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The Sorrows Of Young Werther Essay, Research Paper
The purpose of this papers it to give general information about the author, Wolfgang von Goethe, and introduce as well as analyze the main character of one of his most influential works: The Sorrows of Young Werther. The protagonist of this series of confessional letters, Werther, is in fact a tragic figure who committed suicide as a result of his loneliness and critical approach to society, as well as his obsession for a woman, Lotte, whom he could not eventually conquest.
Wolfgang von Goethe was a German poet, as well as dramatist, novelist, and scientist who lived between 1749 and 1832. Goethe’s poetry expresses a modern, and revolutionary view of humanity’s relationship to nature, history, and society; his plays and novels reflect a deep understanding of human individuality. According to the 19th-century English critic Matthew Arnold, Goethe must be considered not only “the manifest centre of German literature” but also one of the most multitalented figures in the entire world of literature.
Goethe was born on August 28, 1749, in Frankfurt am Main, as a son of a government official. From 1765 to 1768 he studied law at Leipzig; there he first developed an interest in literature and painting and became acquainted with the dramatic works of his contemporaries Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Their influence and his own connection to the daughter of a wine merchant at whose tavern he dined are reflected in his earliest poetry and in his first dramatic works. These early plays included a one-act comedy in verse, Die Laune des Verliebten (The Lover’s Caprice, 1767), and a tragedy in verse, Die Mitschuldigen (The Fellow-Culprits, 1768). Goethe’s health broke down in Leipzig and he returned to Frankfurt, where, during his recuperation, he studied occult philosophy, astrology, and alchemy. Through the influence of a friend of his mother, Susanne Katharina von Klettenberg, who was a member of the Lutheran reform movement known as Pietism, Goethe gained some insight into religious mysticism. From 1770 to 1771 he was in Strasbourg to continue his study of law; in addition, he took up the study of music, art, anatomy, and chemistry.
He lived according to the ideal expressed in Faust: never to be satisfied with what one is, but to strive incessantly to learn, to improve, to accomplish. His writings clearly show his development from youthful rebellion to the search for emotional restraint, objectivity, beauty, and the ideal human personality. The two parts of Faust, moreover, have often been considered representative of the prevailing tendencies of German literature; the first part contains many elements of the literary movement known as Romanticism, and the second represents the classicism most admired by Goethe.
When initially began writing The Sorrows of Young Werther Goethe intended for it to be a play, however at the beginning of July 1774 his work came to an end, in a form of a short novel in a series of confessional letters, as Werther in many areas, in fact, reflected Goethe himself, and his relationship with a woman named Charlotte, that like in the novel, was married to his friend Christian.3
Werther represents, on one hand the individual whose intelligence and artistic mind isolate him from the rest of the society. His sensitivity to beauty and nature generally separate him from getting himself involved with the townspeople in the story. For example his disrespect of the Prince’s superficial knowledge of art, demonstrates that he cannot tolerate anyone who does not share his artistic insight. Furthermore, Werther does not find in the story an equal or a superior to himself. Even Lotte, the woman he loved, did not have the power to help him with his obsessions and desires. Other than his artistic abilities Werther had some psychological problems, which also seem to affect his ability to interact with others. A class difference plays another role in Werther’s isolation. He is placed in fact between the lower and higher classes, making it more difficult to find his place in the social status. His middle-class status first accompanied him in town where the lower classes fear he is trying to patronize them due to their level. Another factor that increases his sense of isolation and bitterness was his forced exit from a gathering of social elites during his residence with the ambassador.
The bitterness about the division of classes is the main reason for Werther’s rough social critique. He is apposed to every social class, from the aristocracy to the simple farmer. A clear example is in Werther’s description of Count C’s social gathering:” Then in came the most gracious Lad von S., with her spouse and in passing they gave me looks and twitched their nostrils in their usual, oh-so-aristocratic way: and, since I cannot abide his breed, I was about to take my leave”(81). It is clear, therefore, that Werther resents anyone who participates in the cycle of arrogance and superiority created by the aristocracy. He continues to express his dislike by calling Lady von S. daughter a “scheming goose of a flat-chested, trimly corseted daughter”(81). The protagonist is clearly frustrated with the aristocrat’s behavior, which plays a part in his removal from Count C.’s social gathering, the removal from his job, and his return to what will appear to be a destructive relationship, with Lotte (83).
Another aspect of Werther’s critique is in his disapproval of the monotonous hard work of the lower and middle class lifestyle. According to him, the constant hard work of man, like the ambassador, distracts them from the true splendor of nature, and limits them to grow intellectually. “The human race is a monotonous affair! Most of the people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seakout any and every means to be rid of it” (29). Werther’s critique, however, unlike the aristocracy is base on pity rather than hatred. His life, unlike the lower classes is dedicated to the pursuit of ideals such as love and beauty; as for him they are the true meaning of life. Werther is doing nothing except reflecting on nature and reading, and considers it more important than actually work and farm. “You ask why the torrent of genius so rarely pours forth? Because on either bank dwell the cool, respectable gentlemen, whose summerhouse, tulip beds and cabbage patches would all be washed away and who are therefore highly skilled in averting future dangers in good time, by damming and digging channels”(33). Werther is almost frustrated due to the lower class’ inability to live freely but work and farm most of their time. Werther’s opinions on the surrounding society, thus, enables him often to interact with people in his own social class, as he keeps comparing their lifestyle to his own. As a result, Werther cannot possibly have a fulfilling relationship with people, since he believes they are slaves to society, and expect from themselves a life long of labor. With the exception of Miss von B., Count C., and, for a time, Lotte, he never finds such an equal and remains completely isolated as a result. Considering his artistic sensibilities, social status, psychological difficulties, and social critique, Werther is effectively isolated from society except, of course, for Lotte and her family.
No matter how accurate Werther’s ideas about society really are, they are, without a doubt, a major cause of his solitude. Among the few people he can actually interact with, he is forced to desert them all. As a result, he must bear the suffering of loneliness, as it becomes the cause of his “sentimental passion”4. Yet, he has no one to love because, in his estimation, he has no equal in the entire world and knows no one who shares the same feelings. Without love, a relationship with a person who cares enough about him and to suffer with him, Werther feels lost. He tries constantly to find a means of resolving the solitude he cannot escape, including reading Homer, admiring nature, writing to Wilhelm and painting. None of these activities, however, can make him truly happy. Perhaps one of the lessons of The Sorrows of young Werther is that ”solace for pain and passion only exists in the bond of love with another person and not nature or art. For when Werther can no longer find a companion in nature, he invents one in Lotte.”5 Clearly, Werther must invent the “concept” of Lotte he loves due to her personality. She shares to some extent Albert’s appreciation of reason and moderation since she chooses to marry him. In addition, she says that she appreciates Werther as a kind of confidante for her emotions. Thus, Lotte finds consolation in Werther rather than the other way around.” Perhaps, Lotte and Werther could have never loved one another because they were emotionally too similar.”6 She needed someone to comfort her due to the loss of her mother, as he needed a comfort for his loneliness.
Werther does, in fact, fall in love with Lotte, despite their incompability:” And how well she know when to play, often at time when I would gladly put a bullet through my head! The darkness and madness of my soul dispelled, and I breathe more freely again”(53). Werther at this time is clearly happy; therefore, it might be that love is the answer for his loneliness and passion. Yet, he soon finds out about Lotte’s marriage to Albert, and decides he cannot accept living without her. Consequently, he becomes more and more obsessed by her until he really begins to display symptoms of madness. He, than, begins to believe that suffering is the only solution without Lotte, or without love in general. Moreover, Werther starts to fantasize about marrying Lotte in the afterlife: “ Lotte, I said, giving her may hand, my eyes filled with tears, shall see each other again! We shall meet again, both here and in the hereafter.” His dream will realize itself only if he dies, therefore, he must kill himself. His lost of moral sense is demonstrated by his defense of the servant who killed the widow. At the end, Werther comes to the conclusion that he must commit suicide in order to escape pain and avoid hurting others. In addition, Werther may realized that due to his constant isolation and ongoing solitude he will not be able to experience true love again.
Werther, thus, does not commit suicide in order to hurt himself, Albert or Lotte but he cannot bear to continue living in complete solitude. As an artist with strong opinions about the arrogance of aristocrats and the monotonous lifestyle of lower class labor, Werther is completely incapable of establishing close relations with people he did not believe were equal to him. As a result o desperation, he creates an ideal in Lotte who, however, can never love him back. Not only due to her engagement to Albert but also due to the large support she got from her family, in opposition to Werther.
This short novel, even though written almost 250 years ago, demonstrates that Werther’s critique of society is still relevant in today’s society. It does not matter whether one is an aristocrat or a low class worker, everybody at the end need “empathic love.”7 As Goethe claims in page 64 of his work “Without doubt, the only thing that makes Man’s life on earth essential and necessary is love.”
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