Synopsis: this extract reveals both the character of Terrier and reveals his response to Grenouille as a baby. Through omniscient narration, we share his feelings and physical responses to the child in his arms. His early rapture quickly turns to revulsion and this analysis will examine the ways that Suskind constructed his characters and our response.
1. The first description of the babe, small…red…twitched sweetly
Our first response to the baby is almost protective, he is described as sweet and small and we can visualize a tiny innocent baby held in the arms of a protector, a man of God, a kind man with strong values. He is “a normal citizen….who had taken a …warm and fragrant wife” This insistence upon smell links us to our emotional response throughout the extract. The act of smelling and the use of our senses conveys his response to the baby and the romantic idyllic life he was fantasizing about.
2. Terrier indulges in a fantasy, changing his role from that of a monk to a normal man, a father and protector
Terrier’s character is constructed by what he is thinking and how he responds to the baby. Through the use of third person omniscient point of view, we see his rapturous response to this lost child, this sweet babe, who is so dependent on his protection. For a moment he is swept up into a fantasy of a real life, which in turn reveals to us his inner torment, torn between a demanding God and church rules and the normality and warmth of family life “Terrier felt his heart glow with sentimental cosiness”.
3. The use of language positions us in the present, as the action takes place. Through the use of baby talk we respond to his actions ” poohpoohpoohpeedooh….The thought of it made him feel good.”
Terrier’s clumsy yet sincere attempts to cuddle the child are revealed through language ” poohpoohpoohpeedooh….The thought of it made him feel good.” We feel for him and his lost chances. At the same time, this glowing description of his feelings is in stark contrast to the end of the extract. It sets us up to expect a loving, positive outcome. The shock of his final response makes us resist the appeal of the so called sweet babe at the end.
4. “Then the child awoke.” The babe is now called a child. It has lost its innocent appeal, its dependence and cuteness is replaced by a growing sense of unease. It is described in animalistic terms, “Its nose awoke first…It sucked air in and snorted it back out” |
Our warm response to Terrier and the child changes slowly yet drastically from this point on. The babe is renamed the child and through language it is transformed into an inquisitive demanding animal like creature”Its nose awoke first…It sucked air in and snorted it back out”. The child is no longer a beautiful desirable babe, it is now ugly ” the child’s dull eyes squinted into the void, the nose seemed to fix on a particular target,” This makes Terrier feel like he is the intended target and begins to foreshadow his growing discomfort and disillusionment.
5. The description of the child is gross: “The eyes…oyster grey and creamy opal white covered with a ….slimy film”
Instead of being sweet and red the child is now described as having “The eyes…oyster grey and creamy opal white covered with a ….slimy film”. The reader is revolted by the physical description. We can perceive a picture of an ugly, blinded mole like child, who squints, sniffs and targets Terrier. The reader can share in his appalled response as the child awakens and behaves in a rodent like manner. Thereby destroying his fantasy and making his protection unnecessary and indeed threatening his spiritual and psychological well being.
6. The use of language is fairly modern yet set in an 18th C setting.
Suskind uses modern expressions and language to create the character of Grenouille. An example of this is
” poohpoohpoohpeedooh”, and the almost scientific description of : “The eyes…oyster grey and creamy opal white covered with a ….slimy film” which create an immediacy and a sensory perception of the child.
7. “The nose seemed to fix on a particular target…he himself…was that target.”
Terrier’s growing sense of unease foreshadows his rejection of the child as he thinks, “The nose seemed to fix on a particular target…he himself…was that target.” This ominous description of Terrier’s growing panic makes us feel extremely uncomfortable. He appears to be an ignorant man, we are modern readers, yet Suskind has managed through the use of sensory images to make us feel uncomfortable and to empathise with Terrier.
8. Irony as tiny is juxtaposed with fear
The description of the child’s nose, waking, seeking, targeting is both similar to the unfolding of a carnivorous flower and a predator. Ironically, the juxtaposition of the use of ‘Tiny” with fear adds to our growing sense of horror and revulsion. ” Tiny wings of flesh…tiny holes in the child’s face…create an eerie suction…the child saw him with its nostrils” this use of description as the child wakes up, coupled with Terrier’s imaginative response positions the reader to understand his response and to share his opinion of the seemingly innocent child/monster in his arms.
9. Metaphor carnivore and death
As the child’s face is compared metaphorically with a carnivorous plant similar to a Venus fly trap, we see how Suskind has objectified Grenouille. He is an it, not a person, an anonymous being, semi human, semi animal. A predator who is seeking to cling to Terrier like an incubus, to devour him. His panic stricken response is a natural response to danger. Through punctuation we can see his fear “smelling at him shamelessly, that was it!” the use of exclamation marks emphasizes his fear and anger. His changing tone foreshadows his rejection. Through the use of language Terrier creates an image of the child as the ‘Other’ an alien, threatening to his dogmatic view of normality and romance view of the role that children should play in the world.
10. metaphor death
Terrier becomes convinced that the child is going to kill him, “Using its nose to devour something whole…It was establishing his scent!” At this stage, I felt that Terrier was exaggerating, yet the repetition of his imaginative response grew on me and I felt a sense of revulsion towards this child also. Grenouille appears to be hunting the man who out of the goodness of his heart saved him. From this moment, our response to him becomes negative, wary, revolted by his physical description regardless of the illogic of it all.
12 Like a rape
Terrier’s response becomes similar to that of a rape, an intensive personal invasion which cannot be avoided, “His most tender emotions, his filthiest thoughts lay exposed”. He can no longer accept that this is an innocent child. He feels invaded, tainted by corruption and victimized, all by this child.
Terrier no longer felt safe, ‘ Gone was the homey thought that this be his own flesh and blood…idyll of father and son and fragrant mother”. He regarded the babe/child/it as a creature a non human being
A threat to his spiritual and physical wellbeing “A strange, cold creature lay there on his knees, a hostile animal… he would have hurled it like a spider from him.” Terriers final rejection of Grenouille was significant on many levels. This may have been the only chance of a normal upbringing or real affection lost. It creates a Gothic like fear of the unknown, the rejection of people who do not fit in or conform. There is a gap between the values of the church dogma and the rights of the individual as this child is not a person, it becomes a monster in the eyes of the monk. The reader is encouraged to support Terrier’s decision to reject the child, yet with the advantage of a modern upbringing, it seems inhuman to totally abandon an innocent child regardless of how strange they look or behave.
At this stage the beginning is juxtaposed with the ending. The idyllic father/son image is destroyed and a spider/rodent like child has emerged from the cocoon of our literary expectations.
Suskind’s text introduces both characters, themes and conflicts. We see the emergence and transformation of Grenouille’s character, like a butterfly he is transformed from a baby to a spider. Our response changes from empathy to horror. His eventual fate is set by this earlier abandonment on so many levels.