The Triumph Of Disaster In Thomas Mann's Death In Venice

1971 words - 8 pages

Triumph of Disaster in Death in Venice 

As Death in Venice begins, Gustav von Aschenbach, the distinguished author of Munich, goes for a stroll on a May afternoon. While waiting for the train back home, he spots a man ahead of him, a man by whom he is intrigued. Defiantly, even fiercely, the angular face of the man returns Aschenbach's gaze. Aschenbach quickly turns away from the stranger, who soon disappears. Whether it was the intriguing stranger or the warm temperature, he doesn't know; nevertheless, Aschenbach is clutched by a burning desire to travel. A strict ascetic, Aschenbach never knew the sweet idleness that belonged to youth. In the novel, an observer compliments Aschenbach by saying, " 'You see, Aschenbach has always lived like this '--here the speaker closed the fingers of his left hand to a fist-- 'never like this '--and he let his hand hang relaxed from the back of his chair." This particular day, however, shuddering at the thought of laboring over his work for yet another summer, he obeys his primeval, exotic side, and resolves to take a brief vacation. He leaves for Treiste, but after a sojourn of only ten days, he concludes he dislikes the area and leaves for Venice on a small boat. On the boat, he notices a blatantly old man trying to recapture his youth, and is disgusted by the gigolo. Hailing a gondolier, Aschenbach makes his way to the beautiful city of Venice and promptly checks into a hotel.

Making himself comfortable in the drawing room, he takes time to examine his surroundings and the people with whom he shall be vacationing. The party at the table next to him, he notices, is of Polish descent, and his attention is quickly drawn by a youth, a strikingly handsome boy of fourteen. Pale and long-haired, he reminds Aschenbach of a Greek statue. This, combined with exceptional personal charm, forces Aschenbach to acknowledge he has never seen anything so perfect as the Polish boy, not in nature nor in art.

The next morning, Aschenbach detects a corrupt smell issuing from the lagoons; repulsed and disheartened by this site as well, he decides to depart. However, a misunderstanding concerning his luggage, which was sent ahead of him, impels him to remain in Venice; when he returns indefinitely and passes the beautiful boy, whose name he has learned to be Tadzio, he perceives that subconsciously his leave of Venice had been difficult for the sake of the boy. Now, Aschenbach gives himself over completely to contemplate "every line and pose" of Tadzio's exquisite body.

As the days go by, Aschenbach finds himself more and more attracted to the godlike youth. On one occasion when Tadzio catches his admirer staring at him, he smiles at him in a friendly manner. Upon seeing this, Aschenbach, elated by the gift lavished on him, flees joyfully into the darkness of the park. Tormented as well as exhilarated, he mutters in a sacred manner, no matter how absurd, "I love you."

When Aschenbach concedes to his...

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