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The contradiction between one's public image and unadulterated feelings or desires is a dominant theme in Death in Venice and Cat and Mouse. Both use minor characters to help represent this theme as well as foreshadowing plot.

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Introduction

Thesis: The contradiction between one's public image and unadulterated feelings or desires is a dominant theme in Death in Venice and Cat and Mouse. Both use minor characters to help represent this theme as well as foreshadowing plot. "No notice is taken of a little evil, but when it increases it strikes the eye." Aristotle spoke these words, and they very much relate to the theme of a public image conflicting with inner torment in Thomas Mann's novella Death in Venice and Gunter Grass's novel Cat and Mouse. In the former, the protagonist Aschenbach struggles between admitting his love for Tadzio, and maintaining his respectable reputation. In the latter, Mahlke's struggle exists in the requirement of participating in the army that conflicts with his hidden disapproval of the war. The quote from Aristotle comments on how little affected we are by the smaller evils; it is only when the evil intensifies that it "strikes the eye". In these two works, Mann and Grass each use characters as a medium to convey through speech what their eyes see. The opposing appearance between Aschenbach and two minor characters, a garish old man on the boat and a singing quartet, represent Aschenbach's conflict and his inevitable downfall. ...read more.

Middle

The minor character is said to be "flaccid" and "scrawny" indicative of frailty much like Aschenbach's impending state that consumes him and brings him to his tragic death. Disguising the truth can also be seen in Cat and Mouse through the priest, Father Gusewski. It can be argued that he takes advantage of Pilenz by exploiting his spiritual position. For example, on page 123, Pilenz describes the priest's occasional "wanderings of his hands...down [Pilenz's] back...to the waist of [Pilenz's] gym shorts..." Father Gusewski uses the power of his spiritual position to defend his behaviour when he says that it was Pilenz's "catholic soul he was looking for". The priest's inner desires must be concealed by his position as Aschenbach's must be from his. Mahlke's conflict is between his religious inner self and the obligation of his secular outer self to enlist in the war. Also on page 123, the narrator discusses the priest's attempts to change his name to sound more Germanic. Like Mahlke, the priest's out self is in compliance with the war. This decision by the priest foreshadows Mahlke's betrayal of his faith when he joins the military. Similarly, the lead singer in the "beggar virtuoso" lies to Aschenbach when he conceals the truth about the cholera epidemic. ...read more.

Conclusion

(pg. 88-96) Mahlke's simple action of not laughing with the other boys arguably reveals his aversion towards the lieutenant, and if the lieutenant delineates the war, then Mahlke's attitude towards war is made very clear. Juxtaposing the hero and the anti-hero represents Mahlke's inner struggle. He is as powerless to avoid participating in the military as Aschenbach is to avoid loving Tadzio. Mahlke's dissidence with the war effort is evident again in his attempt to steal the lieutenant's medal. By stealing the medal, Mahlke is bringing himself in closer contact with the lieutenant, and therefore closer to joining in the war. In both texts, the minor characters embody the struggle of the major characters, while signifying their fate. The minor characters are, in effect, literary motifs used to symbolize theme and plot. In Death in Venice, Aschenbach must appease his love for Tadzio, as it cannot be unmasked for the public's eye. However, the famous writer succumbs to the power of his desire and stays in Venice despite the many warning signs, and he is led to his death. The same occurs in Cat and Mouse when Mahlke refuses to return to the military at the end of the novel. Mann and Grass carefully demonstrate the influence minor characters have on the text as a whole. Examining the minor characters is much like trying to interpret what the eye is trying to tell. D-0828-022 June 16th, 2003 - 1 - ...read more.

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