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 with Grenouille, the serial murderer of young girls. It should be noted that in the case of the excommunication of the murderer in Grasse, Grenouille uses the people's faith in religion to his advantage. By ceasing his experiments after the excommunication, he lulls the residents of Grasse into a false sense of security.
While religion and government play powerful roles in the novel, the novel's logic and Grenouille himself asserts that the true ruler of a population is not the king or God, but scent, and more specifically the person who possesses the most intoxicating scent. Scent, as the "brother of breath," is inescapable as long as one keeps breathing. With this guiding logic, Grenouille presents the idea that while Laure is certainly a beautiful girl, the power over both men and women that she would enjoy later in life would come primarily from her intoxicating scent. This realization about how scent functions in relationship to power further supports Grenouille's belief that he's superior to those around him, as he believes he's the only one who is aware of this relationship, or indeed the only one who can even detect differences in individuals' odors. Thus, when this knowledge is paired with his ability to create sublime perfumes, it allows him to exert control over others without their conscious knowledge.
The massive extent of Grenouille's power, which is still a mystery to those around him, comes to life at his execution. Using his sublime perfume, Grenouille is able to turn himself truly into a god, incite an orgy that leads to his release, and, incredibly, make Antoine Richis offer to adopt Grenouille as a son. However, Grenouille cannot experience pleasure or satisfaction when he achieves this goal and finds himself in possession of absolute power. Rather, he uses his power of scent to commit suicide in Paris. In death, and in this method of death in particular, Grenouille simultaneously creates an intense show of power and destroys both himself and his tool or method for obtaining this power.
Power and Control ThemeTracker
Power and Control Quotes in Perfume
But to have made such a modest exit would have demanded a modicum of native civility, and that Grenouille did not possess. He was an abomination from the start. He decided in favor of life out of sheer spite and sheer malice.
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.
But he at once felt the seriousness that reigned in these rooms, you might almost call it a holy seriousness, if the word "holy" had held any meaning whatever for Grenouille...
... [he] looks just like one of those unapproachable, incomprehensible, willful little prehuman creatures, who in their ostensible innocence think only of themselves... if one let them pursue their megalomaniacal ways and did not apply the strictest pedagogical principles to guide them to a disciplined, self-controlled, fully human existence.
... he clapped his hands and called his servants, who were invisible, intangible, inaudible, and above all inodorous, and thus totally imaginary servants...
That odor had been the pledge of freedom. It had been the pledge of a different life. The odor of that morning was for Grenouille the odor of hope. He guarded it carefully. And he drank it daily.
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.