On the other hand, Death in Venice is also very heavy in symbolism. The color red runs through the center of this novel, signifying the color of love and passion, as well as the color of anger and the Devil. The color red is first shown when von Aschenbach encounters the red- haired stranger in the cemetery, with ‘red-lashed eyes’. This man is what inspires von Aschenbach to travel to Venice, and this strange man connects to the other strange men whom von Aschenbach meets throughout the journey – the old man on the boat to Venice who dresses up young with red ‘rouge’, the gondolier with reddish eyebrows and the clown with reddish eyebrows – all four wearing a sort of headgear and possess ‘naked Adam apple’s, disappears suddenly and curls their lips back to bare gums.
It seems that the similarities of these peculiar men are not so coincidental, but rather, destiny as they foreshadow the events that leads to von Aschenbach’s death as well as the inevitability of his death. The first man leads von Aschenbach to a vacation to Venice, where after encountering him von Aschenbach sees the vision of a rainforest and decides to go to Venice. The rainforest can rather be paralleled to Ganges Delta, a tropical rainforest where cholera originated and this is significant because the vision can be an omen to von Aschenbach’s death from the tropical disease.
The second man foreshadows what von Aschenbach will come to be after falling in love, where he dresses up himself, dye his hair and use rouge to make himself look younger to Tadzio. The third man foreshadows von Aschenbach’s death upon entering Venice, as upon boarding the gondola, von Aschenbach feels like entering a ‘peculiarly black’ coffin recalls death, a ‘dismal burial’ and a ‘final silent voyage’.
Von Aschenach is also unable to control where the gondolier takes him, like how his passion towards Tadzio is uncontrollable and death comes uncontrollably. The forth man foreshadows von Aschenbach’s death due to cholera, where he smells of carbolic acid, the disinfectant to prevent against cholera. He also has the closest physical contact to von Aschenbach, signifying that death is coming close. The color red is also prominent when von Aschenbach first consumes ‘large, fully ripened’ strawberries when seeing Yashu kissing Tadzio, which symbolizes his anger and jealousy; and then von Aschenbach drinks a ‘ruby red’ pomegranate juice when he meets the clown; lastly he consumes overriped strawberries bought from the infected streets of Venice, where he contracts cholera and dies.
This has sufficiently showed that the color red is all along foreshadowing his death in Venice and his cause of death. Besides, the fact that Mann chooses Venice as the setting is significant because we can compare Venice to von Aschenbach, because Venice is hiding the disease infecting the city and corrupting it in within, to ‘trap’ tourists; just as von Aschenbach is convincing himself that his passion towards the young boy is nothing wrong to do.
Allusions from Greek mythology are also important in showing von Aschenbach’s affection towards Tadzio. The fact that Greek mythology has a part in von Aschenbach’s thoughts shows his intellectuality and demonstrates his huge effort to explain and justify the attraction he has towards a young boy, at the same time he creates excuses to remain passionate and obsessed. Von Aschenbach compares himself to Socrates and Tadzio to Phaedrus, where in Plato’s theory that both of them has a conversation about love and comes with a conclusion that pure love can only exist between males, and better, a man and boy.
This allusion contributes to von Aschenbach’s decision that his obsession is normal or rather noble, thus enabling him to continue to degrade into the pool of passion and obsession. It is also ironic that von Aschenbach compares Tadzio’s smile to the smile of Narcissus, because Greek myth states that Narcissus refuses all love offers, which shows that von Aschenbach knows that Tadzio might not return to his love offer and yet, at different parts of the story it seems that Tadzio is constantly beckoning and looking von Aschenbach into his eyes.
Mann’s writing is also based on the philosophy of Nietzche on Apollo and Dionysus – where men can either be in one side; and von Aschenbach has fully represented the shift from Apollonian to Dionysian. Apollo is the god of reason and intellect; whereas Dionysus is the god of passion and unreason and thus, portrays von Aschenbach’s transition from a stiff, scheduled, ordered man into a man of uncontrollable emotions and obsession. This, also supports Mann’s theory that he wishes to express from this story – the ability of passion in degrading a person’s intellectuality.
Death in Venice effectively portrays the process of a man losing his self conscious and common sense to degrade into a state of passion and obsession, through the author’s use of effective literary devices and Greek mythology allusions. The readers can easily understand the author’s theory that he wants to express, and the story line is very fixed and expected (since the title has already concluded the ending) and there is no possible way how this story can end due to the frequent foreshadowings and symbolisms, thus making it a very interesting book to read.