gaining Grenouille omnipotence over society.
Equally, this can be seen to highlight to the reader, (it highlights to the reader,) the success of the pioneering developments achieved in the Nazi research. Therefore, Suskind expresses that it isn’t (“is not” is more formal in essay I think) correct to condemn development, nor is it suitable to perform such immoral actions. Through Suskind’s profound use of enlightenment, he helps the reader to understand the complexity of the issue, and his view that neither side was entirely correct. Suskind’s opinion towards condemning the research can be interpreted through his characterisation of Baldini as stubbornly resisting change.
Baldini is a key character in the text because he inspires Grenouille in his journey to create the ultimate scent. Furthermore, Suskind artfully utilises this character to illustrate that change was resisted. This can be seen in the quote “people… write tracts or so-called scientific masterpieces that put anything and everything in question… God didn’t make the world in seven days, it’s said, but over millions of years, if it was He at all… and the earth is no longer round like it was, but flat on the top and bottom like a melon-as if that made a damn bit of difference! ” (Suskind 59).
This quote conveys Baldini’s opinion towards enlightenment. (Instead of opinion, maybe skepticism? ) Suskind uses diction including: “so-called”, “as if” and “it’s said” to create a sarcastic sematic field. This is because the conditional terms position the reader to perceive Baldini’s doubt regarding the “scientific” developments. (Join the sentence maybe? Suskind uses diction including “so called… quotes” to create a sarcastic sematic field, which positions the reader to perceive Baldini’s doubt regarding “scientific” development. ) Moreover, he develops a ranting tone through the pace forced by listing.
Suskind’s use of these techniques helps the reader to understand Baldini’s contempt towards enlightenment. Furthermore, Suskind’s belittlement of Baldini could be interpreted to suggest that he does not agree with this view. This can be seen in the change of narrative voice from third to first person. This places the reader into the mind of Baldini. (Furthermore, change of narrative voice from third to first person, which places the reader into the mind of Baldini, shows how belittlement of Baldini can also be interpreted as Suskind’s disapproval of this view.
The technique combines with the use of diction including: “ponder”, “improper” and “traditional” in Baldini’s mental monologue. These display the importance Baldini places on appearing to conform in conventional society. Also, in this monologue Baldini blames “perfumes like Pelissier’s [that] could make a shambles of the whole market” for forcing “an honest man” like him to “feel compelled to travel such crooked paths! ” (Suskind 55). This evokes humour because Baldini ironically believes himself to be respectful despite Suskind characterising him as less than.
As it can be seen, these techniques successfully paint Baldini as a pretentious, self-centered old man. Therefore, through Suskind’s characterisation of Baldini, he skillfully positions the reader to agree with his opinion, regarding those who resist change. In contrast to Baldini, Suskind develops the character of the Marquis de Taillade to represent those who embraced enlightenment. This representation can translate to suggest Suskind’s perspective towards the supporters of the medical experimentation. The significance of the character, of the Marquis lies in his role of helping Grenouille realise the importance of appearance.
Furthermore, this character is also key to Suskind’s exploration of Enlightenment. The Marquis’ character acts as a hyperbolic example of the acceptance of the age of reason. This is evident in the quote “The earth itself constantly emits a corrupting gas, a so-called fluidum letale… which is why their most valuable parts are lifted heavenwards: the ears of grain, the blossom of flowers, the head of man” (Suskind 145). This quote explains the Marquis’ new scientific theory. Suskind directly critiques the Marquis through his use of dramatic irony.
This is because both the reader and the writer know this theory is false. As a result, the character of the Marquis is cast as gullible. Suskind is artfully setting the reader up to also disagree with those who accept enlightenment. Moreover, Suskind uses dark humour when the Marquis “wanted to become borne to the summit at nine thousand feet and left there in the sheerest, finest vitale air for three whole weeks, whereupon, he announced, he would descend from the mountain precisely on Christmas Eve a strapping lad of twenty” (Suskind 167).
Suskind’s characterisation of the Marquis as deeply faithful of his theory is key to understanding the humour. It is ironic to the audience because they know he is faithfully climbing to his death. Therefore, Suskind’s characterisation of the Marquis adeptly positions the reader to disagree with those who lead the movement. Through casting both the characters in a negative light, the reader is positioned to disagree with both stubborn opinions. Therefore, the text Perfume can be interpreted as an exploration of post-war debate regarding medical research.
Suskind artfully discusses this idea through his portrayal of enlightenment during the eighteenth century. Key techniques in this exploration are Suskind’s juxtaposing characterisations and his use of allegory in depicting the setting. Through this complex debate, we can see that neither side was correct to condemn the other. However, it is evident that both sides were closed minded in their opinion. Therefore, an important lesson to take from Perfume is to approach situations with an open mind.