Gustav von Aschenbach
Gustav von Aschenbach is a famous, elderly writer of literary works who lives in Munich, Germany. He follows the Protestant ethic, which emphasizes hard work and the denial of sensual pleasures. As a result, he cultivates the rational side of himself and suppresses his sensual instincts. The author also adheres to the classical idea of beauty, which stresses balance and reason and rejects overt emotionalism. However, Aschenbach's long years of hard work have left him yearning for a vacation to an exotic locale. Because of this, he takes a vacation to the Lido in Venice, where he becomes infatuated by a beautiful boy of about 14 years named Tadzio. The writer sees Tadzio as a physical representation of classical beauty. Soon he begins idolizing the boy's beauty, but he never has direct contact with him in order to keep his infatuation intact. In Venice Aschenbach opens up to his sensual side, including what appears to be an attraction to men, as he becomes obsessed by Tadzio. Although disease threatens the area, Aschenbach remains in Venice and stalks Tadzio as he takes outings with his family. Aschenbach becomes consumed by the sensual drives from his subconscious. Not caring how he appears, he wears make up to disguise his age and to attract Tadzio. His health weakens from the stifling heat and his mental turmoil. On Tadzio's last day at the Lido, Aschenbach sees the lad playing on the beach. The boy seems to call to the writer, who wants to follow him. Instead, Aschenbach collapses and soon dies.
Tadzio is a 14-year-old Polish boy from a wealthy family. He is staying with his mother, three sisters, and governess at a hotel on the Lido in Venice. Tadzio is physically beautiful in a classical sense. As a result, a famous, elderly writer named Gustav von Aschenbach compares the boy to a Greek statue and becomes infatuated with him. Because Tadzio is seen through Aschenbach's eyes, his true personality is never revealed. Aschenbach believes Tadzio might be sickly, but this is never known for sure. Tadzio has a close friend named Jaschu, who is more robust, and they often play together. Tadzio forms a stark contrast with his sisters, who are always severely dressed, almost like nuns, whereas Tadzio often wears a fancy sailor outfit. As a result Aschenbach assumes that the boy is pampered by his family. In Aschenbach's eyes, Tadzio becomes a type of sensual god of classical beauty. Tadzio never has direct contact with Aschenbach. However, he is aware of the author's interest in him; the two often make eye contact. Tadzio's attitude toward the writer is always polite but emotionally distant. This distance adds to his attractiveness for Aschenbach. The writer sees Tadzio as an image of sensual perfection he yearns for but can never obtain. In the end Tadzio seems to beckon to Aschenbach to follow him. However, soon after this, the author dies.