Social setting Essay
Discuss the degree to which Suskind has offered a strong image of the social setting in the novel Perfume and estimate the importance of a sense of social context for the novel as a whole. In the novel Perfume Suskind offers the reader a vivid and comprehensive view of 18th century French society during the pre revolutionary period. While the main focus of the plot involves the development of the protagonist, Grenouille, the characters he encounters enable Suskind to present a satirical view of the Age of Reason by revealing the folly of individuals from different levels of French society.
The novel may also be viewed as a fable which foreshadows the coming revolution which will tear apart the social hierarchy. As well as offering a satirical critique of society, the strong image of social setting lends credibility to the fantastical elements of the novel. This is achieved through a variety of narrative techniques, including vivid imagery. Suskind employs imagery to highlight the satirical nature of the work. This can be clearly illustrated in the way Suskind sets the scene at the beginning of Perfume:
“The peasant stank as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master’s wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion and the queen like an old goat” (Suskind p. 4) The parallel structure juxtaposing “peasant” with “priest”; “apprentice” with “master’s wife” suggests that while the social structure of 18th century France was hierarchical and the fact that everyone stank equally badly was actually a kind of leveler.
The reference to the hierarchy leads the reader to consider that this social structure will be torn apart by the French Revolution. While the novel is set some 40 years prior to the revolution, the reader is aware that this society is soon to be subject to a bloody revolution in which the distinctions between the social classes will be shaken to their foundations; this description of the smell is an ironic indication while some felt superior to others in this society, in fact everyone was human: everyone stank.
Another example of this technique used to draw attention to the satirical aspect of the novel can be found in the orgy scene which may be viewed as an allegorical foreshadowing of the revolution as chaos ensues when hierarchy and propriety are cast aside and people succumb to their baser emotions: “they fell down anywhere with a groan and copulated in the most impossible positions and combinations: grand-father with virgin, odd-jobber with lawyer’s spouse, apprentice with nun, Jesuit with freemason’s wife – all topsy-turvy, just as opportunity presented.
” (Suskind p. 247 Suskind again uses parallel structure to emphasize the juxtaposition of individuals from different social classes and ages which the breakdown in the social hierarchy. The narrator takes the same slightly amused tone as he describes the shocking scene for the reader as though delighting in the impropriety. The narrative voice encourages the reader to take an objective view of the proceedings and reflect that this abandonment to sexual desire is triggered by something which they are not aware: the perfume.
Another example of the way Suskind highlights the gullibility of human beings is illustrated through the setting described as Grenouille is pursing the scent of the girl from the rue de Marais : ” And while from every side came the deafening roar of petards exploring and of firecrackers skipping across the cobble-stones, rockets rose in tote sky and painted white lilies against the black firmament.
Thronging the bridge and the quays along both banks of the river, a crowd of many thousands accompanied the spectacle and aahs and oohs and bravos, even some ‘long lives’ although the King had ascended his throne more than 38 years before and the high point of his popularity was long since behind him. Fireworks can do that. ” P. 39 Suskind satirizes the way human beings can be manipulated by something as simple as fireworks. The scene is quite ironic as the reader is aware that the people who are cheering for the king will be rejoicing as his son, the next king is executed in 30 years.
Suskind suggests the simplicity of people through the vocalizations mentioned “aahs and oohs”. The use of the simple short sentence at the end of this description amplifies the narrator’s ironic stance. Suskind offers a satirical portrait of the middle class through the character of Baldini. He represents the kind of person who cannot accept the new ideas emerging during the age of reason. Baldini is an old man who seems to be having trouble adjusting to changes in society. On page 58-59, the internal monologue of Baldini suggests his frustration with the world.
“What was the need for all these new roads being dug up everywhere, and these new bridges? What purpose did they serve? “. This shows that Baldini is confused about the new developments in the world. Baldini also has issues with the new scientific discoveries that have been made. “The latest is that little animals never before seen are swimming about in a glass of water… and the earth is no longer round like it was, but flat on the top and the bottom like a melon- as if it made a damn bit of difference! “.
This internal monologue illustrates that Baldini doesn’t approve of the changes and the new discoveries that have been recently made. He seems to have trouble accepting that things are changing and old theories have been overturned. The church is also presented satirically. This is achieved in Suskind’s characterization of father terrier. Father Terrier claims that he is a man of reason, but is part of the church. The church is not based on reason. Suskind mocks Father Terrier because he wouldn’t take logic to its natural conclusion. He is also presented comically when he “hitches up his cassock”.
He is also outsmarted by the wet nurse because when she claims that Grenouille is a devil child he says that it is impossible for him to be the devil because he has not been exposed to the outside world. When he decides to smell Grenouille, he realizes that the wet nurse was right and he doesn’t actually have a smell. As soon as he realizes this he gets rid of Grenouille. The presentation of the Marquis creates satirical view of the nobility and emerging interest in science. He is described as an “enlightened idiot”. He believed the theory of the fluidium letale which is totally absurd.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 July 2017
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