Madame Gaillard


The callous and emotionless foster mother

An important character in the novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind is Madame Gaillard. She lives in a house on Rue de Charonne outside the city near the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. She earns her living by taking care of "children to board no matter of what age or sort, as long as someone paid for them," (Part 1, 14%). Although she is not yet 30 years old, she has "life already … behind her" and looks "like the mummy of a young girl" (Part 1, 14%). Furthermore, in her innermost being she is already "long since dead" (Part 1, 14%) and is described as a "small-souled woman" (Part 1, 14%). 

Madame Gaillard is strongly marked by her own bad childhood. When she was young, she was beaten so severely with a fire poker by her father that she lost her sense of smell. Another consequence of her father's mistreatment is that she hardly feels any emotions since then, neither positive nor negative. Her husband, who is already dead, also beat her. 

Madame Gaillard gave birth to several children, not all of whom survived. This, too, she accepts without any responsibility: "She felt nothing when later she slept with a man, and just as little when she bore her children. She did not grieve over those that died, nor rejoice over those that remained to her" (Part 1, 17%). She cannot form a real bond with other people, feels neither pity for the children nor pity for herself and her situation: "With that one blow, tenderness had become as foreign to her as enmity, joy as strange as despair" (Part 1, 14%).

Madame Gaillard has a strong sense of order and justice. She does not favor any of the two dozen children entrusted to her, nor does she disadvantage any. She is aware of her duties and fulfills them as far as it is expected of her. At her home, only three or four retirees die each winter, giving her better results than at the other children's homes. 

Madame Gaillard calculates everything precisely and is characterized by a high need for security: "Exactly one half of the boarding fees were spent for her wards, exactly one half she retained for herself." (Part 1, 14%). However, she does nothing beyond that. She saves money to secure her pension. She does not want to die in the Parisian hospital Hotel-Dieu like her husband, but plans to spend her old age in her own home.

Grenouille’s childhood

Jean Baptiste Grenouille has been baptized in the cloister. He is always very hungry and his body is odorless. Therefore, with...

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