Death in Venice Essay: Love for Tadzio or Venice?

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Aschenbach: In love with Tadzio, or Venice?


Thomas Mann's Death in Venice presents an artist with a fascination for beauty that overpowers all of his senses. Aschenbach's attraction to Tadzio can be viewed as a symbol for his love for the city of Venice. The city, however, is also filled with corruption, and it is this corruptive element that kills him.


Aschenbach first exhibits his love for Venice when he feels that he must go to "one of the gay world's playgrounds in the lovely south"(6). The south, to him, means something new and exciting. He has lived a structured life in Germany, filled with order and precision. He feels the need to move, to experience new and different aspects of life; since for Aschenbach,
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In fact it seems that Tadzio is a symbol of the city. For example, the sea that borders Venice is detailed in this manner:


"Heaven, earth, and its waters yet lay enfolded in the ghostly, glassy pallor of dawn. . . But there came a breath, a winged word from far and inaccessible abodes, that Eros was rising from the side of her spouse; and there was that first sweet reddening of the farthest strip of sea and sky that manifests creation to man's senses" (47-48).


Mann continues to describe Greek gods and myths, establishing the feeling that Venice is worthy of the gods. Similarly, Tadzio is compared to a "tender young god," who is "virginally pure and austere, with dripping locks"(33). As one critic writes, "The sensuous, seductive beauty of Venice is reflected for Aschenbach in the perfection of the boy"(Jonas 39).


The reader also learns about the negative aspects of Tadzio and Venice. A close look at Tadzio reveals to Aschenbach that the boy is "sickly." Aschenbach concludes that the boy will not live long, but he does not realize at first that the city has its own sickness as well. It is only later that Aschenbach discovers that the city has covered its own infestation of cholera. The city and Tadzio have a "conflicting character"(Jonas 40); one in which idealistic beauty counters newly found corruption. Those who behold this beauty, namely Aschenbach, will also be affected by its corruption.
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