Sample Analytical Paper Topics
The following are some suggestions for papers that may be written on Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, complete with a basic outline and, in some instances, suggested readings. The suggestions are designed to provide the student who wishes to write about Death in Venice with both a starting point and a general orientation. They do not, however, substitute for original thinking on the part of the student. In order to fill in the outlines, the student will have to think about the themes and draw his or her own conclusions. In some cases, the student may also have to do further research, though this is not necessary with every suggestion. The student should not use the exact words of this or any other book without giving credit to the source.
The topics represent many different levels of difficulty, and some of the outlines are more complete than others. The reader who wishes to use one should not make a selection at random, but should look through several until he or she finds one that seems right. He or she should then not begin writing immediately. It is best to think things over carefully before putting words on paper. Writing is a highly individual activity, and the reader should never feel bound to any of the outlines. On the contrary, the reader should also feel free to modify or adapt any outline toward his or her purposes.
Since an author must use his or her own experience, all fiction is partly autobiographical, but that is especially true for the fiction of Thomas Mann. The major model for Gustave von Aschenbach, as for almost all of Mann’s protagonists, was Mann himself. As the author admitted in Sketch of My Life, almost nothing in the story Death in Venice was purely fictional. The various literary works that Mann attributes to his protagonist are all things Mann either wrote himself or else planned to write. We now know that the Polish boy in whom Aschenbach was enraptured grew up to be Count Moes, who corroborated many details of the final scene on the beach. Count Moes even remembered an old man who was constantly watching him and his playmate, but he had been a very good-looking boy who was used to attention, and he did not think that terribly strange. Other details such as the staring man at the mauso¬leum, the elderly man acting as a young boy, the strange gondolier without a license, the outbreak of cholera and other details were taken from personal experience. The author merely had to arrange them in a continuous narrative. It is, in fact, sort of hard to know where Thomas Mann leaves off and Gustave von Aschenbach begins.
Thomas Mann certainly also gave Aschenbach a number of his more general features including ambition, a strong work ethic, an aspiration to bourgeois respectability, a feeling of being unable to participate in normal life and an obsessive devotion to art. Nevertheless, Thomas Mann was certainly a stronger and more complex figure than Aschenbach proved to be.
So what, exactly, was the relationship between the author and his character? Can Aschenbach truly be called a self-portrait? Was he more a warning example, what the author wanted to avoid? Or was he, in some respects at least, also an image of what the author aspired to become? The paper will address these questions.
I. Thesis Statement: Most works of fiction are partly autobiographical. Almost nothing in Death in Venice was purely fictional. The major model for Gustave von Aschenbach was Thomas Mann.
II. Introduction: How Authors Use Their Personal Experience
A. There is Some Fiction in Every Autobiography
B. There is Some Autobiography in Every Work of Fiction
III. The Character and Life of Gustave von Aschenbach
A. The Personality of Aschenbach
B. The Habits and Work Ethic of Aschenbach
C. The Inclination to Pedophilia of Aschenbach
D. The Fate of Aschenbach
IV. The Character and Life of Thomas Mann
A. The Personality of Thomas Mann
B. The Habits and Work Ethic of Thomas Mann
C. The Inclination to Pedophilia of Thomas Mann
D. The Fate of Thomas Mann
V. Aschenbach and Mann: Important Similarities and Differences
A. Aschenbach as a Partial Self Portrait of Thomas Mann
B. Important Differences Between Aschenbach and Thomas Mann
A. Why Aschenbach was Destroyed
B. Why Thomas Mann Prospered
C. Why Thomas Mann was a Stronger Person than Aschenbach
Gustave Aschenbach, like several figures in the fiction of Thomas Mann, has lived only for the sake of art. This attitude was far more common in the era of Thomas Mann than it is today, because the romantic movement had made art into practically a religion. However we have all known people who appear to live only for one thing, whether that is making money, playing basketball, winning at chess, having adventures or something else. In many cases, perhaps all, their lives seem incomplete.
That is certainly true with Aschenbach. He has acquired enormous skill, but the lack of passion and experience makes even writing difficult for him. What do you think about Aschenbach’s priorities at the start of the novella? Are they noble, perverse or perhaps a little of both? Could the devotion of Aschenbach, under different circumstances, have been sustained?
I. Thesis Statement: Art affected almost every aspect of Gustave Aschenbach’s life.
II. How Aschenbach Lived for his Art
A. The Work Habits of Aschenbach
B. Aschenbach’s Lack of Life Experience
1. An Overview of Aschenbach’s Life
2. The Personal Isolation of Aschenbach
3. How Literature Replaced Experience for Aschenbach
III. The Artistic Style of Aschenbach
A. Aschenbach’s Ideal of “Virginal Manhood”
1. Aschenbach’s Emphasis on Strength of Will
2. The Clenched Fist as a Symbol of Aschenbach
3. Aschenbach’s Pursuit of Worldly Honors
4. Frederick the Great of Prussia as an Example of Aschenbach’s Ideal
5. Aschenbach’s Scorn for Personal Weakness
B. The Literary Ideal of Aschenbach
1. The Elevated Tone of Aschenbach’s Prose
2. The Lack of Common Expressions in Aschenbach’s Prose
IV. The Creative Problems of Aschenbach
A. The Empty Virtuosity of Aschenbach’s Writing
1. The Narrow Range of Passions in Aschenbach’s Prose.
2. How the Writing of Aschenbach was More Admired than Loved
(The entire section is 2708 words.)