Symbolism in Thomas Manns Story Essay

This essay has a total of 1609 words and 6 pages.

Symbolism in Thomas Manns Story

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, he refuses to leave Venice in order to indulge
his desires. As a result, his passion leads him to his erotic doom.

Among a number of themes of the novella, the most prominent one is obviously death, which
is both - physical and moral. The theme is revealed and effectively explored during the
story through the use of imagery and symbolism. Indeed, Death in Venice is a nest of
connected keys and symbols in which scarcely a word is wasted. Even though some of Mann's
symbols are straightforward, much is more obscure. The reader is forced to dig deep in
order to determine the true meaning of any given passage. It is important for the reader
to be aware of Mann's endeavors early in the novel, or the point may be altogether missed.
As Death in Venice abounds in symbols, it is impossible to describe and interpret all of
them just in three pages. For this reason, the particular essay analyzes several symbols
that are associated with the notion of death.

At the beginning of Death in Venice, we find the fifty-three year old writer unable to
write a perfectly balanced work. He decides to take a walk by the north cemetery in an
unnamed town that can be identified as Munich. A storm begins to brew, and the writer
turns homeward. Suddenly he notices a strange-looking man with red hair, dressed as a
tourist. An exotic stranger is the first of many symbols of death. It can be proved by the
description of the stranger: "His chin was up, so that the Adam's apple looked very bald
in the lean neck rising from the loose shirt; and he stood there sharply peering up into
space out of colourless, red-lashed eyes.... At any rate, standing there as though at
survey, the man had a bold and domineering, even a ruthless air, and his lips completed
the picture by seeming to curl back, either by reason of some deformity or else because he
grimaced, being blinded by the sun in his face; they laid bare the long, white, glistening
teeth to the gums". The descriptions of the storm and the threatening-looking stranger
(his red hair suggesting the devil, the long, exposed teeth of a grimacing figure are
reminiscent of a skull) foretell impending dangers. Moreover, the fact that the scene
occurs in the surroundings of a cemetery is no coincidence. Specifically, the gravestones
introduce thoughts of death.

In his description of Aschenbach's journey into Venice, Mann includes symbolism to death
once more. Aschenbach steps into the gondola, "[that] singular conveyance, come down
unchanged from ballad times, black as nothing else on earth except a coffin..." The
description proceeds as "...what pictures it calls up of lawless, silent adventures in the
plashing night; or even more, what visions of death itself, the bier and solemn rites and
last soundless voyage!" The black boat is likened to a coffin and linked with death - "the
last journey". The gondolier refuses to follow the instructions or to inform his passenger
of how much the ride will cost, saying simply, "You will pay". 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 reserve, with
clustering honey - coloured ringlets, the brow and nose descending in one line, the
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