The concept of the outsider is a common theme explored in many texts. The techniques used to represent this idea and the way the outsider is perceived differ in many ways. The perceptions of an outsider may come from within the person or be imposed by society and change over time. The concept of the outsider is illustrated in the play Othello as well as more modern texts “Perfume” a novel by Patrick Suskind and the short film; “The Story of Bubbleboy”. These texts share both similarities and differences in their representation of the outsider and have significantly increased my understanding of the concept.
Perfume is a story of murderer written in 1985 as a literary, historical cross-genre novel by the German writer Patrick Suskind. The novel was first published as a translated version in Great Britain in 1986 by Hamish Hamilton. The novel is set in 18th century France and centres itself around a strange, abominable and gifted man named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. He is born lacking a personal odour, a fact that society finds disturbing, and is endowed with an outstanding and unique sense of smell. Grenouille is born as an unwanted orphan in the guts of Paris.
He spends his childhood commuting through Paris as a reject of society. They believe there is a “sinister presence about him”. At the age of eight Grenouille is sold to a tanner and is able to explore the city, where he discovers the most alluring smells and the profession of perfumery. Grenouille apprentices himself to Baldini a perfumer and becomes obsessed with obtaining the perfect scent that will make him human or considered so. In this process he creates scents that powerfully manipulate human emotions, murdering 25 virgin girls to bottle their scent.
He is eventually apprehended and sentenced to death for his crimes but is pardoned for his crimes, as the townsfolk are delirious with the powerful emotion Grenouille has created. But the experience of the power dissatisfies Grenouille, because he realizes he is not loved for himself, but for the perfume, which he created. He decides to return to Paris upon finding that the satisfaction that he initially felt has transformed itself into hatred and disgust. The novel “Perfume” illustrates the idea of the outsider through the way society is seen to outcast and alienate the character Grenouille.
Grenouille is looked upon as an outsider for many reasons, the first being his background and personal context. He was born onto the streets with a sinful and immoral trollop of a mother. It is at this stage of his life when Grenouille is first rejected and is therefore not introduced to the principles and values of society. Throughout the novel there is continuous repetition of the words “ought to” and “supposed to be” when referring to how “normal” or accepted people should act or be in society. This shows how Grenouille is seen as an outsider through the imposing views of society at the time in which the novel is set.
Because of his situation Grenouille does not share the same religious and spiritual beliefs of the people of France. Grenouille is not baptized which is a feature of his context that makes him an outsider in 18th century France, as it was a Christian dominated society. Techniques that are used to show the importance of this rite of passage include continuous references to Christianity. When referring to the malicious murders that occur phrases such as “the devil’s work” and “possessed by the devil” are used.
In contrast, when the townsfolk describe Grenouille in his state of divine power, he is referred to as “the Child of God” and “an Angel”. Also in the first chapter of the novel, when the wet nurse is describing Grenouille’s unsettling presence as a baby to Father Terrier she claims him to be “possessed by the devil”. She also clearly states; “he is not baptized” in her rant of disgust. Grenouille’s mysterious nature contributes to his image of an outsider in society. It gives the people of France more reason to somewhat fear Grenouille’s strange presence therefore making him even more distinct from others.
The fact that Grenouille lacks personal history or past contributes to this mysterious nature. When beginning different stages of his life Grenouille seems to have no sense of belonging or history. When moving through various towns and jobs in France brings with him no possessions or family. Setting is also used to reflect this idea. When Grenouille first finds himself in the presence of various people throughout France, it is usually in dimly lit or mysterious places. For example when Grenouille first meets the perfumer Baldini, he is in a dark alleyway in the streets of Paris.
It is, however Grenouille’s amazing gift and lack of smell that initially makes him an outsider in 18th century France. It is clear that Grenouille sees the world in a completely different way to the people of his context. His gift allows him to read the world in a different language to that of ordinary people. He doesn’t understand the use of words, but instead explores the realm of scent. When learning to speak Grenouille finds it difficult to designate words to non-smelling objects, with abstract ideas like those of an ethical or moral nature.
For example Grenouille could not understand words such as; “justice, conscience, God, joy, responsibility, humility and gratitude” etc. It is almost as if Grenouille is disabled from interacting with people and does not understand the way of life of ordinary people. It is because of this isolation that Grenouille begins to undergo inconceivable actions that are looked upon as immoral and he is again perceived as an outsider. Grenouille’s actions however, are influenced by societies infliction of rejection and hate towards Grenouille.
He is isolated and is unable to come to terms with the values of society. Grenouille murders 25 young and innocent virgins throughout the novel, going against the moral values of society such as love and rationality. Grenouille acts upon greed and his malicious actions enable him to be perceived as a cruel and monstrous being, or an outsider in society. Grenouille can also be perceived as an outsider in society because of his attitude towards women. He is somewhat oblivious to womanly sexual commodities.
The way Grenouille expresses feelings towards woman, is still different to what would be expected of most adolescent men. Grenouille is not attracted physically to the women he comes across but is enthralled by them because of their scent. Even when he ravishes their bodies he is completely oblivious to their femininity and is only concerned with preserving their odor. An example of this is”” It is almost as if Grenouille has a different way of expressing passion and lust, similar to his inabilities to communicate and function in society.