Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the International Baccalaureate Diploma – Extended Essay 2008 – 2010 There is a significant difference between males and females that does not lie in their physical appearance, but rather in their respective nature. Literature confirms that males have almost always been perceived as the more dominant and independent gender, whereas females have been typified as vulnerable and dependent. Obviously, this is not always the case.
In Patrick Si??skind’s novel, Perfume, this common misconception is accepted while in Ariel Dorfman’s play, Death and the Maiden, it is challenged. In addition to being characterized through their own thoughts, dialogue, and actions, the female characters in both texts are also defined by the male characters in their respective stories. In Perfume, the hopeless murder victims of Grenouille are not only symbolic of female suppression, but also their lack of power. However, in Death and the Maiden, Paulina Salas’ fight to bring her alleged rapist and torturer to justice is testament to female strength.
While Paulina and the female characters in Perfume may, at times, share the characteristic of being hopeless and vulnerable, Paulina seeks to overcome her lack of power, whereas Grenouille’s victims never have the chance and never try. Through the exchange of dialogue, actions and reactions, Paulina is portrayed as a character of power while the female characters in Perfume are not. Through the exchange of dialogue, it is evident that Paulina Salas is more argumentative than and not as indifferent as some of the female characters in Perfume.
For example, in the very first scene of Death and the Maiden, it is evident that Paulina plays the more dominant role in her marriage with Gerardo. After Gerardo is dropped home by a stranger, Paulina begins an interrogation by asking him, “And who was that? ” Gerardo is short of words and says nervously, “It’s just that I… ” Paulina then retorts by saying, “Who was it? ” demanding a quick answer (Dorfman 1. 1). What this confrontation illustrates is the fact that Paulina is the type of woman who seeks answers and will fight to get them.
It is likely that the physiological effects of being raped include a feeling of powerlessness. For this reason, Paulina seeks to empower herself in every situation possible. She is worried that the stranger Gerardo comes home with could have perhaps been a threat to her safety. Subsequently, she questions and interrogates Gerardo in order relieve herself of any concern. If Paula were indifferent or recessive, she would have never begun an argument with Gerardo. As a result, she is portrayed as a female character with superiority over her husband.
On the other hand, in Perfume, Grenouille’s mother is described as a character of extreme indifference towards her own life and that of others as well. For example, Grenouille’s mother gives birth to him underneath a gutting table in one of the most putrid fish markets in Paris, France. After cutting the umbilical chord with her gutting knife, she eventually faints and wakes up surrounded by turmoil. The crowd questions, “What has happened to her? What is she doing with that knife? ” She responds apathetically by saying, “nothing,” to both questions. And when asked, “Where does the blood on her skirt come from?
” she answers by saying, “From the fish” (Si?? skind 6). Later on, she openly confesses to the law that she allowed her child to perish and, consequently, she is decapitated and Grenouille is left an orphan. The fact that she, for no good reason, gives birth to her child in a place of disease and sickness, makes her exceptionally indifferent towards human life. Furthermore, instead of trying to somehow avoid the death penalty, she openly confesses and, in a way, commits suicide. Considering this, she not only eliminates a chance to keep living, but a chance to grow up with and take care of her own child.