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Traditional symbolism would place the sea as a calming and positive source of energy, but by putting it in a different context Mann has created a much darker role for the sea as its role in the psyche.
The sea here is a symbol for the unconscious, but also for unconscious desires which may be deep and dark in their very nature.
The sea is something that can help Aschenbach to explore his own desires whilst he is in Venice, something which has actually been the source of a huge amount of emotional turmoil for the man since falling in lust with a teenage boy.
Symbolism is an extraordinary tool used by writers in order to get the attention of the reader and create literary meaning using existing cultural tools.
Symbolism itself is important in the cultural sense because it allows us, as humans, to attach meaning to things that were once devoid of meaning.
The ideas presented in “Death in Venice” were controversial to the original audience, which often gives symbolism an additional use within the text.
In terms of literature, this can be termed as a contextual symbol which means that the idea only has symbolism in its current context, something that Mann illustrates beautifully.
It is noted that Aschenbach has “the feeling that the eros which had taken possession of him was in a way singularly appropriate and suited to such a life”.
It is clear here that his feelings towards Tadzio are being used as a symbol for everything that was wrong about Greek culture, to explore the fact that our romanticizing of Ancient Greece may be reducing the role of some sinister elements of that culture.
Another symbolism that Mann uses throughout “Death in Venice” is the persistent use of Greek mythology.
This is linked to the concepts that Mann wanted to explore in the story, of idealism and fate, but also illustrates how we can change the meanings of symbols based on their context.