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 he was born the lowest of the low. By virtue of his birth and the rules and regulations of the time, even reaching the success of becoming an apprentice after being born an orphan was a great achievement.
With the status afforded to Grenouille when he obtains his journeyman's papers, he's able to accomplish his goals without raising suspicion. However, it's important to note that Grenouille's appetite for advancement as made official by the government has a ceiling. Since his goals are purely personal, there's no need for him to climb the social ladder any higher, as his goals aren't monetary or fame-based. This ties into Grenouille's conception of himself as a god-like figure or a supreme ruler. Grenouille's state of being a god isn't achieved through titles or government but through scent, which transcends class and status.
Many of the individuals who play roles in Grenouille's life are “climbers” like he is, but they seek financial success or social recognition rather than the purely selfish pleasure that Grenouille gains from creating his ideal perfumes. Notably, a number of these individuals suffer some form of a miserable or untimely death after they're rid of Grenouille. Most of these deaths are caused by the very things that motivated the characters to climb in the first place, as when Baldini's death occurs when his shop, the fanciest address in town, falls into the river. Similarly, while Grenouille's death is a suicide rather than an accident, it's his goal of creating the perfect perfume that brings about the situation in which he can commit suicide in the way that he does.
Despite their different goals or motivations, almost all the characters see those around them as means to an end or means to advancement. In this way, the characters are reduced to mere tools rather than considered as full human beings. This becomes apparent when Grenouille is a child, as he survives by proving useful to Grimal and Baldini. Later, Grenouille uses this way of regarding people to work towards his own goals. He actively manipulates the marquis into allowing Grenouille to create his human perfume, and then goes on to use the girls of Grasse as tools and materials to create his final perfume.
Upward Mobility and Social Movement ThemeTracker
Upward Mobility and Social Movement Quotes in Perfume
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.
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...
The tick had scented blood. It had been dormant for years, encapsulated, and had waited. Now it let itself drop, for better or for worse, entirely without hope. And that was why he was so certain.
Your grandiose failure will also be an opportunity for you to learn the virtue of humility, which—although one may pardon the total lack of its development at your tender age—will be an absolute prerequisite for later advancement as a member of your guild and for your standing as a man, a man of honor, a dutiful subject, and a good Christian.
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.
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.
“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.”