Death in Venice

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Death in Venice Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator describes the weather at Venice in lyrical language, describing the rising of the sun in mythological terms as a god driving his blazing chariot across the sky and noting how plants in the park at evening “emitted a balmy fragrance.” Aschenbach decided to stay in Venice even after his luggage was returned to him. He had been “bewitched” by the leisurely lifestyle of this vacation.
As the narration suggests, Aschenbach is now largely caught up in a fantasy of ancient, mythological times, inspired by Tadzio and the sensuous atmosphere of Venice. His “vacation” has now turned into an indefinite, perhaps permanent journey, as he is overwhelmed by his latent desires.
Themes
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
Aschenbach had never been able to stay away from work for very long and never indulged in much pleasure, but now he found himself relaxing all day. He felt like he had gone to “the ends of the earth, where the easiest possible life is the lot of mankind.” He often saw Tadzio around the hotel and watched him with “adoration and study.”
Aschenbach used to be a very disciplined person, and a very Apollonian artist. Now, however, devoted to Tadzio’s beauty, he has become a leisurely, Dionysian character.
Themes
Art and the Artist Theme Icon
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
Every morning, Aschenbach got up early and was the first person on the beach, where he sat as the sun rose and the day got hotter and hotter, and from where he could watch Tadzio most days. He watched Tadzio play and overheard him talking with his family. Since Aschenbach did not understand Tadzio’s language, the boy's speech was like music to him.
The heat of the sun matches the growing heat of Aschenbach’s desire for Tadzio, which continues to grow. Aschenbach finds beauty in everything Tadzio does, including his speech, which Aschenbach can’t even understand (and perhaps he likes it more for not being able to understand it, as that makes it more exotic).
Themes
Beauty Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
Aschenbach admired everything about Tadzio’s behavior and appearance, including his “honey-colored hair.” He thought of the boy, “What breeding, what precision of thought were expressed in this outstretched body, perfect in its youthfulness!” Tadzio’s beauty reminded Aschenbach of what it was like for him to produce beauty through writing, like a sculpture from the “marble block of language.”
Aschenbach admires both Tadzio’s beauty and his youth. Tadzio’s beauty makes Aschenbach think of the beauty of art and writing. However, Aschenbach’s artistic admiration of Tadzio’s beauty is becoming excessive.
Themes
Art and the Artist Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
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Aschenbach felt that gazing at Tadzio was like looking at beauty itself. Thinking of Plato’s Phaedrus (a work that discusses the nature of desire), Aschenbach remembered Plato’s idea that beauty directs the soul toward heaven, thus justifying his obsession with Tadzio.
Tadzio again makes Aschenbach think of ancient times. He uses Plato’s abstract ideas about beauty to justify his very real, concrete obsession with the young boy.
Themes
Beauty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Aschenbach felt intoxicated by the sun and ocean and had a delirious vision. In the vision, he was in an idyllic scene under a tree outside of Athens (the setting of Plato’s Phaedrus). Aschenbach’s vision recreated Plato’s dialogue, with the old, ugly Socrates teaching the young, attractive Phaedrus. Aschenbach imagined Socrates, lusting after Phaedrus, saying, “beauty is the path taken by the man of feeling to attain the intellectual—only the path, only a means, young Phaedrus.”
Aschenbach’s intoxication from the climate mirrors how he is getting carried away by the intoxicating, Dionysian and repressed parts of his psyche. He becomes increasingly temporally disoriented, as he has a vision that transports him to ancient Greece. Like Aschenbach with Tadzio, Socrates uses abstract philosophy about beauty to justify his love for Phaedrus.
Themes
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
Aschenbach felt a sudden urge to write, and felt compelled to write about “a certain important, burning issue of culture and taste.” He wrote in the presence of Tadzio, so that he could model his own writing on the beautiful form of Tadzio’s body. The narrator reflects on how good it is that people only see finished works of art, as the sources of their inspiration and the circumstances of their making are often less admirable than the artworks themselves.
Tadzio’s beauty is at least in one way good for Aschenbach, as it inspires him to create beauty in his writing. Aschenbach’s writing is once again importantly linked to his life experience, but in a way that his readers will never know.
Themes
Art and the Artist Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
Aschenbach saw Tadzio the next morning and decided to say hello and introduce himself in a friendly manner. But just as he was about to say something, he felt his heart pounding and walked past Tadzio. The narrator says that talking to Tadzio may have sobered Aschenbach, but that he was now attached to his own intoxication. He joked with himself about how he had lost his courage in approaching Tadzio.
Aschenbach now enjoys his new intoxicated state of mind and does not wish to “sober up” by speaking to Tadzio and confronting him as a real person, rather than an ideal of beauty and youth. Aschenbach is increasingly powerless to resist his inner desires, which he thought he could simply experience temporarily during his vacation.
Themes
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
Aschenbach planned to stay in Venice indefinitely, and put all the energy and focus he used to devote to writing into watching Tadzio. He got up every morning to watch the sunrise, which he saw in mythological terms as the arrival of Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn. “Emotions from the past,” that Aschenbach had neglected in his discipline began to resurface as he watched the “lovely shining and blossoming” of the sun in the sky.
Aschenbach’s decision to stay in Venice indefinitely reflects his resolution not to return to his prior, disciplined self. He now neglects his work and lives partially in a fantasy-world of ancient, mythological visions that arouse his desire for beauty. His short vacation has now become a permanent transformation of his life.
Themes
Art and the Artist Theme Icon
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
The days were “mythically transformed” for Aschenbach, who saw the waves crashing on the beach as Poseidon’s “steeds dash[ing] forward.” He compared Tadzio to Hyacinthus, a young man in Greek mythology who was loved by both Zephyrus (a wind god) and Apollo (the sun god), and who tragically died.
Aschenbach’s physical travel to Venice is complemented by a kind of temporal travel, as he increasingly sees the world in ancient, mythical terms. His comparison of Tadzio to Hyacinthus suggests a premature death for the boy, which would prevent his beauty from fading with age.
Themes
Beauty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
Tadzio would occasionally walk to his family by a route that meant he passed right by Aschenbach, and Aschenbach took this as a sign that “his friendly feelings and attention were not altogether unreciprocated.” Their gazes met occasionally, and Aschenbach thought he saw “an inquiry, a pensive question” in the boy’s eyes.
Aschenbach’s interest in Tadzio has reached the point where he is not simply fascinated by the boy’s beauty, but really desires him. He hopes that Tadzio returns his affections to some degree.
Themes
Beauty Theme Icon
One evening, Aschenbach saw Tadzio and his family returning from dinner in the city, and marveled at how Tadzio was more beautiful than words could describe. Aschenbach could not contain his joy at seeing the boy, and Tadzio smiled back at him, looking like Narcissus. Aschenbach was shocked and ran to the garden. He scolded himself for smiling in such a way, but then inhaled the fragrance of the plants and said out loud, “I love you.”
Aschenbach continues to be infatuated with Tadzio’s beauty, and continues to compare him to beautiful male characters from classical mythology. Yet as he admits to himself when he says, “I love you,” his artistic admiration of Tadzio has turned into actual erotic desire for the boy.
Themes
Art and the Artist Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon