Patrick Süskind

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Themes and Colors
Growing Up and Becoming Human Theme Icon
Power and Control Theme Icon
Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Social Movement Theme Icon
Scent, Sight, and the Grotesque Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Perfume, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Growing Up and Becoming Human

Perfume takes the form of a bildungsroman, or a coming of age novel. The reader follows Grenouille from birth to death through the four parts of the novel, and experiences with him how he learns about the world, begins to conceptualize his place in it, and struggles with his identity.

Children are described throughout the book as sub-human for a variety of reasons. Religious teachings, according to the novel, state that infants are completely worthless…

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Power and Control

Perfume is, at its heart, a novel about power. It explores how people obtain power, and then how they keep it or fail at doing so. A combination of religion and bureaucracy is introduced as the first avenue through which an individual can enjoy power. It's this combination that made sure that the infant Grenouille stayed alive in the first place. Later in Grasse, this same combination attempts to exert its power and do away…

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Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation

Grenouille is described as a wunderkind (a young prodigy), a genius who knows instinctively how to mix fabulous scents. As such, he doesn't require instruction in how to make a good perfume; rather, he only needs to learn the rules and conventions of perfumers and of people in general in order to effectively function in the world and achieve his goals. Essentially, Grenouille's creative genius is what sets him apart from other people, but it's…

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Upward Mobility and Social Movement

Over the course of the novel, Grenouille moves steadily up the social ladder from the lowest depths of society to a journeyman and finally, in his eyes, a god. Everyone else with whom Grenouille comes in contact is similarly dreaming or actively working on achieving similar types of upward movement, making this type of movement a central concern to the novel. Grenouille realizes early on the importance of attaining some degree of social status, as…

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Scent, Sight, and the Grotesque

While the novel's focus is on scent more than anything else, it relies heavily on descriptions of scent that are highly visual in nature. This combination works to create a grotesque landscape, simultaneously repulsive and beautiful, that draws the reader in and pushes them away in turn.

The entire premise of the novel is based on the idea that scent is more powerful than anything else, and most importantly, that this power isn't known or…

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