What do Thomas Mann's works Death in Venice, Buddenbrooks, and Tonio Kroger (all pre WWI works) say about the relationship between the psyche and society?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In exploring Buddenbrooks, Death in Venice, and Tonio Kroger as they relate to the innermost feelings that exist in the psyche, the reader of these particular novels written by Thomas Mann immediately recognizes Mann's ability to reveal an apparent contradiction between actions, expectations, love, and the need to be loved. These novels allow Mann to rebel against the opportunities that come from the society he was brought up in. His own circumstances ensured that he enjoyed a life of comfort, but he was expected to recognize society's contribution to his well-being though in reality he felt stifled by it. The value system inculcated by his father increased his feelings of inadequacy and confusion. Like Goethe, whose works influenced Mann, Mann wants to use his novels to share his observations of life and its extremes.   

Buddenbrooks is Thomas Mann's first novel and was instrumental in his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929. Its message relates to the dangers of a decadent lifestyle rather than the development of an individual character (which German society was used to reading about). The life force that drives the Buddenbrook family and ensures its prosperity is also responsible for breaking down its environment and leaving the family in dire circumstances. 

Schopenhauer and Nietzsche also influenced Mann in his understanding of the conflict between his artistic self and his conventional upbringing. Death in Venice serves as a warning that there is a fine line between mere indulgence and outright excess. Even the beautiful Venice masks the decay that becomes evident as Aschenbach explores his chosen environment. Boundaries should ensure that Aschenbach remains within the limits of decency as he explores the love he only imagines, but even though he recognizes his own failings, he feels unable to control his urges and his developing paranoia, which ensure his place in eternal damnation.

Tonio Kroger has its origins in Mann's own background and explores the inability of Tonio to successfully combine the expectations of society with his artistic prowess. Even Tonio's name hints at a contradiction between the romantic and artistic elements of his first name contrasted with his apparently refined and structured surname. Although his observations serve to increase his understanding, a lack of personal growth can be traced to Tonio's fears and his journey home is significant in bringing closure. 

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