Suggested Essay Topics
Part One: Aschenbach at Home in Munich
1. Many things are obviously lacking in the life of Aschenbach, but what do you think is the most fundamental problem for him? Is it love? Fellowship? Recreation? Or something else?
2. Before he encounters the Pilgrim, Aschenbach reads the religious inscriptions on the chapel. What do these quotations mean, and why are they significant in the story?
Part Two: A Look Back Over Aschenbach’s Life
1. The figure of Gustave von Aschenbach combines, as we have seen, elements of Wolfram von Eschenbach, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Gustave Mahler, Stefan George and, most significantly, Thomas Mann himself. Look up these figures, and find out what additional traits from them Mann may have given to his protagonist.
2. Aschenbach appears to have lived in a world almost ¬completely without feminine influence. Even his wife and ¬daughter have not, so far as we know, had any lasting impact on him. How do you think that may have affected his character? You may wish to read further about the position of women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries before writing about this.
3. Aschenbach, we have learned, wrote a prose epic about the life of King Frederick the Great of Prussia. This was a king who once dreamed of being a poet but renounced that ambition for the life of a soldier. Prussia was almost constantly at war during his reign, and the country began to emerge as a world power. Read more about Frederick the Great in the encyclopedia. Then decide what this choice of subject can tell us about Aschenbach.
4. In the part of Death in Venice we are examining, there is a description of the sort of hero in Aschenbach’s novels, attributed to “a shrewd critic”: “The conception of an intellectual and virginal manliness, which clenches its teeth and stands in modest defiance of the swords and spears that pierce its side.” Can you think of any other heroes who meet that description? How well do the words of the critic describe Aschenbach himself? Do you think they might also describe Thomas Mann?
Part Three: The Trip to Venice
1. Thomas Mann constantly uses symbols in Death in Venice. Most of these are fairly straightforward, but two figures which are difficult to interpret, the hunchbacked sailor, and the ticket seller with a beard like that of a goat. The sailor sounds a bit like a medieval demon. The beard of the other man recalls representations of Pan, the god of flocks and herds, who is portrayed with the feet and beard of a goat. But the way Aschenbach descends into a dark, cavernous hull of the ship to meet him suggests that the ticket seller might be Hades, the guardian of the dead in Greek mythology. The man might, indeed, even be the Devil, or else he could be yet another incarnation of Death. Do you think he has symbolic meaning? If so, which figure do you feel is most likely?
2. Thomas Mann has several figures in his story which represent Death, but the rakish old man on...
(The entire section is 1247 words.)