As a result, the first female character introduced in Perfume, unlike Paulina, shows a lack of volition and absolute indifference towards all life. As both stories continue, it is increasingly evident that, in their actions and reactions, Paulina embodies characteristics of independence and dominance while the female characters in Perfume are portrayed as hopeless and vulnerable. For example, in Death and the Maiden, when Paulina recognizes Dr. Roberto Miranda’s voice and mannerisms as that of her torturer, she immediately takes action by tying him to a chair. “We’re going to put him on trial, Gerardo, this doctor.
Right here, today”, Paulina explains to Gerardo (Dorfman 1. 3). Gerardo, based on what Paulina tells her, provides a confession for Miranda that he would then give to Paulina. Intentionally, Paulina slips in a few errors while telling Gerardo her story. When these mistakes are fixed by Miranda in his “confession”, Paulina knows for sure he was her torturer. What these last few scenes illustrate is Paulina’s true strength as a woman, her relentless inquisitiveness, and her intelligence. The fact that she knocks Miranda unconscious and ties him to a chair, illustrates that she is not only a powerful woman but also one with willpower.
Furthermore, the trial and the intentional mistakes in her story are both evidence of her intelligence and ability to manipulate in order to, once again, obtain an answer. This is, of course, Paulina’s attempt to regain the power she had lost while being raped and tortured over and over again several years before. Considering this, she is a female who fights for justice, and does not back down when faced with iniquity. Conversely, the female characters in Perfume, namely those who are murdered by Grenouille, are vulnerable and weak when faced with danger or immorality.
The very first girl Grenouille murders is of thirteen or fourteen years of age. She is found at a table cleaning yellow plums with a knife. After realizing that “he had never smelled anything so beautiful,” Grenouille kills her without any hesitation (Si?’skind 47). After a long break, Grenouille begins to kill young women and especially those that are virgins such as Laure. Firstly, Grenouille’s first victim not only stands as a clear depiction of feminism at its most vulnerable state, but also as an illustration of complete hopelessness.
The girl is seen cleaning yellow plums – an act that establishes her as the typical kitchen girl of 18th century France. Furthermore, the fact that she holds a knife but does not use it against Grenouille when he attacks her, illustrates her hopelessness. And when the narrator states Grenouille kills her “without any hesitation,” it is evident that, in the eyes of Grenouille, the girl was powerless. This, along with the fact that Grenouille continues to kill virgins, establishes female characters in Perfume as powerless and vulnerable as a whole.
Unlike these characters, Paulina holds a weapon and uses it to her advantage; she is empowered by her desire to “live in peace” with herself (Dorfman 3. 1). Thus, instead of being portrayed as the modern day equivalent of “the vulnerable kitchen girl” that is Grenouille’s first victim, she is shown as a woman who defends her life and self-respect. In conclusion, it is evident that the female protagonist in Death and the Maiden, Paulina Salas, is portrayed as a female of power and volition, whereas the female characters in Perfume are illustrated as vulnerable and powerless.
This is not only apparent in the initial stages of both stories, but all throughout them. Through the exchange of dialogue, it is made clear that Paulina has the willpower to argue and debate when necessary. She is not the kind of character that becomes recessive or passive when she is confronted with a tough situation. Conversely, Grenouille’s mother illustrates the indifference and lifelessness of the female characters in Perfume.
Furthermore, with actions and reactions, Paulina’s character of power and intelligence is revealed while the vulnerability and foolishness of the female characters in Perfume is exposed. Ultimately, Death and the Maiden’s portrayal of females is an extreme rejection of the common misconception of females mentioned earlier. Similarly, Perfume’s portrayal of females is an exaggeration of the common misconception. While these depictions may be true when considering the time frame and situations they belong to, the truth, as we all know, lies somewhere in the middle.