Death in Venice

Art and Extremism

In Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice," Gustave von Aschenbach is described as "the watcher" (73), who becomes interested in the young Tadzio, eventually leading to a dangerous obsession that causes his death. In the novella, Mann uses Aschenbach's sudden passionate fascination with the young Tadzio to portray the dangers of art taken to one extreme, and the need for a balance between the Dionysian and Apollonian-between drunken hedonism and detached rationalism. Aschenbach's heavy reliance on the Apollonian prior to his visit to Venice backfires on him, thrusting him to the Dionysian without any hope of finding stability. Tadzio's role in the story is passive, as he is the impetus for Aschenbach's transformation, but does not necessarily encourage Aschenbach's destructive behavior. Furthermore, Aschenbach himself is not fully aware of his changing, for he becomes somewhat delusional, dying relatively happily and peacefully.

Almost as soon as he sees Tadzio, Aschenbach becomes delusional, as discrepancies between what he perceives and what the narrator reveals become apparent. In Tadzio, Aschenbach sees a boy whose "face recalled the noblest moment of Greek sculpture-pale...the brow...

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