Love with the boy
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Aschenbach is on holiday, something he hasn't indulged in for a very long time. He's repressed, stodgy if you will, looking for artistic inspiration. Tadzio is 14 years old, and he becomes the obsession (not love) of an older man who believes him to be the 'ideal.'
At the outset, we view Aschenbach as he is, dignified, moral, and hard working. Over the course of the story this changes, as the people he interacts with bring about a distinct change in the way he sees himself. I don't see him obsessed with the boy in so much a sexual way, as I see him yearning for the 'beauty' of his won youth. This becomes more than apparent when he's on the boat to Venice and happens to see a group of young men, and an older man with them; “One of the party…was no youth at all. He was an old man, beyond a doubt, with wrinkles crow’s-feet round the eyes and mouth; the dull carmine of the cheeks was rouge, the brown hair a wig. His neck was shrunken and sinewy, his turned-up moustaches and small imperial were dyed, and the unbroken double row of yellow teeth he showed when he laughed were but too obviously a cheapish false set, he has no right to wear the clothes they wore or pretend to be one of them,” (Mann 17).
He's disgusted by the older man's presence, and yet becomes disgusted with himself at the same time. He gets a makeover in an attempt to restore his youth, but doesn't realize that he's no different than the man he's judged...... just an old man trying to be young.
In my opinion, it all makes him pitiable. His world would have been different than our own; you didn't sexually desire those of the same sex. The loss of his inhibitions due to his persual of the boy debase him and lead him into decline. He destroys himself. I think that that type of destruction has no historical time frame.............. it's been going on since time began and still occurs even today.
Death in Venice