World Literature: Compare and contrast the changes in the character of Baldini in Perfume and Mr. Samsa in The Metamorphosis after they experience empowerment in their lives.
Candidate Name: Yi-Chun Teng
Candidate Number: 001407-038
Compare and contrast the changes in the character of Baldini in Perfume and Mr. Samsa in The Metamorphosis after they experience empowerment in their lives.
Empowerment is when one increases his capability and status within family and career. Often the great satisfaction stemming from empowerment lead those who experience it to become complacent, especially towards those who once held more distinctive positions. This is especially evident the character development of Baldini and Mr. Samsa in Perfume and The Metamorphosis. In Perfume, Baldini is an unoriginal perfumer whose fame is surpassed by the talented Pélissier. On the other hand, Mr. Samsa from The Metamorphosis is an unemployed man who relies on his son, Gregor to support the family financially; that is, before Gregor's incredible transformation. These two characters are both feeble and insignificant in the beginning. However, after they become accomplished and experience empowerment, they begin to belittle those previously more successful than them through their actions and thoughts. Yet despite the similar transformations, the authors have different intentions because Baldini and Mr. Samsa have opposite endings in the story - one dies and the other prospers. This is an intriguing aspect because the characters develop in almost identical ways although they are written by authors of different cultures. Thus, this investigation will examine the extent to which Baldini and Mr. Samsa are comparable in their changes after they are subjected to empowerment.
Baldini and Mr. Samsa are both initially weak in their appearances and actions. For example, Baldini is an incompetent perfumer who lacks confidence and originality before his transformation. This is illustrated by the dialogue in Chapter 10 when Baldini reiterates that he alone can create unique perfumes and Chénier concurs repetitively. For example Baldini says, “As you know, I create my own perfumes”, “I alone give birth to them [perfumes]”, and “I am thinking of creating something… that will cause a veritable furor”. This repetition of similar statements highlights the insecurity Baldini feels about his perfuming abilities. His frequent use of words and phrases such as “create” and “give birth” in contrast with his actual actions demonstrate his ineptitude and even cowardly nature.
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In addition, by changing the structure of this dialogue to a dramatic form, Süskind suggests that both these characters are aware that they are putting on an act. This is further supported by Chénier’s effort to please and conform to Baldini. When Baldini asks whether Pélissier’s “Amor and Psyche” is “vulgar”, Chénier responds with “totally vulgar”. Similarly, when Baldini claims that he “alone give birth to them [perfumes]”, Chénier immediately replies “I know”. Chénier’s automatic submissive responses indicate that these two characters are putting on a regular act. This effectively shows that Baldini routinely creates this dialogue to attempt to retain a sense of dignity and importance. However, in reality “he was old and exhausted” [chapter 11], and he is simply trying to conceal his faults and the fact that he is no longer a great perfumer. Readers can infer from this that Baldini is cowardly in nature, and this is corroborated by the fact that he resorts to claiming Pélissier’s ‘Amor and Psyche’ as his creation because he cannot concoct his own perfume.
However, Baldini becomes confident after his business prospers, thanks to Grenouille. In fact, he becomes so confident that he begins to believe that Grenouille is not so phenomenal after all, as this is shown as follows:
“Baldini no longer considered him a second Frangipani or, worse, some weird wizard” [chapter 17]
Although this is partly because Grenouille regularly errs intentionally to deceive Baldini into believing that he is “perfectly normal” [chapter 17], it illustrates Baldini’s increasing ego after he experiences empowerment.
Similarly to Baldini before he succeeds in his perfuming business, Mr. Samsa from The Metamorphosis is weak and sickly before he experiences empowerment, which is prior to Gregor's metamorphosis. He “used to lie wearily buried in bed” [pg27, lines 44~45]. He also “as a sign of joy only lifted up his arms”[pg28, lines 2~3], and this illustrates his perpetual exhaustion. Yet after Gregor becomes disabled and Mr. Samsa becomes the family’s backbone, Mr. Samsa is no longer weary all the time. In fact, he becomes alert, as “he was holding himself very erect” [pg28, line 10] and “his black eyes darted bright, piercing glances” [pg 35, lines 14~15]when he prepares to punish Gregor. Kafka carefully uses language here to illustrate Mr. Samsa’s newly-acquired confidence and vitality. For example, “darted” and “piercing” suggest energy and alertness, something he clearly lacked before. His eyes are “bright”, and this portrays Mr. Samsa as shrewd and vigilant. Furthermore, Mr. Samsa’s hair has “a scrupulously exact, gleaming part” [pg28, line 15]. “Gleaming” serves a similar effect as “bright”, and this reemphasizes Mr. Samsa’s newly-acquired energy and acuity. He is now a scrupulous and strict father, something in complete contrast with his former self. Evidently, Mr. Samsa has transformed from a feeble to a confident and strong-minded character due to his taste of empowerment.
Mr. Samsa also seems to no longer care for his son after his transformation, as he does not hesitate to punish Gregor for frightening Mrs. Samsa by launching apples at him. Indeed, Gregor immediately realizes after his metamorphosis that “the father considered only the strictest treatment called for in dealing with him” [pg28, lines 23~25]. This indicates that Mr. Samsa has adopted a condescending attitude towards Gregor, who previously held a more successful and distinctive position than him. The example further strengthens the claim that both Baldini and Mr. Samsa start to act and think superciliously once they are superior to those once more prosperous than them.
So far it can be observed from this analysis that both Baldini from Perfume and Mr. Samsa from The Metamorphosis are constantly exhausted and weak before they experience empowerment; that is, before Baldini’s perfume business prospers and before Mr. Samsa becomes more capable and acquires more power in his family than Gregor. They also both undergo similar transformations into arrogant and overconfident characters.
Yet hidden behind this similarity is the difference between the authors’ intention in developing them in parallel ways. This discrepancy can be inferred from the characters’ contrasting endings in the stories. In Perfume, Süskind arranges the plot so that Baldini dies when his house collapses in the river. This suggests that the author develops Baldini this way because he disapproves of people who become overconfident and condescending in manner when they flourish. It should also be noted that in contrast with The Metamorphosis, Perfume adopts a more fantastic, almost fairytale-like plot. This is supported by endless evidences, the most notable of which is Grenouille’s superhuman olfactory senses that allows Grenouille to create the incredible perfume that frees himself of his crime [chapter 49].Hence, Süskind may have arranged Baldini to receive his deserved punishment as he would in an ideal world.
In contrast with Baldini, Mr. Samsa ends with a prosperous and hopeful future despite a dead son. This may be because Kafka had always felt powerless in the presence of his father, who was robust and accomplished in his career. This is evident from Kafka’s letter to his father,
“…you do charge me with coldness, estrangements and ingratitude. And, what is more, you charge me with it in such a way as to make it seem my fault”
This extract accurately summarizes the pressure and ineptitude Kafka had felt under his father, Hermann Kafka’s influence. The shadow that Hermann had always casted on him is reflected by the fact that Kafka portrays Mr. Samsa as a dominating character after his transformation. This gives us an insight to why Kafka has let Mr. Samsa thrive in the end despite the latter’s evil towards his son. In addition, since Kafka adopts realism in his writing style in The Metamorphosis, his intention in ending Mr. Samsa this way may be to illustrate the imperfection of the real world. By examining the authors’ intentions in Perfume and The Metamorphosis, Baldini's and Mr. Samsa’s changes do not seem as similar below the surface.
In conclusion, Baldini and Mr. Samsa experience seemingly almost identical changes in their characters when they acquire power and rank. Their confidence and ego increase, and as a result they begin to disparage others through their thoughts and actions. They transform from enervated and sickly characters to healthy and confident ones. Yet they have each metamorphosed this way for contrasting reasons; through Mr. Samsa’s prosperous end, Kafka reflects the shadow his domineering father had casted on him. In contrast, through Baldini’s unexpected and swift death Süskind conveys his disapproval of the character development Baldini undergoes. Thus, it can be concluded that within the stories Baldini and Mr. Samsa both undergo almost identical development to a great extent. But this similarity ceases somewhat when the authors’ intentions and historical backgrounds are closely examined.
The editions of the texts used to support this essay are:
Perfume – Penguin Fiction Edition
The Metamorphosis – Translated and Edited by Stanley Corngold – A Norton Critical Edition.
WORD COUNT: 1444
- Daniel Kornek. (2005). Franz Kafka's letter to his father.Available: http://www.kafka-franz.com/KAFKA-letter.htm. Last accessed 17 May 2009.