Patrick Süskind

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Perfume can help.

Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation Theme Analysis

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.
Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation Theme Icon

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.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…

Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation appears in each chapter of Perfume. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
chapter length:
Get the entire Perfume LitChart as a printable PDF.
Perfume PDF

Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation Quotes in Perfume

Below you will find the important quotes in Perfume related to the theme of Creative Genius vs. Convention and Assimilation.
Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

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...

Related Characters: Jean-Baptise Grenouille
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

Grenouille knew for certain that unless he possessed this scent, his life would have no meaning... the mere memory, however complex, was not enough.

Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 11 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Giuseppe Baldini (speaker), Pélissier
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Giuseppe Baldini (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 17 Quotes

He believed that by collecting these written formulas, he could exorcise the terrible creative chaos erupting from his apprentice.

Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 27 Quotes

... he clapped his hands and called his servants, who were invisible, intangible, inaudible, and above all inodorous, and thus totally imaginary servants...

Related Characters: Jean-Baptise Grenouille
Related Symbols: Grenouille's Inner World
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 30 Quotes

“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.”

Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 32 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jean-Baptise Grenouille
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 35 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jean-Baptise Grenouille, Laure Richis
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 48 Quotes

He was also disgusted by the murderer. He did not want to regard him as a human being, but only as a victim to be slaughtered.

Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 49 Quotes

He was in very truth his own God, and a more splendid God than the God that stank of incense and was quartered in churches.

Related Characters: Jean-Baptise Grenouille
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4, Chapter 51 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jean-Baptise Grenouille
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis: