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 his willingness to adapt to rules and learn conventions that allows him to function effectively enough in the world to not be written off as a monster.
Throughout Grenouille's childhood and adolescence, he struggles to integrate with society in part because others find him repulsive, but also because he's so caught up in his own olfactory world that he sees no point in being a real part of society. In this way, Grenouille begins life by differentiating himself from those around him, even before he's known by others to be a genius. He, as well as the other children in the orphanage where he’s raised, knows he's different, and he simultaneously ostracizes himself and is ostracized by others because of his weirdness. This difference, born of his genius, is what leads Grenouille to an intense hatred of humanity. His disdain of the greater populace stems from what he perceives as a willingness or biological imperative to be led blindly by scent.
The way in which Grenouille acquires language, both spoken and the language of perfume, and goes on to use it encompasses his struggle between genius and convention. Grenouille begins talking late and struggles to understand how spoken language even works, since he finds the spoken word inadequate to describe his world. However, as he grows, he begins to understand that by accepting language, social customs, and the practices of perfumers, he can pass as normal in society. This epiphany first grips Grenouille when the marquis de la Taillade-Espinasse dresses him in gentleman's clothes. Grenouille discovers that despite his lack of scent and his badly scarred body, he is capable of passing as normal by accepting the conventions of how polite gentlemen dress. He continues this facade with the faux human scent, and his total facade allows him to move through society without fear of his true evil genius being discovered.
It should be noted that at the time the novel takes place, French society itself was undergoing a similar struggle between new ways of thinking and old institutions of power and structure. Both Father Terrier and Baldini discuss this change explicitly. In this way, many characters besides Grenouille are essentially grappling with the same issues that he is. While their struggles are very different from Grenouille's micro struggles of scent and misanthropy, every character in the novel is attempting to either keep up with the times and create progress, or preserve old ideas and structures in favor of convention.
Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation ThemeTracker
Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation Quotes in Perfume
With words designating non-smelling objects, with abstract ideas and the like, especially those of an ethical or moral nature, he had the greatest difficulty. He could not retain them, confused them with one another, and even as an adult used them unwillingly and often incorrectly...
Grenouille knew for certain that unless he possessed this scent, his life would have no meaning... the mere memory, however complex, was not enough.
It was as if he had been born a second time; no, not a second time, the first time, for until now he had merely existed like an animal with a most nebulous self-awareness. But after today, he felt as if he finally knew who he really was: nothing less than a genius.
The man was indeed a danger to the whole trade with his reckless creativity. It made you wish for a return to the old rigid guild laws. Made you wish for draconian measures against this nonconformist, this inflationist of scent.
Man's misfortune stems from the fact that he does not want to stay in the room where he belongs. Pascal said that. And Pascal was a great man, a Frangipani of the intellect, a real craftsman, so to speak, and no one wants one of those anymore.
He believed that by collecting these written formulas, he could exorcise the terrible creative chaos erupting from his apprentice.
But by using the obligatory measuring glasses and scales, he learned the language of perfumery, and he sensed instinctively that the knowledge of this language could be of service to him.
... he clapped his hands and called his servants, who were invisible, intangible, inaudible, and above all inodorous, and thus totally imaginary servants...
“You will realize for the first time in your life that you are a human being; not a particularly extraordinary or in any fashion distinguished one, but nevertheless a perfectly acceptable human being.”
For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they could not escape scent. For scent was a brother of breath... He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.
No, he wanted truly to possess the scent of this girl behind the wall; to peel it from her like skin and to make her scent his own. How that was to be done, he did not know yet. But he had two years in which to learn. Ultimately it ought to be no more difficult than robbing a rare flower of its perfume.
And though his perfume might allow him to appear before the world as a god—if he could not smell himself and thus never know who he was, to hell with it, with the world, with himself, with his perfume.