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Death in Venice | Study Guide

Thomas Mann

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Death in Venice | Plot Summary

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During a year described as 19— (probably 1911) an elderly writer named Gustav von Aschenbach takes a walk alone in the city of Munich, Germany. After seeing a foreign-looking redheaded man in the cemetery, Aschenbach gets the impulse to takes a vacation to an exotic locale. He needs a break from his arduous writing schedule and plans to take a trip to southern Europe. Readers learn that as a young man Aschenbach wanted become a famous writer. He used strict self-discipline to create works of literature that appealed to a large audience and thus gave him the fame he desired. However, as he grew older, he began to feel weary and developed a nervous curiosity.

Aschenbach travels to Pola, a town on the Adriatic Sea, but is disappointed because it isn't exotic or restful enough. He takes a boat to nearby Venice and then rides in a gondola to a hotel on the Lido, an island separating the city from the sea. There he notices a beautiful boy of about 14 who is a member of a wealthy Polish family. While sitting in a chair on the beach, Aschenbach admires the boy from a distance and learns his name is Tadzio. After some time, Aschenbach feels the heat and thick air in Venice will be bad for his health and plans to leave. However, he regrets parting from Tadzio. The closer Aschenbach comes to boarding his train, the more conflict he feels about departing. When his luggage is sent to the wrong location, Aschenbach decides with relief to return and stay at the Lido hotel. He realizes the departure was difficult because it meant leaving Tadzio.

Aschenbach savors his time on the beach, where he can see Tadzio playing. The boy's beauty inspires the author to write a long essay. Aschenbach decides to introduce himself to Tadzio, which the writer hopes will make him less enamored with the boy as an ideal. However, at the last minute, he balks, not wanting to destroy his infatuation. When Tadzio and his family don't appear one day, Aschenbach is stricken with panic. Then he unexpectedly meets Tadzio, who smiles at him. This smile flusters Aschenbach, who allows himself to think, "I love you."

Aschenbach notices the number of tourists is decreasing at a time of the year when it usually increases. He hears rumors of a disease spreading in the area. Even so, Aschenbach stays in his hotel and becomes more obsessed with Tadzio. In fact, he begins to secretly follow Tadzio and his family through the streets of Venice. The Venetian officials and hotel staff deny the spread of any disease. Aschenbach asks a redheaded minstrel about the use of disinfectant in Venice, but the performer says it's just a normal precaution, even though he smells of disinfectant. Then an English travel agent tells Aschenbach a cholera epidemic has hit Venice and advises him to leave as soon as possible.

The writer considers warning Tadzio's family about the epidemic, but he decides not to because he doesn't want to disrupt his obsession with the boy. Then Aschenbach has a nightmare in which he joins a group of wild debauchers making sounds that resemble Tadzio's name. After this dream Aschenbach becomes so obsessed with Tadzio that he doesn't care how his behavior appears to others. He starts to wear makeup to hide his age and to make him more attractive to the boy. One day he loses track of Tadzio in Venice and becomes frantic and exhausted. Soon Aschenbach has dizzy spells and feelings of despair. He realizes Tadzio and his family do plan to leave the hotel. Sitting on the beach, Aschenbach watches Tadzio playing and observes the boy wading out to a sandbar. Tadzio seems to look back at Aschenbach, smile, and beckon for the man to join him. As Aschenbach imagines following Tadzio, he slumps in his chair. The writer is carried to his room, and later his death is announced.

Death in Venice Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Gustav von Aschenbach vacations in an exotic place.

Rising Action

2 Aschenbach sees the beautiful Tadzio.

3 Aschenbach decides to stay in Venice because of Tadzio.

4 Aschenbach idolizes Tadzio as a god of beauty.

5 Ignoring rumors of disease, Aschenbach stalks Tadzio.

6 Aschenbach doesn't warn Tadzio about the disease.


7 A nightmare overwhelms Aschenbach with his sensual drives.

Falling Action

8 Fixated on Tadzio, Aschenbach doesn't care how he appears.


9 Aschenbach sees Tadzio beckon; Aschenbach soon dies.

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