Study Guide

Death in Venice Chapter 3

By Thomas Mann

Chapter 3

  • So: Aschenbach takes the trip of a lifetime.
  • The narrator lets us in on the intervening details. Aschenbach first heads to an island off the coast of Istria (part of which is now Croatia), but bad weather and even worse tourists drives him away.
  • A little late in the game, he realizes where he should have gone in the first place: Venice, of course.
  • Aschenbach catches a ride on a decrepit Italian ship bound for the island.
  • While watching the other travelers boarding the boat, Aschenbach notices a group of young men, dressed to the nines and obviously looking for a good time. When he looks more closely, however, Aschenbach realizes with horror that one of the young men is actually an old man, evidently trying to impress his younger friends by matching their antics. Eek.
  • As the trip continues, Aschenbach notes that the weather is hardly improving, eats a terrible meal on board, and tries to get some shut-eye.
  • The boat arrives in Venice. As Aschenbach waits to disembark, he gets a closer look at the old man masquerading as a youth; he's drunk now, and Aschenbach is again revolted.
  • Aschenbach gets off the boat, but doesn't manage to avoid an encounter with the old guy, who, still drunk, old, and pretty gross, offers his "compliments" to Aschenbach's "sweetheart." Whoever that might be…
  • Aschenbach now boards a gondola (gondolas are basically fancy canoes used to ferry people around in Venice). Even though he tells the rower to take him to the vaporetto pier, where larger boats come and go, this guy insists on taking Aschenbach all the way to his hotel, despite Aschenbach's anger and concern about being robbed. Later, at his hotel on Lido, an island near Venice, Aschenbach finds out the guy didn't have a license. Tsk tsk.
  • Aschenbach settles into hotel life, and he finds that the crowd in this hotel is much more international than in the previous one.
  • He notices a Polish family sitting near him in the hotel's dining room. Actually, to be more specific, he notices the family's only boy, who's about fourteen years old. Aschenbach can't believe his eyes: This kid is as a beautiful as a Greek statue. His older sisters, on the other hand, act and dress in a severely conservative way. On closer inspection, Aschenbach wonders whether the young boy is sick.
  • Meanwhile, the weather is not improving much, and Aschenbach starts to consider leaving again.
  • He spends a day on the beach, despite the gray skies, and feeling relaxed, he becomes more determined to stay.
  • Aschenbach learns the name of the Polish boy when he sees him on the beach, and hears his family calling to him—it sounds something like "Adgiu." After some thought, Aschenbach decides the name must be Tadzio, a short form of the Polish name Tadeusz.
  • Aschenbach literally can't take his eyes off the boy the whole time Tadzio splashes around in the ocean, or later, when he's resting on the sand.
  • After leaving the beach, Aschenbach gets a closer look at Tadzio in the hotel's elevator—this is when he notices how frail and sickly the boy looks. Aschenbach senses that the boy doesn't have long to live, and feels oddly content with this thought.
  • Aschenbach takes a trip over to Venice, where the air is stagnant and humid, making him feel feverish. Not exactly what you want from a vacation, right? So he decides once and for all to leave Venice.
  • Aschenbach returns to his hotel and announces his plan to depart.
  • He sees Tadzio again at breakfast, but still leaves and boards a boat bound for the train station.
  • On the way over, however, Aschenbach is tortured by the thought that this will be the last time he's ever in Venice.
  • As it turns out, his baggage has been forwarded to the wrong city, forcing Aschenbach to remain in his hotel on Lido. And guess what? Yeah… he's thrilled.
  • Later, in a new hotel room, Aschenbach acknowledges that it was Tadzio that made him so reluctant to leave Venice.