The progression in the discourse of desire in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice depicts the shift between the intertwining discourses evident in the novella, beginning with the Apollian discourse to the fateful pathological desire that will evidently end Aschenbach's life. Aschenbach sets out on his ill-fated journey to Venice, the city of intrigue and mystery, because he desired change, a breakage from his structured and prototypical will. .
Throughout his journey, Aschenbach encounters several disfigured men whom have been referred to as "gondolier figures." These gondolier figures embody the concept of transportation of either spiritual or physical will that later becomes the underlining theme of Aschenbach's transformation. Upon settling into his Venetian hotel, Aschenbach ventures into the hotel's parlor where he first meets Tadzio. He is completely captivated by the boy" beauty, "his face, pale and gracefully reserved framed by honey-colored curls lovely mouth an expression of exquisite, divine solemnity" (21). Aschenbach's admiration is from a purely artistic stance by mentally framing the boy's face, "the temples and ears richly and rectangularly framed by soft dusky curls" (25). Aschenbach views Tadzio as a work of art, an inspiration for his distinguished writing to "work in the presence of Tadzio, to use the boy's physical frame as the model for his writing" (39). Aschenbach references of Tadzio to Narcissus, "it was the smile of Narcissus leaning over the mirroring water" (43) marks the beginning of Aschenbach's new discourse of desire. Narcissus is a mythological character that was greatly admired and desired by the nymph Echo. When Narcissus rejected her, she died of grief leaving only her voice while Narcissus himself him withers away, by a pond. This reference becomes a foreshadowing of forthcoming events. .
Aschenbach's desire intensifies and evolves. He becomes sick with desire and longing.