Symbolism in Thomas Mann's Story \

1621 WordsMay 24, 20057 Pages
One of the most important figures of early twentieth-century literature was Thomas Mann. Thomas Mann is famous for his economical writing. He does not waste a word: every detail he includes is significant, and every detail serves his strategy of suggesting, hinting, rather than directly telling. Without a doubt, Death in Venice by Thomas Mann is one of the greatest masterpieces of short fiction ever written. It tells the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but aging German writer who follows his wanderlust to Venice in search of spiritual fulfillment. When he arrives in Venice, Aschenbach becomes obsessed with a fourteen year old boy named Tadzio. Aschenbach's mind becomes increasingly unbalanced. Despite an outbreak of cholera,…show more content…
To interpret the character of the boatman, one should be aware of Greek mythology. "In Greek mythology, the river Styx formed the boundary between the living world and the underworld. In Greek mythology, Charon was the ferryman of Hades. He took the newly dead from one side of the river Acheron to the other if they had an obolus (coin) to pay for the ride. Corpses in ancient Greece were always buried with a coin underneath their tongue to pay Charon. Those who could not pay had to wander the banks of the Acheron for one hundred years" . Thus, the journey in the gondola also suggests the voyage to the Underworld. Consequently, the reader quickly realizes that the "despotic boatman" embodies none other than Charon, ferryman of the Styx in Hades. It is significant that the gondolier has reddish eyebrows and often bares his white teeth, evoking the image of the earlier discussed stranger. Strange red-haired figures consistently reappear to Aschenbach, suggesting demons or devils, which serve as messengers signalling Aschenbach's looming fate. At the hotel Aschenbach catches sight of a beautiful, fourteen-year-old Polish boy named Tadzio who is vacationing with his family. Aschenbach is immediately attracted to him, comparing him to a Greek statue and an artistic masterpiece. He says of Tadzio, "His face recalled the noblest moment of Greek sculpture - pale, with a sweet
Open Document