Sickness and Health in Thomas Mann's 'Death in Venice' and Luchino


The novella by Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice," was published in German by 1912. The novel presents a narrative of a symbol-laden of aestheticism Mann’s best-known novella. The book presents a narrative of Gustav von Aschenbach, an artist who moves to Venice to get better climatic conditions, and he ultimately meets his death. However, during the time, he suffered great depression, pressure and enjoyed happiness. Besides, while in Venice, the decomposing smell of the lagoon fastened his death, though it is a strange coincidence that makes him have a change of mind. While walking in the streets of Venice, he ignores the spread of disease in the city even after learning that there was severe cholera which was now an epidemic. Unfortunately, he dies while at the beach looking at an adolescent boy on Venice beach. Many years after this story, Luchino Visconti came up with a film entitled Morte a Venezia in 1971, later translated as a death in Venice. The film is an Italian–French drama movie directed in Panavision and Technicolor with Dirk Bogarde and Björn Andrésen as starring. It narrates the novella by Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice." Similarly, it suggests a composer, Gustav von Aschenbach, traveling to Venice for rest due to a severe health issue. However, when he reaches Venice, he becomes obsessed with the beauty of Tadzio, an adolescent Polish who is living with his family in the same restaurant he was in. he later dies of a heart attack on the beach. Only a few individuals notice his collapsing and alert the hotel staff, and his body is carried away. Therefore, this essay will compare and contrast the presentation of sickness and heath in Thomas Mann's tod in vededig and Luchino Visconti's film Morte a Venezia.


Similarities In The Presentation Of Sickness And Heath

The first public health concern is Indian cholera which had an increasing tendency to spread abroad and travel to various areas. In both narrative and film, while Aschenbach is in Venice, he starts to notice that many people and guests were leaving his hotel (Jurecic, 2012). Then the barber at the hotel mentioned something concerning a disease though he was not willing to explain in detail about the condition. In the city, he detects the medicinal Adour of a disinfectant in the air, which made him curious concerning the possible illness. Unfortunately, all people he talks to suggest that germicide is simply a preventative strategy due to the excessively warm weather during that period and which could impact people's health. Aschenbach ultimately learns of the truth from an Englishman at a British travel agency. The English man told him that Indian cholera originated from the hot swamps of the Ganges delta was rapidly spreading in the Mediterranean and had become epidemic in Venice. He also said that many people had already died from the disease (Wolny, 2019). As indicated in both the novel and the film, the disease rapidly became a serious public health issue. Also, the Englishman told him that since the condition was originating from an exotic area, its treatment was mysterious, and it is never specified. Therefore, regardless of being a new disease, there was no medication to deal with the pandemic, thus increasing its severances. More concern was the ability of the disease to spread abroad and travel. The condition started in India and extended eastward to China, westward to Persia, and Afghanistan (Wolny, 2019). These are the major caravan routes. The disease also traveled as far as Astrakhan and Moscow. Also, it was carried across the sea by Syrian merchants to Europe. However, it had taken long before reaching Venice, in May when Gustav von Aschenbach traveled to Venice; the fearful vibrio was discovered in Venice twice in the same day. The disease had also ready killed two people- a female greengrocer and cargo-ship crewman. In Venice, it was like the epidemic was revived and its strength doubled and the fertility of the germs redoubled (Wolny, 2019). Therefore, the film and novel reveal a disease with a vibrant ability to spread widely and intensively kill people, which is a significant health issue.

In both the film and novella, end of life is shown as a public health issue as countries, including Europe, show an inability to prevent and control the disease. In both the film and narrative, there is various death symbolized by “coffin black” gondola. When Aschenbach first showed interest in Tadzio, it was in artistic perception and later suggested that Tadzio was inspirational (Mann’s, 2018). However, with the progress of the narrative, Aschenbach is obsessed with Tadzio. This is a sign that Aschenbach’s morals are decaying due to the homosexual overtone that Aschenbach displays. Moreover, Aschenbach dressed up and went to a barber to put up a make-up to his face and change his hair color. Unfortunately, he realized that he resembled the old man image he had seen in the boat, which disgusted him. His appearance represents the deceitful and vain side of art, where art is utilized to seduce others and conceal the truth (Mann’s, 2018). However, while visiting the barber, a severe health topic came up, a disease that the barber did not want to talk more about. While in the barbershop, he could notice a disinfectant in the air. It was used by the authorities to cover the disease odor in Venice regardless of the city atmosphere seducing tourists. However, the disease is interpreted to symbolize the sickness and obsession he had for young boy Tadzio (Mann’s, 2018). While continuing to enquire about the disease rumors, the Italians continued to deny the existence of the disease. Moreover, death is presented in his pomegranate juice which he takes in the performance in the hotel (Ganguly, 2018). This juice is depicted in both the film and novel though Ganguly, (2018) states that Its red color is the apparent passion color and is closely linked to the strawberries he eats while he nears his death. Moreover, during the performance, Aschenbach eats a seed of a pomegranate that, according to ancient Greek, was perceived as the dead's food (Ganguly, 2018). More importantly, cholera is very fundamental in both film and novella since it has an Asian origin. The Asian topography is characterized by jungles which Aschenbach dreams of. He imagined this jungle landscape when he first felt the impulse to travel to warmer regions. However, in this region, Aschenbach sees Tadzio being assaulted by another older boy, and at the same time, he dies from a heart attack. Therefore, both the novel and film present a significant level of death which is a health issue.

Furthermore, the film shows heart attack and depression which is a mental disease. While on the beach, Aschenbach sees Tadzio being beaten up. After being released, the young boy walks away towards the horizon. However, he comes back to check Aschenbach. However, he turns towards the sun. He stretches his hand out towards the sun, and Aschenbach imitates him. However, he dies from a heart attack after collapsing (Ayyıldız, 2019). Later, Aschenbach's body is carried away. Ganguly (2018) states that the death of Achenbach is considered a tragedy given that he died while consuming obsession with young Tadzio. Besides, his obsession leads to his contact and death due to cholera. The tragic story of Aschenbach shows his downfall and disillusion. However, biologically, heart attack, which was the ultimate cause of Aschenbach, occurs when an artery supplying blood and oxygen to the heart becomes blocked (Dalen et al., 2014). The heart attack is a severe public health problem that accounts for many death. It is classified under non-communicable disease and impacts individuals from different countries, ages, races, and backgrounds (Dalen et al., 2014). Therefore, the theme of disease is evident in the film and the novella. Moreover, in the film and narrative, there is an overarching depressive feeling. Even most happy and vibrant periods showed a shadow of sadness behind them (Ganguly, 2018). Most depression is depicted in the conflict between the desire and fulfilling these desires. For example, both pieces of the art show Aschenbach having romantic longings towards a younger boy. However, it was taboo and forbidden to be associated with such love (Caputi et al., 2018). Therefore, regardless of enjoying himself in performances and on the beautiful Venice beach, the main character cannot fulfill his desires, thus creating oppressive emotions and struggle. Caputi et al. (2018). States that all human are sick though the degree of sickness and its intensity differs. Moreover, due to inability to control his feeling, the main character in the film and novella is aggressive to the extent of risking contracting cholera. Depression and aggression are mental health problems and constitute the burden of disease globally. Therefore, the film and novella present critical health issues.

More importantly, the film and novella suggest that after the spread of the Indian disease, Venice tries to promote health by using sanitizers and quarantine. Both film and novella present cholera and its origin in India. The disease later spread to various parts of the world, primarily due to Syrian traders who passed on the infection to Italy while on their route to India and back. The disease also spread via the sea, land, and space. Rütten (2009) the cholera is characterized by a rare and almost preternatural insightfulness marked by rumors, denials, and speculations. When Aschenbach finds a British travel agent, he is told that the disease was severe in Venice. Therefore, to promote health, the Venice authority started to quarantine people having the disease. The disease had become a symbol and metaphor of "social disorder." By June, the quarantine barracks which had earlier been created were filling up silently (Rütten, 2009). The study also reveals that Venice was a perfect maritime quarantine place due to its geographic configuration and growth as an economic center. Similarly, as depicted in the film and the novel, the authority started preventing people and strangers from entering the cities (Britten, 2018; Mann, 1990). Similarly, other cities in Europe began to use the quarantine method as the other methods of prevention were ineffective (Rütten, 2009). Moreover, travelers and sick people from regions that were infected with cholera were inspected and quarantined for forty days. However, after quarantine failed, areas like Naples curbed free mobility of beggars and prostitutes who were perceived as the cholera disease carriers. Many individuals were discriminated against and barred from entering normative spaces in various cities. These measures limited contact with the other, thus promoting health. Also, in both film and novel, while Aschenbach was traveling to the city of Venice, he notices discreetly notices from Health Department cautioning people of a contagious disease and advising residents to avoid consuming shellfish. He also smells an odor that he later realized was a disinfectant. Therefore, regardless of the health issue, the city and ministry of health and authority are working to promote health.

Another aspect of the heath is the superiority of medication in India and Europe. This aspect is evident in the movie and the novel. The novel and film show that Gustav Aschenbach died of cholera which is a disease in Venice. The outbreak of cholera occurred in Italy in 1911 though it originated from India. However, Asiatic cholera is shown to be a severe communicable disease (Mann, 2010). It was ironic that Western medicine and treatments for the infection tried to show imperialism and medicinal discourse pride during this period. Unfortunately, regardless of the pride, Mann (2010) states that the British were clueless about healing cholera patients. The British board of medicine in India persuades the Indian doctors to use Western medicine. However, it also advocated for treatment from Indians, and the British doctors borrowed heavily from the Indian counterpart. Regardless of borrowing indigenous medical practices, European medical practitioners remained convinced of their practices and superiority. When the idea of quarantine and germ sanitation came to the medical context, there was a significant gap on the issue of the social and racial divide. Therefore, regardless of superiority, public health was considered a vital aspect of controlling the disease.

Another aspect of health is reducing stress and being happier. Scientists have proven that being happy and having less stress is critical in health as it boosts your immune system and makes people physically healthy. At the beginning of the book and film, Gustav von Aschenbach traveled to Venice for rest because of his serious health concerns (Britten, 2018; Mann, 1990). The hot and humid weather started to impact the health of Aschenbach. Therefore, he leaves for a more fantastic location. However, while planning to depart, he sees Tadzio, and he developed a powerful regret feeling. After reaching the railway station, he remembers that his trunk has been misplaced, thus pretending to be angered. However, inside himself, he is overjoyed (Mann, 1990). He, therefore, decides to continue staying in Venice and wait for his lost luggage. Consequently, he goes back to his hotel and never thought of leaving anymore. Aschenbach’s home is German, which is in northern Europe. It is associated with an austere, cold, and disciplined lifestyle. Therefore, to be happy, he travels to Italy, where life is warm, relaxed, and indulgent. Aschenbach is overwhelmed by his destination climate, and his inner state seems to motivate him. Therefore, it is evident that traveling is perceived as an anesthetic practice that promotes health. While in Germany, Aschenbach wishes to travel to an exotic landscape where he can have peace of mind, “He saw, as a sample of all those wonders and horrors of the diversity on earth which his desire was suddenly able to imagine” (Mann, 1990, p.87). Therefore, from the narrative, health is being practiced via traveling, which has been proven to promote both emotional and physical health.

However, not all health measures were taken to promote health; other actions endangered residents. From the film and novel, it is evident that while Aschenbach was trying to seek peace place, the epidemic was greatly looming. Unfortunately, city authorities tried as much as possible to hide any information concerning the pandemic for fear that tourists and visitors would fear and abandon Venice (Mann, 1990). However, while Aschenbach decides to leave Venice, but realizes that trunk had already left the station without him. Therefore, he decided to stay longer until his box is back. He happily returns to Grand Hôtel des Bains. He continues to observe Tadzio and sometimes followed him to the streets of Venice. During this time, he realizes that something is seriously wrong. Disinfectant wash was applied in public areas within the city. He later questions the hotel manager concerning the sanitization, and the manager downplays the epidemic and dismisses the concern (Caputi et al., 2018). This indicates that critical players in Venice decided to risk the health of visitors and residents. Moreover, Aschenbach travels to around the city of Venice and observes some discreetly worded notices from the department of health. The message was warning people if contagious and unspecified disease and which people were advised to avoid. He also smells the strong Adour of the disinfectant. Unfortunately, the city authorities deny that the condition is severe and suggested that tourists continue living in the city. This hiding of critical information was dangerous to individual health. Britten (2018) and Mann (1990) states that one night while in a performance in the hotel garden, Aschenbach asked one singer about the sickness, but the singer falsely reassures him, "Tell me," said the solitary traveler in an almost mechanical undertone. "Venice is being disinfected. Why?" "It's the police," the joker answered hoarsely “(Mann, 1990, p.114). Moreover, people like Aschenbach were also careless, thus endangering their health. From the film and novel, he continues to follow Tadzio whenever possible. Regardless of finding the correct information from the British travel agent who admitted that there is a severe cholera epidemic in Venice, Aschenbach continued to loom in the streets of Venice, thus risking his heath and later dying from the same disease.

Differences in the Presentation of Sickness and Heath

The film and novel are closely related; the film adopts the novel story; thus, there are no many differences between the two. However, some significant differences still exist.

As indicated, adventure and happiness promote heath. Therefore, while the novel emphasizes Aschenbach's enjoying various climates, beaches, and forested areas as part of the adventure, the film seems to throw critical squeamishness into overdrive. While traveling from his home country, Aschenbach was evading the cold, austere, and disciplined lifestyle in his home country (Mann, 1990). His journey was to be warm, indulgent, and more relaxed. The good Venice climate reflected Aschenbach’s inner state. Similarly, the novel also states that while traveling, Aschenbach needed to stay in a favorable climate to his heath. Thus climate was the primary focus to enhancing his heath. However, though the film successfully expresses emotions ranging from disdain to discomfort, it is one-sided and only focuses on Aschenbach's obsession with the adolescent boy. Therefore the film is lacking ambiguity which is evident in the novella. Studies suggest that the film reduces the novella to a "straightforward story of homosexual love" (Dalen et al., 2014, p.76). This practice makes the film vulgar and simplistic. Therefore, since the film concentrates on Aschenbach and his adolescent love, it is evident that in the perspective of the film, the environment was not his way of achieving happiness, rather the teenage boy. Similarly, while the novel seems to give a chronology of the time and focus of the anesthetic environment, the film focuses on the adolescent boy who makes Aschenbach depressed. While the novella promotes happiness, the film creates depression.

Moreover, the spread and treatment of the disease in various regions, including Europe and Persia, was critical in understanding disease in the two-piece of art. For example, the novella states that "For several years Indian cholera had shown an increased tendency to spread and travel” (Mann, 1990, p.119). Also, the study reveals that the disease originated from the Ganges delta and spread to Hindustan, to China, Persia, and Afghanistan, and later Moscow Moscow. In Europe, Mediterranean ports still had the disease. In these ports, the disease was spread by Syrian traders. The novella also suggests that the disease somehow spared the north. However, soon many people began dying from the disease. Also, in Austrian, people contracted the disease and were dying under unambiguous circumstances (Mann, 1990). It is evident that the novel tries to construct Cholera disease prevalence. This refers to the number of infections present in a particular area and the specific population at a given period. The novella was able to capture the prevalence. On the other hand, the film only concentrates on Venice, where Aschenbach had gone for the holiday. Therefore, the film is limited in its ability to present the disease prevalence. However, it was successful in explaining the emotions accompanying the disease.

Besides, treatment after the onset of the disease is very critical. The novel presents race among Indians and European doctors. The book reveals how the British were clueless concerning curing cholera. Regardless of the view that the Indian doctors were incompetent, the British doctors still borrowed heavily from the Indian doctors “But while Europe quaked at the thought of the specter invading from there by land….” (Mann, 1990, p.120). Regardless of being clueless, European doctors remained convinced that their medicine was superior. Similarly, the idea of quarantine came up, and people were sanitized. On the other hand, the film fails to capture the rivalry between various regions on cholera control. The film only succeeds in capturing aspects of sanitization and quarantine but ignores the whole process of health and treatment.

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The novella by Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice," presents Gustav von Aschenbach, an artist who moves to Venice to get better climatic conditions. However, he suffers from depression. At the same time, there a pandemic of Indian cholera pandemic in Venice. Later, Luchino Visconti came up with a film entitled Morte a Venezia in 1971. The film narrates the novella by Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice," where Gustav von Aschenbach travels to Venice for rest due to a severe health issue. The film and novel present some heath and sickness aspects. First, the film and book present Indian cholera, which had an increasing tendency to spread abroad and travel to various areas. Also, both present death and end of life, which is a vital heath concern. Furthermore, the film shows heart attack and depression which is a mental disease. Likewise, the film and novella suggest that after the spread of the Indian disease, Venice tries to promote health by using sanitizers and quarantine. Another aspect of the heath is the superiority of medication in India and Europe. Also, reducing stress and being happier is another heath aspect of film and novel. Moreover, the film and novel present endangering people's health due to misinformation. There are also differences in that, while the book emphasizes Aschenbach's enjoying various climates, beaches, and forested areas as part of the adventure, the film show Aschenbach involved in love. Also, while the novel presents the spread and treatment of the disease in various regions, the film only concentrates on Venice. Moreover, the novel presents race among Indians and European doctors, while the film fails to capture the rivalry between various regions on cholera control.


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