Perfume comments on 18th century pre revolutionary society in France. Suskind critiques the societal values of the time, the class system and the traits of enlightened thinkers

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It is often said that literature is a voice for social commentary. How is this true of at least two stories you have read?

Literature is often used to critique and comment on societal values - this is seen to be true in the novel Perfume by Patrick Suskind. Despite being written over 200 years after the time period in which it is set, Suskind critiques, challenges and satirizes 18th century, pre-revolutionary society in France throughout the text. There are four aspects that he addresses most thoroughly; how society influences the creation of monstrous individuals; the conceited and arrogant characteristics of individuals brought about by the Enlightenment; the socially defined dominance of sight over all other senses; and finally western society’s excessive nature and its resultant corruption.

The most prominent social comment conveyed by Suskind is the role of society in forming monstrous individuals. The entire novel is narrated from an omniscient third person perspective, allowing the reader insight into any characters thoughts and all events that occur. This begins with the birth of Grenouille and the thoughts of his mother. Even before Grenouille is born his own mother “wishe[s] that it were already over” so she could hopefully soon have “real children”. He is unwanted and viewed as inhuman by his mother who leaves him alone to die. He does not feel “secure”, even in his “mother’s belly”, all of which forecasts how he would have to live his life as an insecure outsider, unable to ever “love and be loved like everyone else” By commenting on the severity of society’s influence on an individual, Suskind critiques the selfish nature of people at the time and advocates the idea of social determinism, placing an earnest on more socially conscious actions, particularly at birth.

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Suskind does not cease to demonstrate to the reader the prejudice and mistreatment Grenouille is subjected to, particularly in his younger years. All characters that take care of him as an infant find something repulsive about him and wish to get rid of him. This begins with Father Terrier, who finds the baby’s obsession with smell terrifying, and then progresses to characters such as Jeanne Bussie who cannot stand his absence of personal scent, claiming “this baby makes my flesh creep”. Suskind highlights the unjustified nature of such hostility towards a newborn baby, emphasizing how such a dire upbringing ...

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