Essays On The Sorrows Of Young Werther

Werther As The Prototypical Romantic In Sorrows Of Young Werther

Werther as the Prototypical Romantic in Sorrows of Young Werther

In Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, the protagonist's characteristics and ideas define him as the prototypical romantic personality.  The Romantic Movement emphasizes emotion over reason, an idea that Werther emulates throughout his life.  Werther loves pastoral settings; in nature, he feels most in touch with his emotions.  He rejects rationality and complexity with the sentiment that life is an adventure to be guided by intuition.  Werther's longing for his love, Lotte, is a paradigm of the Romantic concept of sehnsucht, one's constant yearning for something that they will never possess or know.  Werther finds Lotte to be the object of his hopeless desire, but social conventions of a world based on reason keep her just out of his reach.  His unrequited passion for Lotte ultimately destroys him as his frustrated melancholy drowns every other aspect of his personality. 

            Werther's love of the countryside illustrates his appreciation of the untamed emotion to be found in natural settings.  He believes that an artist can only become great by drawing nature scenes, and considers those who do not appreciate the beauty of the world to be unhealthy.  Werther escapes the rules and regulations that saturate the rational world in pastoral settings such as Wahlheim, where he finds that "I can be myself and experience every happiness known to man"  (43).  He can best sense the presence of God and his spiritual self in nature, and develops some of his deepest connections with Lotte.  Werther is deeply saddened when someone with "no feeling at all for the few things on this earth that are of real value" cuts down the beautiful walnut trees in front of the vicar's house  (91).  For Werther, his heart is the key to the world, and nature unlocks his emotions from within.   

            Werther's romantic tendency to wander is reflected in his love of nature.  He is sensitive enough to be moved by his surroundings, such as when he returns to the land where he grew up.  He remembers watching the river, wondering how far it went.  His imagination went as far as he could fathom, but "still it had to go on and on," like Werther's interminable search for happiness with Lotte  (84).  His pitiful yearning eventually consumes him to the point that even nature's "glory is incapable of pumping one ounce of bliss from heart to brain"  (95).   

            Werther writes to his friend William not to send him any more books, for his "heart surges wildly enough without any outside influence"  (26).  He chooses the company of those who, like him, appreciate their knowledge, but value their heart more than their mind.  While visiting his childhood home, Werther stays at the hunting lodge of a Prince who expresses his intellect in terms, postulates, and scientific facts.  Werther thinks that insight is more important than information, and rejoices that "the things I...

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Werther, a man of some means, flees the complexities of life by taking refuge in the countryside. There he indulges his exuberant imagination by immersing himself in the idyllic delights of his natural surroundings. His happiness reaches new heights when he meets Lotte, a charming young girl who is, however, engaged to a likable but unimaginative local official. Werther’s ecstatic love soon tortures both himself and Lotte as it begins to conflict with the norms of polite society.

When his overwrought sentiments make his stay more and more untenable, Werther accepts a position at the court of one of Germany’s small principalities. Yet bureaucratic narrow-mindedness and social snobbery soon drive him back to Lotte. Unable to compromise his desperate emotions in any way, Werther prepares himself for the unavoidable catastrophe, which is reported by the fictional editor of Werther’s letters at the end of the novel.

For decades, this comparatively short book, the first psychological novel in German literature and its first international best-seller, mesmerized young people all over Europe. It succeeded in articulating the social predicament of a whole generation that found itself cut off by an antiquated political system from channeling its high sentiments into the arena of social responsibility. As Werther’s fate exemplifies, unbridled emotions divorced from any impact on reality have to become self-destructive.

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