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Looking At Allusions In The Seagull By Checkov And Death In Venice By Mann English Literature Essay

Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull are both noted for their extensive use of allusions to Greek mythology and Shakespearean drama respectively. Allusions are an effective technique used by known writers to present characters and themes. As a result, the interpretations of these works are influenced by the extent to which the underlying allusions are understood in terms of the effects their authors intended to Achieve.

Death in Venice is about the emergence of erotic love in Aschenbach’s life in his middle age. His admiration of Tadzio “a long-haired boy of about fourteen” with a “countenance, pale and gracefully reserved” recalls “Greek sculpture of the noblest period” [3] . This can be viewed as a sincere appreciation of beauty, as later solutions suggests it to be a homosexual attachment to a child; at a degree level, it depicts a situation with conflicts between Intellect and Passion.

In part 2 of the novel we are informed that Achenbach was too rigid and disciplined as a writer. Due to which he has had an unbalanced life in which he had only been expressed rationally through his writing. However as shown in the novel, hidden below repressed and unconscious till it bursts forth unexpectedly laid his suppressed desires and passion. His life changes irreversibly when he sees Tadzio. The change is foreshadowed earlier in part 1 when he sees a red-haired man while travelling, who stared at him “so aggressively, so straight in the eye, with so evident an intention to make an issue of the matter and outstare him”. The boy could have been referred to a devil or an evil element, but he represented passion. At this moment Aschenbach’s passion overtakes his intellect; he feels “an extraordinary expansion of his inner self, a kind of roving restlessness, a youthful craving for far off” [4] .

The idea of play within the play in the seagull reminds the audience of the same technique used by Shakespeare in the play Hamlet. This technique evokes a source of the conflicts. The allusion is made more explicitly by having mother and son quote lines directly from Hamlet. Irina accuses Treplev of hurting her by quoting “O Hamlet, speak no more: Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul; And there I see such black and grained spot, As will not leave their tinct.” To which Treplev retorts by saying lines from the same play. “Nay, but to live In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty” [5] . Though Treplev is not a tragic hero like Hamlet, the audience notices his need for appreciation from his mother, who finds his play “terribly modern” [6]  

Aschenbach’s life is unbalanced since it has no room for passion. He changes completely when “In a rising ecstasy he felt he was gazing on beauty itself, on form as a thought of God, and the sight of the boy filled him with fire and hope” [7] . A reference is made to yet another Greek myth, that of Socrates “instructing Phaedrus on Desire and Virtue on the burning terror of fear which the lover will suffer when his eye perceives a likeness of eternal beauty.” [8] Aschenbach thinks of Tadzio’s smile to be similar to the ‘smiles of Narcissus’ [9] . This represents Tadzio’s beauty in the eyes of Aschenbach. Who dies at the end of the novel because he is unable to control his obsession with the boy, this is referred to another myth which mentions the incident when “Phaedrus is lead to intoxication and lust; which lead a noble mind into a terrible criminal emotions, leading to abyss” [10] . This shows Aschenbach’s decline. The death comes as a shock to the world that is “respectfully shocked to receive the news of death” [11] . The decay and disease of the city can be drawn parallel to his own moral decay. In The Seagull, Treplev’s death is foreshadowed by the earlier reference to Hamlet. As in Death in Venice, Aschenbach’s death occurs at the climax of the play and its manner suggests that it is difficult to overcome these conflicts once they erupt. This tragedy occurs because both these characters had noble intentions but they still could not resolve their conflicts using Reason alone another similarity between the two characters as well as with Trigorin, is that all three of them were writers who were influenced by writers before them. Exactly the way in which the Indians are greatly influenced by the epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Europeans or Germans are influenced by Greek mythology and Greek classics. Chekhov was not only influenced by Russian writers but also by English and French writers as made known to us in the play when he talks about Maupassant’s, a French writers book ‘on the water, darling’ [12] . Trigorin also refers to other writers like Turgenev and Tolstoy who according to readers are fine writers but that’s not the same way in which Trigorin thinks of them, this is clear when he says “but not a patch on Tolstoy .’ Or: ‘Marvelous stuff, but Turgenev’s father and children is better.’ [13] 

 

The third role that allusion plays in these two works is to show how mythological elements can be present in a modern setting. In this sense, mythological motifs are universal in time and place. However, their presence may not be detected by Intellect alone. At no point in Death in Venice does Aschenbach show any insight into his condition. The boy becomes an infatuation for him while Aschenbach considers him to be Eos [14] , the god of dawn and later also as Eros [15] the god of love, looking at whom playing, dressed in white with a colorful sash, in his mind came thoughts of Hyacinthus who was doomed to perish cause two gods loved him [16] . Ironically he is perceived as a threat. In The Seagull what the allusion to Hamlet does is to intensify Treplev’s guilt. The conflict is therefore the result of incestuous sexual feelings that originate internally. These are feelings that he cannot acknowledge. His one chance lies in finding love through Nina but when she rejects him and prefers Trigorin, his emotions overwhelm him and he commits suicide but the fact is that, Treplev had shot himself [17] .  

The literary treatment of myth differs in the two works. In Mann’s work, the references are direct but the meaning has to be inferred. In Anton Chekhov’s they are direct. The characters share a common literary background. The third-person narration is omniscient in Death in Venice and the references to myth follow from Aschenbach’s internal thoughts.

The two writers have provided us with a vast knowledge about the cultural aspects of the two books namely about the culture of Russia and Germany. In Death in Venice we discover that the German culture believed in life after death. What we see in Seagull is that the society is very narrow minded and stereotypical which is in contrast to the society portrayed in Death in Venice. To conclude, we can say that Mann’s exploration of internal conflict through myth makes use of the differences between Reason, Passion and emotion. Making it clear for the readers that life lived rationally without joy and beauty can become unbalanced by its experience. On the other hand Chekhov uses the myth of Hamlet in a modern setting to show that there exists a sexual impulse that cannot be controlled easily. Thus we can say that the conflicts represented by the two writers in the characters of the two books leads to their decline and their moral decay.


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