Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The novella is structured by a series of polarities and contrasts: north-south, age-youth, health-sickness, art-life, reason-instinct, reality-illusion, order-chaos. Once Aschenbach breaks free from his northern restraints, he is unable to establish the proper balance between his Germanic culture, intellect, discipline, and serenity and Italian passion, license, freedom, and decadence.

Mann also uses the structural device of the leitmotif: the repetition of a certain phrase in different contexts, which he associates with a particular theme. His allusions to the composers Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler, the musicians in the gondola and the street, and Tadzio’s name, which sounds like a musical description (adagio means “slowly”), all suggest that art can arouse dangerous emotions. The demonic tempters and messengers of death all have the same physical features and bad teeth; the black gondola, blackened corpses, and snapping black cloth of the camera symbolize death.

Mann’s style changes from coolly objective to intensely passionate as Aschenbach moves from a passive to an active lover and is gradually overwhelmed by moral and physical degeneration. Aschenbach first sees Tadzio as would an intellectual connoisseur, changes to a sympathetic and paternal view, realizes that he is staying in Venice for Tadzio’s sake, and compares their relationship to that of Socrates and his favorite pupil, Phaedrus. As he approaches death, Aschenbach is overcome by panic, hysterical desire, demonic frenzy, and orgiastic dreams, driven as he is into the bottomless pit of excess and damnation.

Death in Venice Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Munich (MEW-nihk). Well-ordered, proper city in Germany’s Bavarian region, in which the story opens around the turn of the twentieth century. There the great writer Gustav von Aschenbach lives. Weary of Germany’s cold and damp northern spring and the dullness of his surroundings, Aschenbach decides to spend a summer in a warm place and goes to Italy. Although briefly described, cold Munich serves as a contrast to the warmth and extravagance of Venice, and it represents the writer’s discipline and respectability.


*Venice. Port city in northern Italy where Aschenbach arrives after a few false starts and checks into the Hôtel des Bains on the Lido, an island across the canal from the main city. With a private beach facing the Adriatic Sea, this grand hotel has spacious rooms, well-tended gardens, elegant public areas, a spacious veranda, and an obsequious staff—all of which suits Aschenbach’s aristocratic tastes. He then settles into his comfortable room and looks forward to a refreshing holiday.

Drawn to Venice, he takes a boat across the canal to the city, relishing even “that slightly foul odor of sea and swamp.” At first glance, “that most improbable of cities” appears beautiful with its fabulous towers and ornate palaces and churches shimmering in the sunlight. On closer examination, however, Aschenbach finds that the city is crumbling. Its once magnificent structures are sinking into the water, the paint everywhere is...

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Death in Venice Historical Context

Early Twentieth Century
A number of events occurred in 1911 inspiring Mann to begin work on Death in Venice. One of these...

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Death in Venice Literary Style

Myths are anonymous and traditional stories that cultures tell to explain natural phenomena. Mann makes broad use of...

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Death in Venice Literary Techniques

The straightforward plot of this relatively short work is embedded with consummate skill in a rich matrix of symbolical and mythological...

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Death in Venice Social Concerns

Death in Venice focuses on an artist's radically disturbed relationship to the stark forces of life. Published two years before the...

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Death in Venice Compare and Contrast

1910–1915: In 1912, the Titanic, a sprawling 892-foot ocean liner and the world’s largest ship, sinks off the coast of...

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Death in Venice Topics for Further Study

Analyze Mann’s use of color in describing the traveler in the cemetery, the gondolier, the old fop, and the street musician. Write a short...

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Death in Venice Adaptations

The noted Italian director Luchino Visconti adapted Death in Venice for the screen in an Italian and French production of 1971....

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Death in Venice Media Adaptations

Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film adaptation of Death in Venice starring Dirk Bogarde and Bjorn Andresen is available at most video...

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Death in Venice What Do I Read Next?

In 2001, Gilbert Adair’s study, Inspiration for “Death in Venice”—The Real Tadzio 1900– 1962, was published. Adair examines...

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Death in Venice Bibliography and Further Reading

Bergenholtz, Rita A., “Mann’s Death in Venice,” in the Explicator, Vol. 55, No. 3, Spring 1997, p....

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Death in Venice Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Berlin, Jeffrey B., ed. Approaches to Teaching Mann’s “Death in Venice” and Other Short Fiction. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1992. Designed for teachers, this book contains several useful shorter essays, especially that by Naomi Ritter on the story in the context of European decadence. Includes a useful bibliographical essay.

Cohn, Dorrit. “The Second Author in Der Tod in Venedig.” In Critical Essays on Thomas Mann, compiled by Inta M. Ezergailis. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. An examination of the highly ironic relationship between the narrator of the story and his protagonist, Gustav von...

(The entire section is 276 words.)