Death in Venice

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The Gondolier Character Analysis

A mysterious character who transports Aschenbach to his hotel but refuses any monetary payment, saying simply, “You will pay.” He is reminiscent of the Greek mythological character Charon, who ferried souls across the river Styx into the underworld. The strange gondolier heightens the sense of Venice as an otherworldly, partly dreamlike place.

The Gondolier Quotes in Death in Venice

The Death in Venice quotes below are all either spoken by The Gondolier or refer to The Gondolier. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Art and the Artist Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Death in Venice published in 1995.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Who could avoid experiencing a fleeting shudder, a secret timidity and anxiety upon boarding a Venetian gondola for the first time or after a long absence? The strange conveyance, handed down without any change from ages of yore, and so peculiarly black—the only other thing that black is a coffin—recalls hushed criminal adventures in the night, accompanied only by the quiet splashing of water; even more, it recalls death itself, the bier and the dismal funeral and the final taciturn passage. And have you observed that the seat in such a boat, that armchair painted black like a coffin and upholstered in a dull black, is the softest, most luxurious and enervating seat in the world? Aschenbach noticed this when he sat down at the gondolier’s feet opposite his luggage, which was arranged neatly at the prow.

Related Characters: Gustav von Aschenbach, The Gondolier
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Gustav here prepares to arrive in Venice by gondola--the famed style of boat that's used to paddle between buildings in the city. As Gustav enters a gondola, he feels a strange twinge of anxiety and reflection. As Mann suggests, Gustav's anxiety is rooted in his own fear of death. The gondola is clearly depicted as a symbol of death--it's black like a coffin, and about the same size, too. The irony, then, is that even as Gustav enters Venice with hopes of reclaiming his youth and his life-force, he's surrounded by symbols that suggest death and destruction. The struggle for life, as Mann (a disciple of Freud) believed, is inseparably bound up with a repressed desire for death.


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“What do you charge for the ride?”
And, looking past him, the gondolier answered:
“You will pay.”

Related Characters: Gustav von Aschenbach (speaker), The Gondolier (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Mann here further reinforces the link between the gondola and death. Gustav has rented a gondola to travel to the place where he's staying. The gondolier rows Gustav into the depths of Venice, but refuses to accept any payment from Gustav--instead, he cryptically insists that Gustav will pay later.

The gondolier's words seem laced with symbolic meanings. In Greek mythology, the shadowy boatman Charon paddled dead spirits across the river Styx into Hell (in exchange for a coin). Here, the gondolier takes on the attributes of Charon, rowing Gustav into a city of death, and suggesting that Gustav will "pay" not with a coin but with his life itself. In short, the gondolier prophesies Gustav's death (a death that we're meant to see coming--it's even in the title--and that thus hangs over all the opening actions of the tale).

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The Gondolier Character Timeline in Death in Venice

The timeline below shows where the character The Gondolier appears in Death in Venice. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
...not to the vaporetto stop from where he wanted to go to his hotel. His gondolier informed him that he could not take the vaporetto with luggage and so the gondola... (full context)