R. Gray

German 390/Comp Lit 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

Freud and the Literary Imagination


Study Questions:

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice


1. Mann's novella, unlike the works we've read by Schnitzler and Kafka, employs a relatively traditional form of third-person omniscient narration to deal with a Freudian thematic. Consider the strategies Mann employs to evoke the psychic dimension of his protagonist, Gustav von Aschenbach. You may also want to consider how Visconti's cinematic version of this tale attempts to achieve such effects.


2. Mann was highly influenced by musical forms, in particular the music of Richard Wagner. From Wagner Mann adopted the technique of the "leitmotif," the periodic repetition of themes, ideas, structures, or words, as one of the formal principles of Death in Venice. Try to identify some of the most persistent leitmotifs. What role do they play in establishing the tone and the psychological tenor of this work? Are there parallels to this leitmotivic structure in Freudian theory?


3. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud suggests that there are parallels between the psychic constitution of individuals and that of cultures or historical epochs. To what extent can one identify a similar parallel between individual and social or societal "neurosis" in Mann's Death in Venice?


4. One of the principal Freudian themes we have examined is the so-called "return of the repressed" and its potential pathological consequences for the individual. What evidence in Mann's novella speaks for the hypothesis that Aschenbach suffers from, and is ultimately victimized by, a return of repressed psychic material? What exactly is it that he has repressed, and why does it express itself so violently in his death?


5. Mythology and motifs from classical antiquity play a central role in Mann's story. Identify as many of the mythological and classical references as possible and try to illuminate their relevance for the text. Do they fit together into a coherent pattern? Do they elucidate different aspects of Aschenbach's life and death?


6. To what extent does Death in Venice fit the pattern of classical tragedy as genre? Is there rising and falling action, a turning-point (or denouement), an instance of tragic self-recognition, a characteristic tragic "flaw" or "error" (in the Aristotelian sense of hamartia)?