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Not only is this a perfect example of Manns mastery of the English language, it is loaded with complex figurative speech, and thus an accurate representation of the book's style. Through the imagery, Mann paints an authentic picture of a truly breathtaking specimen of human, perhaps semi-divine, beauty; otherwise, the reader would find it difficult to believe a man of such poise and ethics falling woefully in love. He says of Tadzio, "His face recalled the noblest moment of Greek sculpture--pale, with a sweet reserve, with clustering honey-colored ringlets, the brow and nose descending in one line, the winning mouth, the expression of pure and godlike serenity." Understanding the necessity of showing but not telling of Tadzio's beauty, Mann uses rich imagery in his descriptions of Tadzio, as well as throughout the entire novel.
Yet, more than irony or imagery, "Death in Venice's" prowess, the point most deserving of deep analysis, is its symbolism. From early in the novel, as early as the title itself, Mann centers his theme around death, and so the crucial symbolism centers around death as well. While some of it is blatant, there are times when the reader must at least be alert of or even consciously probe for symbolism. In either case, it is important for the reader to be aware of Mann's endeavors early in the novel, or the point may be altogether missed. The exotic stranger Aschenbach encounter in the opening scene is the first of many "tokens" of death. Mann suggests this in his description of the stranger:
ââ‚¬Å“His chin was up, so that the Adam's apple looked very bald in the lean neck rising from the loose shirt; and he stood there sharply peering up into space out of colorless, red-lashed eyes.... At any rate, standing there as though at survey, the man had a bold and domineering, even a ruthless air, and his lips completed the picture by seeming to curl back, either by reason of some deformity or else because he grimaced, being blinded by the sun in his face; they laid bare the long, white, glistening teeth to the gums.ââ‚¬Å“
This passage almost implies that the man is a skeleton, or at least that he is ghostly, with the bared teeth of a skull. The reader knows nothing about the stranger and is soon disappointed to learn nothing of him, and yet the stranger has already served his purpose: he is the first envoy of death in the novel. In addition, the fact that the scene occurs near a cemetery is no coincidence.
Later on, when Aschenbach arrives in Venice, Mann introduces symbolism to death once more. Trying to suppress his excitement of stepping into a Venetian gondola, Aschenbach describes the comfortable boat as "[that] singular conveyance, come down unchanged from ballad times, black as nothing else on earth except a coffin...." Mann refers to death again when he says of the gondola, "...what pictures it calls up of lawless, silent adventures in the plashing night; or even more, what visions of death itself, the bier and solemn rites and last soundless voyage!" Once this symbolism is discerned, the reader quickly realizes the gondolier, the "despotic boatman," embodies none other than Charon, ferryman of the Styx in Hades!
Thus far, in the novel, symbolism only emphasizes the importance of death. Later, through allegory, symbolism begins to denote the vital ideas of "Death in Venice.ââ‚¬Â By the end, Tadzio, who until then has essentially been a one-dimensional figure, takes on integral significance, and is interpreted as a symbol. As Hermes, messenger of the gods, Tadzio is the one who proclaims Aschenbach's imminent death. With a smile like a kiss of death, he summons the artist to his destruction. On a more prominent level, Tadzio's function in the entire novel is to emancipate Aschenbach's soul from the grapple of impure matter. Tadzio, whose beauty is the reflection of the world of the spirit, instead of the reason for Aschenbach's death, alters and becomes the means of his soul's liberation. This last endeavor furnishes the most profound and most stimulating significance of the story's symbolism. In the end, all the representation of death presented as presages coalesces with the decease of Aschenbach, the event that the reader has anticipated since assuming the first harbinger.
Studying Mann's personal experiences reveal from where he derives his attitude toward death. Certainly, he is familiar to its lurid face; at an early age, both of his sisters committed suicide. When he was only seventeen, his father passed away due to blood poisoning. The raw material of "Death in Venice" came from his vacation in the Lido, a beach in Venice. Oddly enough, this trip was taken in May of 1911, the same month (and possibly year) when Aschenbach's story begins.
In Mann's own life, the novel is wholly symbolic in that much of Aschenbach is autobiographical. Just like Aschenbach, Mann enjoyed status early in life; feeble health was a mutual complication; and both exercised Apollonic order (Mann, too, conducted all his literary work during first light). The determination to sustain and survive existed in the spirit of both artists. Yet "Death in Venice" is by no certain means a narrowly autobiographical narrative. Nevertheless, much that is the artist Aschenbach is part of the artist Mann, and thus can be interpreted as a faint symbol of Mann. Perhaps Aschenbach is an extreme example of the imperfections Mann combated during his own lifetime; if this indeed is the case, then Aschenbach is not only a token of the frailty of Mann, but an emblem of the fallacies plaguing us all.