Loving is a much more positive experience than being loved. In order to love, one must come to accept one to the extent that one is able to express his own emotions toward another person. A particular divinity can be experienced through loving others. While being loved does not necessarily provide one with the ability to love others, it certainly adds to the appreciation of one which, in turn, allows love to be expressed and divinity to be experienced. However, the issue of being divine, emotionally or spiritually, continues to revolve back to loving others, not being loved.
The theme that it is more divine to love than to be loved is illustrated accurately through the novella, Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann. The novella depicts a grown man, Aschenbach, who experiences strange emotions toward a young boy, Tadzio. Mann first develops Aschenbach as an emotionally displeased character who later experiences a transformation within himself and his beliefs as a result of his love for Tadzio.
The novella begins with Aschenbach considering the results of his latest writing. The reader is introduced to a man who cannot find fulfillment in his work, despite the world’s approval of him. Aschenbach is loved by the world through the “national honor”(Mann, 199) his supporters give him. His desire concerning his career being “intent from the start upon fame” (Mann, 200), Aschenbach recognizes himself as the subject of his own reputation. Despite his own knowledge of the love for him, Aschenbach is depicted as an unhappy character who deliberates his being alone during the summer. It is evident from the beginning that Aschenbach has no family contact- his wife being deceased and his daughter married.
Aschenbach is indeed “loved” by the world for his work, and yet, he is at first unable to express love or emotional desire. He is therefore unable to experience divinity within himself or the surrounding world because although he is loved, he does not love. Although Aschenbach’s daughter is living, Mann’s mention of her is short and blunt. This in turn represents Aschenbach’s lack of emotion toward her as one would believe that his only living kin deserves some recognition. Mann leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that Aschenbach has difficulty accepting others or his work.
When Aschenbach travels to Venice to escape being alone, as well as “to make his summer bearable” (Mann, 199), he encounters the young boy Tadzio. His infatuation with Tadzio begins a transformation within himself which enables him to accept and develop his thoughts and feelings. This acceptance results in a more divine nature as Aschenbach comes to the realization that he loves Tadzio. The reader also becomes aware of Aschenbach’s increasing pride in his work. On one occasion, while observing Tadzio, Aschenbach reflects on “the sober passion” (Mann, 234) that encompasses him as he develops from “the marble mass of language” (Mann, 234) a short essay which he had imagined and created within himself. Tadzio proves to be an inspiration for Aschenbach, who idolizes the boy enough to use his “beauty as a model for the brief essay” (Mann, 234). Such an inspiration is further enhanced by Aschenbach’s love and desire for the boy (Mann, 236). Without coming to terms with the intensity of his love, Aschenbach would have been unable to experience such an overwhelming desire to write. This “desire to illuminate [his personal feelings] in his own words” (Mann, 234) does indeed bring Aschenbach closer to divinity and self-assurance.
Mann’s writing also reflects Aschenbach’s transformation as it becomes more fluent and descriptive concerning the Greek Gods. The theme that it is more divine to love than to be loved is further developed through Mann’s introduction of the Greek Gods, who were considered to be the divinity of human nature. The presence of the divine imagery becomes most evident through a dream Aschenbach experiences shortly before his declaration of his “love” (Mann, 241) for Tadzio. As the novella progresses, the Greek Gods reoccur more often. The presence of the Gods is a prelude to the divinity Aschenbach will soon come to know.
Through Aschenbach’s transformation from a man struggling to accept his own work and emotions to a man completely at ease with himself, Mann illustrates that it is more divine to love than to be loved. Though Aschenbach was loved by those around him for his work, he was unable to express his own love or experience satisfaction. When Tadzio enters his life, Aschenbach is able to find pleasure in his work as a result of his expressions of love. Love allowed Aschenbach to experience peace and release a variety of hidden emotions. Before his death, Aschenbach was able to create a work of which he was content with and “soon [won] the admiration of many” (Mann, 234). Aschenbach’s love for Tadzio allowed him to experience a more divine appreciation for his work than the world’s love for ever had.