In the early novels of Thomas Mann, the readers can often follow the rethinking of Friedrich Nietzsche’s postulates. The influence of philosophical attitudes can be traced concerning the art of dance in the novel Death in Venice, written in 1911. In this story, Thomas Mann addresses his favorite topic — the problem of creativity. However, the clash of crowd and creator turns into an interpersonal conflict, pushing the hero to the transformation that ends in tragedy. Subsequently, the artistic principles developed in Nietzsche’s treatise had, to a great extent, influenced the exquisite design of Mann’s work.
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Plot and Problems
The novel depicts the life of a famous writer who has gone on a spontaneous journey after meeting a mysterious stranger. The whole life of Gustav von Aschenbach is built on contrasts since the hero is not used to enjoying life. The character’s problem lies in his isolation from real life. As a consequence, his struggle between Dionysianncludes lust, ecstasy, and chaos, and the Apollonian touches logic order and rationality. For Nietzsche, Apollonian is an idea of order, harmony, embodying the concept of beauty, and the sense of proportion and individuality (Gale, p. 32). In contrast, Dionysian is a state of irrational, nightly element of chaos, causing horror, and, at the same time, bliss of admiration. Aschenbach deliberately limits his own Dionysian, which leads to negative consequences: a sense of self-control collapses when meeting with Tadzio (Shookman, p.44). Moreover, chaos and a riot of passions begin to seep drop by drop into an Apollonian verified life. Nevertheless, in spite of the homosexual undertones in relation to Tadzio, he clearly embodies the concept of pure, non-sexual beauty.
Overall, the short story Death in Venice is not just a biography of Gustav von Aschenbach’s soul or a fragmentary description of Thomas Mann life. In turn, it is the story of the 20th century man seeking to free himself from conventions, norms, and rules imposed from outside, and an attempt to achieve a harmony inside. The disharmonious development of Aschenbach, who tries to control his life with the help of the mind, leads to the gradual destruction of creator’s personality, unable to achieve harmony either in life or creativity.
A Study Guide for Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. Gale, Cengage Learning, 2016.
Mann, Thomas. Death in Venice, Tonio Kroger, and Other Writings, New York, NY: A&C Black, 2003.
Shookman, Ellis. Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice: A Novella and its Critics. Camden House: Boydell & Brewer, 2013.