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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Understanding Aging: A Medical Humanities Approach to “Death in Venice“


While "Death in Venice" by Thomas Mann has been typically described as a story about creativity, romance and death, this article analyzes several aspects of aging within the novel, while also giving a mini-treatise on the Medical Humanities as a field of study. Many nuances of the aging process are highly overlooked by the medical profession in modern times. Medical Humanities exists as a field that assists health professionals in understanding a variety of socio-cultural phenomenon that occur with respect to medicine by incorporating perspectives from sources such as literature and art. The medical field misdiagnoses many elderly ills as "part of the aging process" when, for a younger patient, the same symptoms are attributed to more general illness. This article works to reveal the ways in which Mann’s contemporary society perceived aging -and what we can learn about how our society looks at the same subject today- through a careful analysis of the novel's structure, and it’s emphasis not only in the interpersonal relationships between characters but also the function of the Venetian backdrop upon the flavor of the plot. Only once medical professionals truly understand the "experience" of aging can they help their patients deal with the aging process.

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