Death in Venice

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While traveling by boat to Venice, Aschenbach sees a pathetic-looking old man who is wearing makeup, a wig, and dentures in a desperate attempt to appear young. The old man is drunk and offends Aschenbach’s sensibilities. However, by the end of the novella, Aschenbach declines to the point where he comes to resemble the old man, as he alters his own appearance in his pursuit of youth and beauty.

The Old Man Quotes in Death in Venice

The Death in Venice quotes below are all either spoken by The Old Man or refer to The Old Man. 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

One of these passengers, in a light yellow summer suit of an extravagantly stylish cut, red tie and jauntily uptilted Panama hat, outdid all the rest in jollity with his squawky voice. But scarcely had Aschenbach taken a closer look at him, when with a sort of terror he realized that the youthful impression was spurious. This was an old man, there could be no doubt. Wrinkles surrounded his eyes and mouth. The faint crimson of his cheeks was rouge; the brown hair beneath the straw hat with its colorful band was a wig; his neck was scraggy and sinewy; his little stuck-on mustache and the tiny beard on his chin were dyed; the complete set of yellow teeth, which he displayed as he laughed, was a cheap denture; and his hands, with signet rings on both index fingers, were those of an old, old man. With a feeling of horror Aschenbach watched him and his intercourse with his friends.

Related Characters: Gustav von Aschenbach, The Old Man
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous passage, Gustav has a nightmarish experience. He sees someone who appears to be young and cheerful--someone who's wearing brightly-colored clothing and a flamboyant hat. With horror, Gustav realizes that the man is actually extremely old--he's just covered his entire face in grotesque makeup designed to fool people into thinking that he's young.

What does this surreal episode symbolize? Some have argued that the young-old man is Europe itself--vainly trying to revitalize itself in spite of its gradual decay. Others have pointed to the Freudian dimensions of the scene: Gustav seemingly has (as we'll later see) repressed desires for men, and yet for now, he recoils in fear and disgust. Perhaps most importantly, the man foreshadows what Gustav himself will become later in the story, as he becomes disgusted by his own age and tries to cover it with make-up, hair-dye, and fashionable clothing. His repulsed reaction to the man at this point shows just how much his experience in Venice will change Gustav.

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The Old Man Character Timeline in Death in Venice

The timeline below shows where the character The Old Man 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
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
...a stylish suit and hat. but then he suddenly realized that it was actually an old man with wrinkles trying to affect a “youthful impression.” (full context)
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
The old man was wearing makeup, a wig, and dentures. Aschenbach regarded this old man with horror, and... (full context)
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
...All the boat’s passengers were excited to arrive, and Aschenbach saw with disgust that the old man dressed up as a youth was “pitifully drunk.” Aschenbach delighted in all the buildings and... (full context)
Repression, the Mind, and the Self Theme Icon
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Travel, Geography, and Climate Theme Icon
...preparing to board a gondola, Aschenbach was forced to stand around next to the strange old man , who was blabbering on drunkenly—until his upper denture fell out of his mouth. Aschenbach... (full context)