What is the relationship between Aschenbach and Tadzio in "Death in Venice"?
The relationship between von Aschenbach and Tadzio is extremely one-sided in that von Aschenbach, a much older man and a famous writer who was once married to a woman, becomes essentially obsessed with Tadzio, a fourteen-year-old boy, to the extent that he risks his life for the ideal of his "love." Tadzio has no real feelings for von Aschenbach, although after von Aschenbach has begun to pursue him more aggressively, it becomes clear that Tadzio knows the older man is following him. But Tadzio does not actively encourage the relationship.
Fantasizing about Tadzio, von Aschenbach imagines himself as Socrates and Tadzio as Phaedrus, casting their relationship in the guise of the Greek mentor/mentee ideal, wherein an older man takes a younger man under his wing and there is mutual love and affection. In reality, this is not the case. Von Aschenbach whispers "I love you" only after Tadzio has left the vicinity, and his obsession with the boy causes him to do things he had previously found perverse, such as wearing rouge to look younger. In the end, his obsession with the boy causes him to stay in Venice even though he knows an epidemic is coming, and essentially his pursuit of Tadzio leads to his death.
Aschenbach is a writer who comes across Tadzio and his family while in Venice. He becomes obsessed with this young teenage boy who is beautiful, much like a Greek god in many ways. Tadzio and Aschenbach exchange many glances over the course of their time in Venice at the same resort; however, they do not exchange words. Aschenbach follows him until it becomes stalking, really. His thoughts are consumed with Tadzio. In many ways, Tadzio is much of a muse figure. Aschenbach, though, is clearly sexually attracted to Tadzio and even whispers that he loves him at one point. The attraction is disturbing and fascinating to read about at the same time because the reader wants to find out what becomes of Aschenbach. He, of course, ends up dying on the beach while watching Tadzio draw a figure upon the sand near the water.