The presentation of the theme and the main characters of “Miss Julie” by August Strindberg and “Death In Venice” by Thomas Mann.
The comparative study will examine the theme of lust and love, and the similarities between the two main characters from the play “Miss Julie” by August Strindberg and the Novel ” Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann. The main characters from each story come from a higher class, and they are expected to act noble, but somehow they both fail because of their desires for love and lust.
August Strindberg wishes to portray a high class family that have certain standards and values, that Miss Julie; the daughter of the family, fails to fulfill. Miss Julie flirts with the servant and looses her virginity to him, her “curiosity” for the servant results in her being dishonored by people around her. Her lust for the servant makes her weak and in the end she commits suicide because she was provoked by the servant called Jean.
In Thomas Mann’s novel on the other hand, the main character is a man called Gustav von Aschenbach, who comes off as a conservative and somewhat “religious” man. He is a known author that travels to Venice and comes across a boy that fascinates him, his fascination makes him follow the young boy called Tadzio around Venice. Even at a young age Tadzio is well aware of his beauty, and he uses it to capture Aschenbachs attention and his curiosity. Aschenbach too, dies because of his love for Tadzio. Aschenbach gets poisoned by the cholera epidemic in Venice. He dies while watching Tadzio on the beach, he dies in his chair.
Miss Julie is a daughter of a count and therefore she is wealthy, and has a full staff of servants. Miss Julie seems like a very extroverted person, she approaches the staff and talks to them. One in particular, the servant called Jean. One midsummer night Miss Julie grabs Jean and dances with him, but it was not a subtle dance, Jean describes it while talking to his fiancï¿½ Christine.
Jean: ” I took the count to the station, and when I came back by the barn, I went in and had a dance and there I saw a young lady leading the dance with the gamekeeper.
But when she caught sight of me, she rushed right up to me and asked me to dance the ladies waltz with her. And ever since she’s been waltzing like – well, I never saw the like of it. She’s crazy.”1
This is an example of how Miss Julie approaches people, in a confident way.
When you read the dialogue between Jean and Miss Julie throughout the book, it is noticeable that Jean is doing all the talking, and “philosophizing”, Miss Julie sits with him alone in the kitchen and listens carefully. Their situation is a problematic one, because even though Jean is Miss Julie’s servant he is also a man, and because of the time the story takes place, the man is above the woman.
Miss Julie looses her virginity to Jean in the kitchen, and after Jean has sexual intercourse with Miss Julie he realizes that she has no honor or money herself.
She realizes what her lust for him has made her do, she will now become dishonored by her dad and everyone around her. Jean disrespects her, even though he was the one who just slept with her, and Miss Julie doesn’t know what to do with herself?
Julie: Help me, help me! Tell me only what I am to do – where I am to turn?
Jean: O lord, if only I knew myself!
Julie: I have been exasperated, I have been mad, but there ought to be some way of saving myself.
Jean: Stay right here and keep quiet, Nobody knows anything.
Julie: Impossible! The people know, and Christine knows.
Jean: They don’t know, and they would never believe it possible.
Julie: (hesitating) But – it might happen again. 2
This dialogue is a clear example of their relationship, Miss Julie seemed confident in the start, but because of her developing feelings for Jean she becomes insecure, and starts to ask Jean what do to.
The play ends with Miss Julie following Jean’s advice and committing suicide, so she would not have to confront her mistakes. She looses all her power, and nobility by sleeping with the servant. In the end it is obvious to observe that Miss Julie simply just wanted a man that could take care of her, and her lusts took over her common sense. Miss Julie’s dilemma is very controversial, because what she was doing was very common amongst the male aristocrats. This is a typical example of inequality between sexes!
Thomas Mann’s controversial novel portrays a man called Gustav von Aschenbach who is an author that travels to Venice alone on a trip.
When he arrives in Venice he is very observant, and he notices different people around him, acting silly and he almost gets appalled by their behavior. He saw an elderly man with a mask on, entertaining some younger people.
“They seemed to be tolerating his presence among them as something habitual and to taken for granted, they treated him as an equal, reciprocated without embarrassment when he teasingly poked them in the ribs. How was this possible?” 3
This is why Aschenbach is a very conservative man, who does not see beyond his own black and white world. This is one thing that changes on his trip, after checking in to his hotel, he notices a Polish family, amongst them there is a young boy who startles Aschenbach, his beauty startles him and the boy called Tadzio catches Aschenbach’s full attention.
Aschenbach’s love and desire for the boy persuades himself to make up an excuse to stay in Venice, even though he was about to leave because of his bad health condition.
His weeks in Venice result in him sitting by the beach and observing Tadzio.
One day, Tadzio turns around and looks directly at Aschenbach, he stares at him in a cocky way, as if he is self aware of his beauty and how Aschenbach feels about him.
Aschenbach merely convinces himself that he only has an “abstract and artistic interest.”
Though it is obvious that he has gotten a serious obsession for him, and started to almost love him.
The city of Venice was infected with a bad cholera epidemic, Aschenbach can smell how bad it had gotten, but instead of leaving or staying inside he continues to walk around, as if it is a sense of redemption for what he is thinking.
Aschenbach knows himself that what he is doing, and thinking is wrong. His fascination for the boy has taken over his common sense. He does not approach Tadzio but he follows him around Venice, and he dreams about him, and discovers his sexual lusts.
One afternoon he goes to the lobby and finds out that the Polish family is leaving, then even in his ill condition he goes to the beach to watch Tadzio for the last time. Tadzio is standing unsupervised by the beach and looking out at the water, he looks back at his admirer, Aschenbach tries to get up but falls back in his chair and dies.
Miss Julie was written in 1888, and Death in Venice was written in 1912. There are not many similarities between the authors, and the styles these two stories were written in.
Yet they do have similar themes and similar characters. Lust and love, was what drove both main characters to act differently, and controversial to what they are use to. They both die because of there actions, which were made because of their desires.
Both the stories are tragedies but expressed in very different ways, one through a play another through a novel.
Miss Julie and Gustav Von Aschenbach have both suffered, suffered what they normally would believe was a good thing, love. It was forbidden love and lust.
Strindberg, August. Miss Julie. New York: Dover Publications, 1992. Print.
Thomas, Mann,. Death in Venice and other stories. London: Vintage, 1998. Print.
1 Miss Julie, August Strindberg P.2
2 Miss Julie, August Strindberg P.25
3 Death in Venice, Thomas Mann P.211