The Sorrows of Young Werther

Authenticity and Modern Society in Discourse of Inequality and the Sorrows of Young Werther

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

In Rousseau’s Discourse of Inequality and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, conflict between individual needs and society constraints is evident, and it is important to analyze the reason behind it. It is reasonable to argue that the conflict between men’s true inner thoughts and societal constraints imposed by natural needs and interpersonal contact is certain and common as the society develops. Although authenticity to ourselves is praised, we as men cannot be both authentic to ourselves yet live in the company of others. The system of desire that enslaves us has determined the way we manage to fulfill our necessities, and the operation of modern society that grants us different roles has shaped the way we communicate with others.

Discourse of Inequality

Men that are driven by sheer desire and needs are inauthentic to themselves. In Rousseau’s Discourse of Inequality, modern men have needs and their natures are deceiving. To live with others, desires and needs of all kinds are inevitable; to fulfill these needs, deception towards fellow citizens is necessary. Rousseau interprets needs as socializing and food: “grandeur of palaces, the beauty of equipages, sumptuous furniture, the pomp of public entertainment, and all the refinements of luxury and effeminacy”(Rousseau, Discourse, xv). Although these new needs are initially pleasurable, they then become necessities and tide men together and shape their lives. Ultimately, such necessities control and enslave men, making it hard to be indifferent to the secular desire. Being enslaved by the system of needs, a man is prone to be dominated when he requires others to fulfill his needs, or simply the needs of other people. As the system of needs grows stronger and irresistible, unnecessary needs and over-satisfaction could trigger social problems and become the foundation of modern inequality. According to Rousseau: The extreme inequalities in the manner of living of the several classes of mankind, the excess of idleness in some, and of labour in others, the facility of irritating and satisfying our sensuality and our appetites, the too exquisite and out of the way ailments of the ich, which fill them with fiery juices, and bring on indigestion the unwholesome food of the poor, of which even, basd as it is, they very often fall short, and the want of which tempts them, every opportunity that offers, to eat greedily and overload their stomachs, wathincs, excesses of every kind, immoderate transports of all the passions, fatigues, waste of spirits, in a word, the numberless pains and anxieties annexed to every condition, and which the mind of man is constantly a prey to. (Rousseau, Discourse, 18)

Contrast to savage men, who “breathes only peace and liberty; he (savage man) desires only to live and be free from labour; even the ataraxia of the Stoic falls far short of his profound indifference to every other object” (Rousseau, Discourse, 91). Modern men forget the pure pleasure of nature and get tired of simple needs as freedom and liberty. On the other hand, in the process of fulfillment, either of needs or dominance of others, we as modern men become inauthentic to ourselves. As can be seen in Discourse, modern men are not isolated in the society, and “outside of himself, (he) lives only in the opinion of others and it is, so to speak, from their judgment alone that he gets the sense of his own existence” (Rousseau, Discourse, 92). Therefore, a civilized man tends to use language as a disguise to get along with others that have different social roles, which he is: Always moving, sweating, toiling and racking his brains to find still more laborious occupations: he goes on in drudgery to his last moment, and even seeks death to put himself in a position to live, or renounces life to acquire immortality. He pays his court to men in power, whom he hates, and to the wealthy, whom he despises; he stops at nothing to have the honour of serving them; he is not ashamed to value himself on his own meanness and their protection; and, proud of his slavery, he speaks with disdain of those, who have not the honour of sharing it. (Rousseau, Discourse, 91).

Overall, the over-satisfaction and the system of needs make eloquence and certain disguise useful tools to attain purposes. When man wants to fulfill his needs and satisfaction, he is rather shameless to behave in an authentic way to his fellow, and cannot cease to deceive and dominate them. Throughout the Discourse, Rousseau points out a problem of the modern social system. Modern men are “nothing more than a deceiving and frivolous exterior, honor without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness” (Rousseau, Discourse, 93). The superficial nature creates the mental corruption among modern men. Mental corruption occurs when modern men become subjects to all kinds of needs and to the operation of amours, which make them “become of men who are left to this brutal and boundless rage, without modesty, without shame” (Rousseau, Discourse, 43). The corruption is apparent in the attention modern men pay to the opinion of others and their authentic feelings towards others that opposed to their superficial masks. As modern men are enslaved by their secular desire, the corruptive system of needs make them inauthentic to both themselves and others. One example Rousseau shares is that “he (Modern men) pays his court to men in power, whom he hates, and to the wealthy, whom he despises; he stops at nothing to have the honour of serving them; he is not ashamed to value himself on his own meanness and their protection; and, proud of his slavery, he speaks with disdain of those, who have not the honour of sharing it.” (Rousseau, Discourse, 91). Sometimes the inner authenticity, when too strong and evident, could cause possible trouble to others and ourselves. Although authenticity towards ourselves is praised, especially by Rousseau in this case, he repeatedly compares the simple needs of savage men with sophisticated ones of the modern men. In the less complex society, as he writes, “…the good constitution of the savages, at least of those whom we have not ruined with our spirituous liquors, and reflect that they are troubled with hardly any disorders, save wounds and old age, we are tempted to believe that, in following the history of civil society, we shall be telling also that of human sickness” (Rousseau, Discourse, 18). However, as modern men step into a new era and as individual interests have become so various, they may interfere with public restraints. In Discourse of Inequality, Rousseau himself points out the conflict as well: We may admire human society as much as we please; it will be none the less true that it necessarily leads men to hate each other in proportion as their interests clash, and to do one another apparent services, while they are really doing every imaginable mischief. What can be thought of a relation, in which the interest of every individual dictates rules directly opposite to those the public reason dictates to the community in general −− in which every man finds his profit in the misfortunes of his neighbor. (Rousseau, Discourse, 90)

Essentially, societal regulations constraints or even contrast modern men’s true needs, a situation that makes authenticity invisible or hard to demonstrate publicly. As connected with surroundings, we modern men are not isolated identities but bind with other people.

The Sorrows of Young Werther

In Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, for instance, the contradiction of authenticity and social trends and restrictions is trenchant and tragic. A sensitive soul, Werther enjoys the cheerfulness of life and dare to express his true inner thoughts. His uncarved virtue is close to the calmness of the nature and makes him prefer solitude. In his letters, he admires the nature and seek the wonder within it – “as I lie close to the earth, a thousand unknown plants are noticed by me: when I hear the buzz of the little world among the stalks, and grow familiar with the countless indescribable forms of the insects and flies, then I feel the presence of the Almighty, who formed us in his own image, and the breath of that universal love which bears and sustains us, as it floats around us in an eternity of bliss” (Goethe, Sorrows, 8); he also celebrates the solitude, “a wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I enjoy with my whole heart. I am alone, and feel the charm of existence in this spot, which was created for the bliss of souls like mine” (Goethe, Sorrows, 4). However, such passion is uncommon and seemed as absurd by others. Goethe’s close friend Albert replies to him in a letter that “for a man carried away by his passions loses all power of reflection and is viewed as drunk or mad” (Goethe, Sorrows, 40). Even though, Goethe still sticks to his authenticity and dare to articulate the shortage of society. As he writes: …the dazzling wretchedness, the boredom of hideous folk all rubbing shoulders hereabouts, their obsession with status, how they watch and spy out their chances to get one step ahead – such wretched, lamentable passions, quite without fig-leaf… But in truth, my dear friend, I see every day more clearly how foolish it is to measure others by oneself… What irks me is the stupidity of social relations. (Goethe, Sorrows, 55)

The reality has confined Werther’s passion and gradually becomes shackle for his body and soul. The brutality of reality and authentic passion have given rise to the disadvantages caused by his emotional life. Repeatedly creating frictions with other people, he becomes bizarre in the conservative environment. It is hard for him to earn a living because his “active powers have waned to a restless lassitude, I (Werther) can’t be idle nor can I do anything. I have no power of imagination, no feeling for nature, and books sicken me” (Goethe, Sorrows, 46). Additionally, there is a gap between inner desires and reality, as there are many things in life that we cannot attain and fulfill. He loves Charlotte, who is also talented and sensitive. However, given her engagement, they could not fall in love with each other. However, his passion has affected his perception of the world. He would hold undoubted faith in his own believe. In his letter, he writes to his friend, No, I am not deceiving myself. In her black eyes I read a sympathy for me and for my fate. Indeed, I feel, and trust my heart in this, that she – loves me… Is that hubris or a feeling of how things truly are? I don’t know from anyone whom I have anything to fear in Lotte’s heart. And yet, when she speaks of the man she is engaged to, speaks of him with such warmth, such love – then I’m a man stripped of all honor and status and whose sword as been taken from him. (Goethe, Sorrows, 33)

In this context, his love for Charlotte is so ideal and he is so wholehearted that this impossible relationship has taken up his entire life and parched his vitality. At the end, his authenticity has imposed him a tragedy and leads him to death when reality disappoints his true thoughts.

Conclusion

Overall, under the conflict between public and individual interests, it is hard to maintain authenticity in some circumstances. Ideally, keeping authenticity shows the uncarved nature and is compatible to a less complex society. However, the pros and cons of evident authenticity change as the modern system develops. We could not only think about expressing personal authenticity while ignoring the common good of the community.

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Thoughtless Actions and Tragic Endings in Book of Thel and Sorrows of Young Werther

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Coming-of-age is a genre of literature that focuses on the growth of protagonist from youth to adulthood. Book of Thel and Sorrows of Young Werther are two works that fail to fall under that genre due to the actions and outcome of their protagonists. The questions and ideologies about life, existence, and death hinder both protagonists from maturing into adulthood and result into tragic endings. Both protagonists Thel and Werther question why objects that bring life and joy to others must fade, die, and turn into suffering and misery. Initially, both protagonists explore their world to find the answer, but later become victims of their own questions that lead to their downfall.

Book of Thel

In Book of Thel, Thel asks “why all [natural] things must end when springtime fades.” She explores the idea of why objects that brings life and joy to others must die when its existence is pure, joyful, and harmless. When the Cloud tells Thel that “life is a natural process that repeats but never fades” and “its purpose is for others”, Thel doubts she is given a purpose and fear that she will die useless and forgotten. When Clod of Clay confronts her, she finally understands that with faith in God, everything is given a purpose, and that purpose is service and sacrifice for others. Unfortunately, when a mysterious voice from the pit later confronts her about the uncertainties of life and death, Thel’s newfound understanding of service, purpose of life, and faith in God fades as she runs back to the Vale of Har. Just like nature and springtime in her question, Thel’s understanding of life and purpose prematurely ends when her faith in God fades.

Sorrows of Young Werther

Likewise, Werther in Sorrows of Young Werther asks “why the source of happiness becomes a man’s sorrow and misery” and also becomes the victim of his own question. In the beginning, Werther starts his journey in village of Wahleim, takes joy in his surrounding, befriends the locals, and falls in love with a lady named Charlotte from the village. Initially, his residency in Wahleim and newfound love bring his heart from “sorrow to immoderate joy”, but as time progresses his interest of the village and the people fades. When his love for Charlotte is unrequited and his discontent with the locals grow, Werther leaves the village and collapses into grief. Despite initially being extremely happy at Wahleim and infatuated to Charlotte, Wahleim and Charlotte become Werther’s sorrows that were once the source of his happiness. Werther has “so much in him, but the feeling of [Charlotte] and Zerrissenheit of unrequited love absorbs it all; without her, [his happiness] comes from nothing.”

The Comparison of Thel and Werter

Although Thel and Werther become the subject of their own question, both character avoid exploring their own question. Instead of finding the answer and truth, Thel flees back to Vale of Har to escape from her fears and Werther commits suicide after being overwhelmed by his emotions. Though both character’s climatic actions were similar, their rationalities are different; Thel’s action is act upon her impetuous innocence while Werther’s action is base upon his knowledgeable experience. When Thel wishes to enter the world of experience and leave her innocent paradise behind, the fear of losing innocence and the unknown prevent her from entering the new world. When she sees the mortality and futility of humanity, she cowers in fear and runs back to Har. Her impulsive innocence and discovery of death turned away mortal life, love, and self-knowledge granted in the world of experience. As she stays in Har, her Motto remains unanswered; can “love and wisdom be contained” and comprehended without first hand experience? Like her question about nature, Thel’s chance to experience life, love, and wisdom ended when she ran away from the opportunity. On the other hand, Werther’s action is determined and based on his knowledge of the human psyche. His inward turn analysis and discussion of the human mind and behavior with Albert foreshadow the actions he takes at the end of the story. He explains to Albert that when one faces difficulty embracing life and living in an uncontrollable and disenchanting world, logic and reasons, just like laws that govern a society, would succumb the emotions that overtakes a man. When a man is “unable to endure the measure of his sufferings,” emotions and the heart takes control of the mind and wretches the physically and morally trait of the suffer. After a man has endured too much, logic becomes a futile tool to combat emotion and the only solution to end the suffering, Werther alludes, is through suicide. Indeed, Werther experiences this when he is unable to overcome his infatuation with Charlotte and falls into grief. As he continues to see Charlotte and reminsd himself the unattainable love he has for her, his tone shifts from elegant to cynical, behaviors start to become unstable, and unpleasant plans for murder emerges. When the suffering became increasingly unbearable and his love is continually unrequited, Werther knows his escape is to commit the inevitable act of suicide.

Kant’s Thoughts

Book of Thel and Sorrows of Young Werther are works composed during the Age of Enlightenment. During this period, reason and individualism rather than tradition were heavily emphasized and influenced by various philosopher. One prominent figure that introduced the meaning of Enlightenment and being enlightened was German philosopher named Immanuel Kant. In his work, Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment, Kant defines what it means to be enlightened and identifies the lack of Enlightenment as people’s inability to think for themselves due their lack of courage. He argues that ‘Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity” and that “immaturity is lack of courage to use one’s reason, intellect, and wisdom without guidance of others.” Given this advice to Thel and Werther, both characters would have avoided self destruction and obstructions of their own Enlightenment. For Thel, she knows only innocence and eternal paradise and wish to learn about the life and ways of the mortal experienced world. Without the guidance of the nature and the fears conjured by the voice in the pit, Kant would have suggests to Thel to personally explore the world she questions and not be discouraged by her fears. Kant knows that it is difficult and uncomfortable for individuals to be free thinkers and they need to be cultivated and guided by other free thinkers. Likewise, Kant would have suggested to Werther reject his predisposition attitude and opinion about suicide and have an open mindset about other opinions and idea. Had Werther valiantly used his wisdom, reason, and intellect to look past his emotion and his view on suicide, Werther may not have replaced rationality with emotional obsession and committed suicide. Due to their thoughtless actions, both character disqualify their respective works from fitting in coming-of-age genre.

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The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang. Analysis of Werthers Suicide

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Werther’s Suicide

Werther is infatuated with Charlotte who is an engaged woman who will be married. He constantly wants to see her all the time. It becomes an obvious obsession and it starts to make Werther insane. Werther says, “How her image haunts me! Walking or asleep, she fills my entire soul!” (Goethe 157). This displays his mental state concerning Charlotte. His life revolves around her, but he doesn’t completely realize that he cannot have her. All of what is going on ultimately brings Werther to take his own life. Werther’s suicide was not justified because of suicide being wrong no matter what and the suicide was not prevented.

Werther committed suicide because he finally realized that he could not have Charlotte and that Charlotte did not want him. He resulted in killing himself. Suicide is wrong all of the time. It does not fix any problems but only makes them worse. Werther did not pick the right choice for dealing with this situation. He could have looked for someone to help him like Wilhelm. Werther went to the extreme to deal with the situation and it was not necessary. Werther should have realized that after Albert and Charlotte were married that he had no chance and moved on. He was attached to Charlotte and knew no one else. He even says that he wishes “to be buried in the dress” that has been “rendered sacred by your touch.” (212). He was still attached to her even when he was going to commit suicide. This suicide can not be justified because he knows what he is doing, but he has no guidance. Mentally, he has a problem but he still has an immature obsession over Charlotte.

Werther is not stopped in the act of killing himself. There are many opportunities that could have allowed intervention to stop him. Werther asked Albert if he could borrow his pistol. Albert gave the note Werther gave him to Charlotte and said, “Give him the pistols. I wish him a pleasant journey…”(207). Albert definitely knows what Werther wants to do with them and so does Charlotte. Albert basically is allowing Werther to kill himself and that is not right. Although that Albert is letting this happen, it is still wrong of Werther to commit suicide over Charlotte. Albert let this happen because he was definitely getting annoyed with Werther. Werther was always trying to get with Charlotte, and Albert does not want that because he is with her.

Charlotte knew that something bad was going to happen after Werther got the pistols. After the servant left with them she “retired at once to her room, her heart overcome with the most fearful forebodings.” (207). This shows that she knew in the back of her mind that he was going to do something bad with those pistols and she was going to be feel bad for it. This is not justified because she should not have given the servant the guns if she was going to have those feelings afterward. She was just like Albert and let it happen. The servant can be blamed as well. He should have thought about why he was delivering guns to Werther. That would have been common sense. What made all of this worse was that when the servant handed the pistols over to Werther, he told him that Charlotte gave it to him herself. Werther immediately thought of the delight that she touched the pistols. He then writes to her talking about how she touched the guns. This just continues the never ending story of his obsession and further proves that it was not right for him to kill himself over it.

In conclusion, Werther’s suicide was not justified. It was wrong of him and all of the people who were involved in it. It was wrong of him because committing suicide is never the answer to a problem. It was wrong of Albert and Charlotte for giving him the pistols knowing that he was going to do something bad. His servant also could have done something to prevent this fiasco. In the end, Werther did not think through his actions and committed an unjustified suicide because suicide is never justified.

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The Problem of Body in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

As the referent of the individual, the body functions as a site for contradiction, resistance, and reassertion. It embodies a set of rules that delineates individual space through an exclusion of that which is not self. In Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, corporeality problematizes the relations between the self and its signifiers. Whereas it has been proposed that mind lies over matter, the body generates real opposition to the expression of genius. An entity based on the premise of finitude, the body bounds aspirations towards the infinite. As the episodes of Werther’s sketching, the bounded space of the individual body resists the lawless space of the sovereign genius.

Werther’s sketch serves as a preliminary study for the alternate reality that he envisions. The “dark eyes” (Goethe 14) that Werther attributes to the older boy are the same “dark eyes” (Goethe 25) that he endows to Charlotte1. Eyes that can melt from one body to another presuppose a fluid nature of reality2. Fluidity characterizes Werther’s selection of subject matter, bridging the gap between himself and the world. “I included the nearest fence, a barn door, and a few broken cartwheels,” he notes, “just as they came into view” (Goethe 14). Rather than actively selecting his subject matter, Werther sketches objects as they stream into his field of vision. He paints outdoors in order to minimize the barriers between himself and nature. The continuity that the objects experience as they flow from the outside world into Werther’s sketch implies a confluence of external and personal space.

At the same time, Werther perceives his body as an obstruction to the conflation of individual and exterior into a single entity. Like the sand that prevents him from drinking in Charlotte’s letter (Goethe 50), Werther’s body reminds him of his individuality and essential separateness from the external world. Decorporealization, a breaking of the damn of the body, thus proves necessary in Werther’s construction of a fluid reality. In declaring that “Nature alone forms the great artist,” (Goethe 14) Werther elides his body from the process of creation. Negating his own agency, he emphasizes that it is only “by accident” (Goethe 13) that he finds the two boys in the square and that it is only “without adding the slightest invention of . . . [his] own” (Goethe 14) that he completes the sketch. Reducing the artist to a conduit of nature, Werther presupposes self-destruction as a necessary counterpart to the self-creation of genius.

Wishing to become dissolved in and disseminated into the world’s reality, Werther’s yearning is profane, because it challenges God’s omnipotence. God can be everywhere at once only because He has no body that localizes His being. Corporeality makes one an individual, binding his existence to a finite locality. Perceiving the finitude imposed by his body, Werther muses, “What is man, that celebrated demigod . . . is he not . . . held back and restored to dull, cold consciousness at the very moment when he longs to lose himself in the fullness of the infinite?” (Goethe 124-125). Werther seeks to dissolve his body as a gesture towards boundlessness. So great is his narcissism that he aspires to God’s omnipotence4; to Werther, genius is to be no less than a bodiless, boundless Creator5. As he states, “That the life of man is but a dream is a thought which has occurred to many people, and I myself am constantly haunted by it” (Goethe 11). Werther seeks to be the creator of his own “dream”.

The body’s finitude poses a problem for the genius. Specifically bounded, corporeality limits genius in its essential irreproducibility. As Werther realizes, Lotte, once produced, cannot be reproduced: “Three times I have started Lotte’s portrait, and three times I have bungled it . . . Finally I gave up and cut her silhouette, and with that I shall be satisfied” (Goethe 50). Werther can fill the evacuated silhouette with himself, but he can never fill it with the real Lotte; although he can merge with his construction of Lotte, he cannot reproduce this identification with the real girl.

The body denies genius the ultimate act of creation through its reassertion of individual irreplaceability. Genius can destroy but cannot recreate that which has already been created. Only through the impossibility of decorporealization can there emerge a reality where artists can be lovers and where individuals can merge with the world.

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Werther’s Plunge; A Path of Self-Destruction and Nature’s Contribution

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

“What wastes my heart away is the corrosive power that lies concealed in the natural universe – in Nature, which has brought forth nothing that does not destroy both its neighbor and itself.” (Goethe, 66)

In Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s novella, The Sorrows of Young Werther, a romanticized concept of nature is used to illustrate the internal state of the protagonist, Werther. When the story begins, Werther is a young, optimistic artist who finds beauty and awe in all of nature. By the end, however, Werther is distressed and suicidal; he comes to see nature as a wild and destructive force. As he transforms from buoyant to deeply depressed, and his perception of nature as the tangible manifestation of God is destroyed and replaced by the dark view that nature is merely a sadistic monster. In his recognition of nature as a “corrosive power”, as declared in the above quotation, Werther throws himself onto a path of self- destruction that eventually leads to his death. Werther’s artistic nature, his devotion to nature, and his passion are the self- destructive qualities that provoke his suicide.

Werther’s artistic nature causes him to look at the world in terms of art and provides him with a romanticized concept of nature; both of which have the ability to affect him greatly. As his view on nature shifts, and he becomes more deeply involved with Charlotte, Werther loses his ability to participate in art and can no longer see the world in terms of art. The loss of artistic beauty in nature eventually drives Werther to his death. When the story opens, Werther describes a lush, countryside paradise as his new home and is lost in the endless wonders of nature. With this picturesque setting comes an infallible optimism and a deep appreciation for the artistic value of nature. The combination of the two, art and nature, hold a powerful sway over Werther’s emotions. Looking out at a rain-swept countryside, Charlotte’s poetic reference brings Werther to tears. “At once I remembered the glorious ode she had in mind, and was lost in the sensations that flooded me on hearing the name. It was more than I could bear; I bowed over her hand and kissed it, shedding tears of the greatest joy…”(Goethe, 43). Here, Werther allows himself to become swept up in his emotions and this plays a hand in his self- destruction at the end of the novel.

As he becomes more deeply involved with Charlotte and increasingly depressed and hopeless, Werther can no longer appreciate such scenes. As the situation progresses, Werther loses the ability to participate in art. This becomes evident in his journal entry from July 24th, when he states, “I do not know how to express myself; my imaginative powers are so weak, and everything slides and shifts before my soul, so that I cannot grasp the outlines” (55). By the end of the novel, nature is seen as “a monster”; a destructive machine that “…has brought forth nothing which does not destroy both its neighbor and itself” (66). Now Werther is swayed by the dark and demonic tendencies of nature and it is this sway, combined with his tragically strong devotion to nature, which aids in leading him to suicide.

Werther’s devotion to nature causes him to be deeply affected by the state of nature, which, as it shifts from being seen as inspiring to being seen as destructive, leads Werther to a path of self-destruction. From the beginning, we see that nature influences many of Werther’s thoughts and actions; he relates all aspects of life to nature. Nature is often connected to the purity of children and their separation from the rational, adult world, the same adult world that Werther longs to escape. In one journal entry, he confesses, “they are the happiest who, like children, live for the present moment” (31). And so Werther resolves to live in the present moment and allows nature to dictate his actions and feelings.

This supreme power that nature holds is justified by the citation of God in nature; nature becomes a deity and a force that controls Werther’s fate. When he is surrounded by nature, Werther can “feel the presence of the Almighty who created us in His image, the breath of the All-loving who bears us aloft in perpetual joy and holds us there” (27). In this way, nature essentially plays God. So when, in his deepening state of depression, Werther’s perception of nature shifts, nature comes to hold an adversely powerful effect over Werther. He realizes this in a letter to Wilhelm, stating, “My heart’s immense and ardent feeling for living Nature, which overwhelmed me with so great a joy and made the world about me a very paradise, has now become an unbearable torment, a demon that goes with me everywhere, torturing me” (65). In the end, this demon manifests itself in a violent storm that urges Werther to end his “sufferings and sorrows by plunging, passing on with a crash like the waves!” (112). These morbid sentiments are fueled by his uncontrollable passion, the driving force behind his rash decisions. With Werther’s devotion to nature evoking extreme emotional states, and his passion causing him to act on these surges of emotion, Werther is thrown onto a deadly path that results in his self- destruction.

Werther’s passion is a driving force in his self- destruction because it dictates his beliefs and decisions and, combined with the influences of nature, provides suicide as an answer to his woes. Throughout the novel, Werther’s passion is a source of contention between Charlotte and Albert and himself. When an argument arises, Werther allows his passion to propel him into heated engagement in the dispute. Metaphorically, a battle of reason versus passion rages in the subtext of the book; one personified in Albert, Charlotte’s worthy betrothed, and the other in Werther. In the end, reason presides over passion and Albert remains with Charlotte.

In a moral debate with Albert over the justification of suicide, Werther calls upon us to “consider a man, confined within his bounds, influenced by impressions, beset by ideas, till one day a growing passion overthrows his contemplative composure and destroys him” (62). He goes on to argue that it is senseless for a rational man to try to reason with the destroyed man, because reason cannot change or evoke emotions. Werther has succeeded in describing his own dilemma; he is a man influenced by impressions, overthrown by his growing passions, and destroyed. Reason and logic are of no use to him; all his acts are born of a wild passion and a force of nature. The devouring, self- destructive monster that nature has become evokes the self-destructive nature that lies within Werther. His artistic nature, devotion to nature, and passion are all simply integral character traits, always existing, their self- destructive properties lying dormant within him, waiting to go off like a timed- bomb. These lethal traits result in Werther’s suicide: one complete and final action and the culmination of his self-destruction.

It has been argued, however, that the change in nature is merely a metaphorical reflection of Werther’s frenzied mind, and does not actively contribute to his suicide. It is true that Werther’s increasing desperation is accompanied by an increasing violence of nature and therefore it is plausible that one is a reflection of the other. However, what is not taken into account here is the element of choice. Werther chooses to change the way in which he views nature, because the depletion of his artistic tendencies calls for a re-evaluation of the role of nature. In coming to see nature as a “corrosive power” (66), Werther embarks on a self- destructive path that is fueled by the new, destructive properties he associates with nature.

“What wastes my heart away is the corrosive power that lies concealed in the natural universe – in Nature, which has brought forth nothing that does not destroy both its neighbor and itself” (66). Werther’s artistic nature, devotion to nature, and passion all play a hand in his self- destruction. Werther is his own un-doing; he brings forth nothing that does not destroy itself. But what about destroying his neighbor? He has certainly stained the lives of Charlotte and Albert and perhaps they have been set on their own path of self- destruction, the catalyst being Werther’s death in the place of nature. If so, this would increase the extent and effect of the destructive powers of nature and of Werther. Werther has become part of a chain reaction involving the destruction of all that surrounds him. Here, it is important to consider the cost of our ambitions and passions and even the self- destructive traits that lie dormant within us. Werther’s self-destruction and the destruction of others are brought about by an inevitable, natural chain of effect, a ‘fate’ governed by a new God, Nature.

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Aristocratic and Bourgeois Ideology in The Sorrows of Young Werther

August 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

Literary critics such as Karl Grun and Johannes Scherr have propped up Johann Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther as revolutionary social criticism that paved the way for many of the rebellions in 1848 – Grun even arguing that the novel prepared the grounds for the French Revolution. But as one of the most prominent figures of sentimentality in Western literature, Werther is difficult to construe as a social critic without acknowledging the barrier his affect presents in taking on such a role. Friedrich Engels even accused Grun of “confusing genuine social criticism with Werther’s lamentations about the discrepancy between bourgeois reality and his equally bourgeois illusion. Werther, says Engels, is a ‘schwarmerischer Tranensack’ (dreamy lachrymal sack)” (Duncan 76).

Can we, then, denounce the criticism Werther voices as not genuine because of his bourgeois identification and his self-serving vision of social order? Can we understand the grumbling of a “dreamy lachrymal sack” as social commentary? Although Engel raises legitimate concerns surrounding a critical reading of The Sorrows of Young Werther, we dilute the significance of a series of letters Werther dedicates to deriding his aristocratic company in the second half of the novel without engaging in a critical analysis of the novel. His criticism is particularly informed by his characterization of genius as torrential and transcendental. While Werther’s opinions on class division and on the romanticization of labor seem to detract from his ability to criticize the social order, Goethe complicates the temptation to dismiss Werther’s polemic against aristocratic society by distancing him from the almost equally problematic bourgeoisie at the end of the novel.

Werther’s hostility towards the aristocracy stems from a clash of ideologies: a barrier to class mobility bulwarked by privileging an individual’s pedigree over his strength of character is utterly detestable to Werther because it demeans that what makes him exceptional. In a letter dated 26 May, Werther jests, “Oh, my friends! You ask why the torrent of genius so rarely pours forth, so rarely floods and thunders and overwhelms your astonished soul? – Because, dear friends, on either bank dwell the cool, respectable gentlemen, whose summer-houses, 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 explains the constraint placed on the genius through his relationship with respectable gentlemen. Although Werther never explicitly claims that the respectable gentleman is a figure of the aristocracy and the genius is a figure of himself, the similarity within the groupings is striking. The genius is characterized by an image of complete surrender, which is similar to Werther’s disposition while writing the letter 10 May; the respectable gentleman is associated with scheming and self-gain, two qualities that Werther criticizes in the nobility he meets working under the Ambassador. Werther’s criticism of the aristocracy is that this group values future gains over pleasure in the present. Shortly after working for the ambassador, Werther complains, “the tedium of these awful people cooped up together here! and their greed for rank, and the way they are forever watchful and alert for gain or precedence: the most wretched and abominable of passions” (75). His judgment becomes increasingly explicit as he continues his argument – he begins by pointing out their “greed for rank,” implying that they are not satisfied with their current status. Then he moves on to further denounce the aristocratic mentality that is consumed with rank by pointing that aristocrats are specifically “watchful” and “alert” for gain. Here he is more explicit: Werther is frustrated with the aristocratic focus on future advances rather than on satisfaction in the present. This is especially “wretched and abominable” for Werther, who tells Wilhelm, “I am so happy, dear friend, so absorbed in this feeling of peaceful existence” (26). Unlike the aristocracy that seeks happiness in future gains, Werther believes that happiness should be “absorbed” in the present. For this reason, he claims, “It is enough that the source of my wretchedness lies within myself, as the source of all my joy once did” (98). By rejecting the aristocratic mentality of looking to the future and by focusing on the beautiful transience of existence, Werther gains autonomy: he is his own source of both pleasure and dissatisfaction.

Although it is easy to broadly categorize Werther as an advocate for the working class, it is important to note Werther’s own problematic viewpoints. This task becomes important as this essay shifts from examining Werther’s criticism of the German aristocracy to Goethe’s own criticism of society and its relationship to the type of person that Werther represents. Werther romanticizes labor by stating, “It is good that my heart can feel the simple and innocent pleasure a man knows when the cabbage he eats at a table is one he grew himself; the pleasure he takes. . . in remembering evenings he watered it and the delight he felt in its daily growth” (45). By portraying farming through an idyllic vignette, Werther creates the narrative that the farmer enjoys his labor. This construct is destructive for two reasons. First, Werther praises the picturesque image of a man dependent on nature for sustenance, but completely ignores the arduous nature of agrarian life and thereby glorifies the image of the farmer without sympathizing with any of his struggles. Second, he imposes his own narrative on a group of people whom he knows “are not equal, nor can be” (28). He does not know the experiences of a farmer because he is not a farmer. By suggesting that the working class enjoys its labor, Werther perpetuates a narrative that the upper class uses to oppress its subordinates; in Werther’s mind, the labor of the working class is necessary to my social standing and there’s no moral cost to thrive on the backs of these simple people because they enjoy it! Yet, although Werther holds to beliefs that work against the lower class, Goethe still makes it clear through Christ metaphors and the juxtaposition of Albert and Werther that, even if marked with hypocrisy, criticism is preferable to inaction.

Albert serves to embody the upper-class ideals of the wealth and respectability of the bourgeoisie, and thus serves as a foil to Werther. Even though he is competing with Albert for Lotte’s affections, Werther declares, “I cannot help esteeming Albert. The coolness of his temper contrasts strongly with the impetuosity of mine” (22). Moving beyond the well-mannered behavior that earns recognition from Werther, even the editor exalts Albert as a “pure-hearted man,” establishing that he is a man viewed positively by society. Yet, the pure-hearted Albert is the one to give Werther the pistol to kill himself. A symbolic reading indicates that the bourgeois society perceives characters that hold to beliefs similar to Werther’s as threatening to its lifestyle and seeks to eradicate these individuals. Furthermore, Werther compares himself to Christ, asking, “What is the Fate of Man, but to. . . drink the cup of bitterness,” (99) establishing parallels to Christ. After all, Christ similarly asked God to take his cup from him while praying in Gethsemane before his crucifixion. When Werther recognizes that out of Albert, Lotte, and himself, one must die, he acknowledges that there is no room for his criticisms of the German bourgeoisie and aristocracy and, like Christ, chooses to sacrifice himself for the “sinners” Albert and Lotte, who represent the bourgeoisie. At the scene of his death blood was everywhere — “a vein was opened in his arm; the blood flowed” (134). The overpowering images of blood suggest that Werther was a sacrifice: in order to maintain a society in which people like Albert and Lotte live and thrive, social critics must die and suffer. By comparing the latter stages of Werther’s life to those of Christ’s life, Goethe puts Werther on a moral high ground relative to the rest of his society. Although his imperfections kept him from “saving” his class and reversing the rhetoric of the bourgeoisie that oppresses the working class, Werther was at least able to partly save himself from the criticisms he raises, even if he did so through his death.

Through the lens of social criticism, The Sorrows of Young Werther can be interpreted as a novel centered around class structure and the perils of its effects on society. Werther serves as a voice to critique the greedy, calculating, and rigid upper class. His death, depicted using religious motifs, indicates Goethe’s criticism of German society, a society in which individuals who advocate for social change have no place.

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Existential Statements in The Sorrows of Young Werther

August 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

It is presumable that the main character of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther is a man from whose thoughts we can glean wise and important statements about life. Throughout many of the passages, Werther offers us his unique perspective on various elements of living including survival, freedom, mortality and moral outlook. Mainly, he is speaking to his dear friend Wilhelm, and so it is clear that these are personal letters containing deep thoughts and feelings. However, contradictions arise in the letters that will be examined. I therefore contend that, although much of what he says is eloquent and thought-provoking, it does not all necessarily constitute a series of wise life lessons. Perhaps there is an available wealth of truths in what Werther says, but whatever life lessons he imparts come not only from what he thinks but how and to whom he presents these ideas, and in what ways he applies them to his own life.He speaks in great detail about how he views the rest of human existence. This outlook is not necessarily positive; in fact, he is quite critical of the people he encounters. In the letter from May 17th, Werther writes, “The human race is but a monotonous affair. Most of them labour the greater part of their time for mere subsistence; and the scanty portion of freedom which remains to them so troubles them that they use every exertion to get rid of it. Oh, the destiny of man!” (Goethe, 6) In the same letter, he also happens to say “Alas, that the friend of my youth is gone! Alas, that I ever knew her! I might say to myself, “You are a dreamer to seek what is not to be found here below.” (Goethe, 7) What this appears to say is that there is a certain caliber of person, and that people are comparable to a certain ideal. In his case, Werther seems to not be able to find anyone equivalent or better in quality to his dear departed friend. He seeks company, but what is paradoxical about this is how little he appreciates the bulk of the company he receives, also believing that he is adored by those who meet him. Perhaps he is not utterly wrong in perceiving that people find it necessary to suppress certain talents, emotions or impulses for practical reasons. This is brought up in the letter from May 22nd, where he writes “…I consider the narrow limits within which our active and inquiring faculties are confined; when I see how all our energies are wasted in providing for mere necessities, which again have no further end than to prolong a wretched existence…” (Goethe, 8) He argues our passivity in this world makes us out to be no more than large children, who are attracted and repelled by a few sensory things, but do not look to anything for any deeper meaning. What’s more, he proposes that to other bodies in the universe, the dead individual is immediately mourned, and then is soon forgotten. In the letter from October 26th he says “I often contribute to their happiness, and my heart seems as if it could not beat without them; and yet — if I were to die, if I were to be summoned from the midst of this circle, would they feel — or how long would they feel the void which my loss would make in their existence?” (Goethe, 78) This tells me that, not only is Werther just as willing to discard the human race as he is eager to have it embrace him, he is frightened his own life will fade away into nothingness, and all the people who apparently adored him will enough forget him. There may be a life lesson here, but it is not necessarily coming from his philosophy alone. The paradoxical, insecure and irrational side of man is demonstrated in Werther, who generalizes the universe in order to account for his own fears and wishes.The general dissatisfaction of Werther adds to the irony of his character when one considers his disdain for what he calls “ill-humour” (Goethe, 29). In his letter from July 1st, he writes ‘”We should daily repeat to ourselves,” I exclaimed, “that we should not interfere with our friends, unless to leave them in possession of their own joys, and increase their happiness by sharing it with them! But when their souls are tormented by a violent passion, or their hearts rent with grief, is it in your power to afford them the slightest consolation?”‘ (Goethe, 29-30) Maybe there is something to be said for overcoming hardship with optimism; but what’s truly interesting about his argument are the lingering contradictions between his words here and other letters. His dissatisfaction with society and with himself, seen in the May and October letters is overlooked in this one. Something that’s obvious about Werther is that he feels things very sharply, so it’s interesting that his apparent desire would be to isolate pain and share happiness. The contradiction here is that he expresses pain all the time, as we saw in previous letters. He suggests pain is personal and yet when he feels it he demands and ear. This can easily be seen in his letter from August 18th, where his despairing view of existence comes out fully: “My heart is wasted by the thought of that destructive power which lies concealed in every part of universal nature.” (Goethe, 47) The idea of mortal frailty is bothersome to him in that he realizes that in life there is inevitable death. He seems to be having recurring fears of passing through life unsatisfied and dying and fading away into oblivion. This may be why he turns to God for consolation: it’s something perfect and eternal. This seems not like someone with the moral fortitude to overcome his fears, rather someone consumed by insecurities and needs to be coddled and reassured. As far as life statements are concerned, what we can gather from Werther is that a man consumed by ills would possibly wish to be without them.He comes to this realization himself in his letter from August 12th, in which he writes “My good friend, if resistance be strength, how can the highest degree of resistance be a weakness?…Human nature, I continued, “has its limits. It is able to endure a certain degree of joy, sorrow, and pain, but becomes annihilated as soon as this measure is exceeded. The question, therefore, is, not whether a man is strong or weak, but whether he is able to endure the measure of his sufferings.” (Goethe, 42-43) Werther reiterates the notion that pain and despair cannot be generalized, but can only be examined in cases. He determines that when one is sick and dies, it is very much akin to ending one’s life after a deep depression. However, he also likens suicide to seeking remedy, much like what casting off ill-humour is. I believe this relationship between sickness and remedy is what Albert calls “all paradox” (Goethe, 43). The lesson here is in the paradox: there seems to be a demonstrated duality of the human condition. He who is immersed in pain, dreams of discarding it, and yet seems to identify himself by it. And despite this wish for universal happiness, one only has a threshold for so much until those feelings need to be expressed in one way or another.Can we then say that Werther is a great thinker abounding with relevant life lessons? I think it’s fair that Werther’s hopes of universal happiness, remembrance, freedom and Godliness are all relevant things, maybe even things to aspire to. But they are not necessarily all useful as statements on life in general. However, his internal paradoxes, contradictions and exuberant irrationalism tell us more about the dualistic and contradictory possibilities of the individual than his words do. His lessons are found in his character more than anywhere else, therefore making them seem like all the things man could be as opposed to all the things man is presumed to be.Goethe, Johannes Wolfgang von. Trans. R. Dillon Boylan. The Sorrows of Young Werther. New York: Mondial, c2006.

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The Fatal Weapons

July 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

The novel The Sorrows of Young Werther engages with a complex discourse of communication. It deals with a society highly lacking in personal communication, yet desperately in need of it. Although Werther longs for intimate face to face communication, books mediate his life, which leads to isolation, and ultimately suicide. The form the novel takes illustrates a tension that plagues Werther. Though he wants to express himself, it is always through letters. He describes his passionate love not to Lotte but to Wilhelm. Furthermore, the reader is never allowed to experience any of Wilhelm’s answers, producing a kind of unrequited dialogue, or a failed communication. The desire to actually touch Lotte tortures him, as he states “How many times have I been on the point of embracing her!”(113). Yet when he and Lotte do finally embrace, it is via a book.Books, or more specifically epic poems, seem to dictate Werther’s life. In Book One Werther is consumed by Homer and the “patriarchal ideas”(7) his works demonstrate. Even when he attempts to return to nature, he carries a copy of his book to read under shade while enjoying a cool beverage. He imagines himself to be Odysseus and Lotte “Penelope” (33). As he reads The Odyssey the tone and pace of the novel is forward looking and centers Werther as the hero. The world is ruled by God and God’s actions are comprehensible by humans. However, in Book Two, Werther is reading Ossian, which Werther presents as full of howling “gales…and the lament of the maiden who pines for death”(110). Ossian presents a Godless world ruled by natural law to which everyone is susceptible and unable to control. Therefore Book Two takes on a much darker tone leading up to Werther’s suicide. Book Two, influenced by the wailing, unanswered cries for help and deafening winds of Ossian marks the beginning of Werther’s most extreme isolation. He voluntarily removes himself from Walheim but becomes greatly annoyed at the society he finds himself in; most irritated by the “disgraceful social conditions”(81), and does not enjoy the company of anyone but Fraulein Von B. However, his relationship with her marks an interesting tactic toward communication with Lotte. We see very few letters addressed to Lotte, therefore their subjects become highly important. During this time he sends her letters that declare Fraulein von B. to be a lesser version of Lotte: “How often she must do homage to you! She is not compelled to- she does it voluntarily, loves to hear about you, and loves you”(85). He uses these subtle compliments as a kind of attack, intending to make her jealous. These kinds of subtexts show up more frequently through the second book and act as a kind of crying out on the part of Werther. Another significant moment in the novel comes again in the form of writing: “Will you be good enough to lend me your pistols for my intended journey. And goodbye”(158). This dubious note contains both a harmless request and an overt message. Werther is putting Albert and Lotte through a test. Albert is already aware that Werther considers suicide an option per their earlier conversation, and Lotte is aware that he is in love with her and has been recently rejected. Therefore, the “goodbye” is quite loaded. The editor makes us even further aware of this moment when he says, “If some happy intimacy had brought them together before this…perhaps our friend might have been saved”(159). This implies that what Werther needed from Albert and Lotte was communication, rather than pistols. The novel implicates Albert and Lotte in Werther’s death because of their silence. Another kind of communication takes place here, between the reader and the editor. The editor subtly accuses Albert of purposely ignoring Werther’s warnings that he was suicidal, which almost transforms the pistols into murder weapons. The editor claims “Werther had never…kept his longing to depart from this world a secret”(159), and further explains that Albert’s cavalier attitude toward the possibility of suicide had affected Lotte’s interpretation of the threat: “This may have set her mind at rest for a time, whenever her thoughts presented to her the tragic picture- but it also prevented her from communicating to her husband the anxieties that tormented her at this moment”(160). Again, the question of the pistols become a test. Albert makes Lotte physically responsible for passing the pistols to Werther, for if she refuses she will have to answer “Albert’s questioning glance”(161). Though there is very little speech between Albert and Lotte, the editor fills in the silence with condemning words like: “guilt”, “foreboding”, and “fatal weapons”(161). As Albert makes Lotte responsible, Werther takes it to an extreme level. Again, communicating his deepest feelings through a letter, he thanks her for the pistols, writing “they have passed through your hands; you have wiped the dust from them. I kiss them a thousand times because you have touched them”(162). This letter can be read as a thank you or a final goodbye, but also as a deeply troubled and veiled accusation. As this is a suicide note, the letter will become Lotte’s inheritance. Before killing himself, he ensures Albert and Lotte’s ensuing misery and attempts to kill Lotte with guilt and grief. The multiple layers of communication both in the scene of the pistols as well as throughout the novel reflect a seriously flawed language for discussing emotions such as Werther experiences, and his suicide serves as a cautionary tale for misled, untrue, and ignored attempts at intimacy.

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Werther’s Plunge; A Path of Self-Destruction and Nature’s Contribution

June 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

“What wastes my heart away is the corrosive power that lies concealed in the natural universe – in Nature, which has brought forth nothing that does not destroy both its neighbor and itself.” (Goethe, 66) In Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s novella, The Sorrows of Young Werther, a romanticized concept of nature is used to illustrate the internal state of the protagonist, Werther. When the story begins, Werther is a young, optimistic artist who finds beauty and awe in all of nature. By the end, however, Werther is distressed and suicidal; he comes to see nature as a wild and destructive force. As he transforms from buoyant to deeply depressed, and his perception of nature as the tangible manifestation of God is destroyed and replaced by the dark view that nature is merely a sadistic monster. In his recognition of nature as a “corrosive power”, as declared in the above quotation, Werther throws himself onto a path of self- destruction that eventually leads to his death. Werther’s artistic nature, his devotion to nature, and his passion are the self- destructive qualities that provoke his suicide. Werther’s artistic nature causes him to look at the world in terms of art and provides him with a romanticized concept of nature; both of which have the ability to affect him greatly. As his view on nature shifts, and he becomes more deeply involved with Charlotte, Werther loses his ability to participate in art and can no longer see the world in terms of art. The loss of artistic beauty in nature eventually drives Werther to his death. When the story opens, Werther describes a lush, countryside paradise as his new home and is lost in the endless wonders of nature. With this picturesque setting comes an infallible optimism and a deep appreciation for the artistic value of nature. The combination of the two, art and nature, hold a powerful sway over Werther’s emotions. Looking out at a rain-swept countryside, Charlotte’s poetic reference brings Werther to tears. “At once I remembered the glorious ode she had in mind, and was lost in the sensations that flooded me on hearing the name. It was more than I could bear; I bowed over her hand and kissed it, shedding tears of the greatest joy…”(Goethe, 43). Here, Werther allows himself to become swept up in his emotions and this plays a hand in his self- destruction at the end of the novel. As he becomes more deeply involved with Charlotte and increasingly depressed and hopeless, Werther can no longer appreciate such scenes. As the situation progresses, Werther loses the ability to participate in art. This becomes evident in his journal entry from July 24th, when he states, “I do not know how to express myself; my imaginative powers are so weak, and everything slides and shifts before my soul, so that I cannot grasp the outlines” (55). By the end of the novel, nature is seen as “a monster”; a destructive machine that “…has brought forth nothing which does not destroy both its neighbor and itself” (66). Now Werther is swayed by the dark and demonic tendencies of nature and it is this sway, combined with his tragically strong devotion to nature, which aids in leading him to suicide. Werther’s devotion to nature causes him to be deeply affected by the state of nature, which, as it shifts from being seen as inspiring to being seen as destructive, leads Werther to a path of self-destruction. From the beginning, we see that nature influences many of Werther’s thoughts and actions; he relates all aspects of life to nature. Nature is often connected to the purity of children and their separation from the rational, adult world, the same adult world that Werther longs to escape. In one journal entry, he confesses, “they are the happiest who, like children, live for the present moment” (31). And so Werther resolves to live in the present moment and allows nature to dictate his actions and feelings. This supreme power that nature holds is justified by the citation of God in nature; nature becomes a deity and a force that controls Werther’s fate. When he is surrounded by nature, Werther can “feel the presence of the Almighty who created us in His image, the breath of the All-loving who bears us aloft in perpetual joy and holds us there” (27). In this way, nature essentially plays God. So when, in his deepening state of depression, Werther’s perception of nature shifts, nature comes to hold an adversely powerful effect over Werther. He realizes this in a letter to Wilhelm, stating, “My heart’s immense and ardent feeling for living Nature, which overwhelmed me with so great a joy and made the world about me a very paradise, has now become an unbearable torment, a demon that goes with me everywhere, torturing me” (65). In the end, this demon manifests itself in a violent storm that urges Werther to end his “sufferings and sorrows by plunging, passing on with a crash like the waves!” (112). These morbid sentiments are fueled by his uncontrollable passion, the driving force behind his rash decisions. With Werther’s devotion to nature evoking extreme emotional states, and his passion causing him to act on these surges of emotion, Werther is thrown onto a deadly path that results in his self- destruction.Werther’s passion is a driving force in his self- destruction because it dictates his beliefs and decisions and, combined with the influences of nature, provides suicide as an answer to his woes. Throughout the novel, Werther’s passion is a source of contention between Charlotte and Albert and himself. When an argument arises, Werther allows his passion to propel him into heated engagement in the dispute. Metaphorically, a battle of reason versus passion rages in the subtext of the book; one personified in Albert, Charlotte’s worthy betrothed, and the other in Werther. In the end, reason presides over passion and Albert remains with Charlotte. In a moral debate with Albert over the justification of suicide, Werther calls upon us to “consider a man, confined within his bounds, influenced by impressions, beset by ideas, till one day a growing passion overthrows his contemplative composure and destroys him” (62). He goes on to argue that it is senseless for a rational man to try to reason with the destroyed man, because reason cannot change or evoke emotions. Werther has succeeded in describing his own dilemma; he is a man influenced by impressions, overthrown by his growing passions, and destroyed. Reason and logic are of no use to him; all his acts are born of a wild passion and a force of nature. The devouring, self- destructive monster that nature has become evokes the self-destructive nature that lies within Werther. His artistic nature, devotion to nature, and passion are all simply integral character traits, always existing, their self- destructive properties lying dormant within him, waiting to go off like a timed- bomb. These lethal traits result in Werther’s suicide: one complete and final action and the culmination of his self-destruction.It has been argued, however, that the change in nature is merely a metaphorical reflection of Werther’s frenzied mind, and does not actively contribute to his suicide. It is true that Werther’s increasing desperation is accompanied by an increasing violence of nature and therefore it is plausible that one is a reflection of the other. However, what is not taken into account here is the element of choice. Werther chooses to change the way in which he views nature, because the depletion of his artistic tendencies calls for a re-evaluation of the role of nature. In coming to see nature as a “corrosive power” (66), Werther embarks on a self- destructive path that is fueled by the new, destructive properties he associates with nature. “What wastes my heart away is the corrosive power that lies concealed in the natural universe – in Nature, which has brought forth nothing that does not destroy both its neighbor and itself” (66). Werther’s artistic nature, devotion to nature, and passion all play a hand in his self- destruction. Werther is his own un-doing; he brings forth nothing that does not destroy itself. But what about destroying his neighbor? He has certainly stained the lives of Charlotte and Albert and perhaps they have been set on their own path of self- destruction, the catalyst being Werther’s death in the place of nature. If so, this would increase the extent and effect of the destructive powers of nature and of Werther. Werther has become part of a chain reaction involving the destruction of all that surrounds him. Here, it is important to consider the cost of our ambitions and passions and even the self- destructive traits that lie dormant within us. Werther’s self-destruction and the destruction of others are brought about by an inevitable, natural chain of effect, a ‘fate’ governed by a new God, Nature.

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The Problem of Body in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther

May 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

As the referent of the individual, the body functions as a site for contradiction, resistance, and reassertion. It embodies a set of rules that delineates individual space through an exclusion of that which is not self. In Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, corporeality problematizes the relations between the self and its signifiers. Whereas it has been proposed that mind lies over matter, the body generates real opposition to the expression of genius. An entity based on the premise of finitude, the body bounds aspirations towards the infinite. As the episodes of Werther’s sketching, the bounded space of the individual body resists the lawless space of the sovereign genius.Werther’s sketch serves as a preliminary study for the alternate reality that he envisions. The “dark eyes” (Goethe 14) that Werther attributes to the older boy are the same “dark eyes” (Goethe 25) that he endows to Charlotte1. Eyes that can melt from one body to another presuppose a fluid nature of reality2. Fluidity characterizes Werther’s selection of subject matter, bridging the gap between himself and the world. “I included the nearest fence, a barn door, and a few broken cartwheels,” he notes, “just as they came into view” (Goethe 14). Rather than actively selecting his subject matter, Werther sketches objects as they stream into his field of vision. He paints outdoors in order to minimize the barriers between himself and nature. The continuity that the objects experience as they flow from the outside world into Werther’s sketch implies a confluence of external and personal space.At the same time, Werther perceives his body as an obstruction to the conflation of individual and exterior into a single entity. Like the sand that prevents him from drinking in Charlotte’s letter (Goethe 50), Werther’s body reminds him of his individuality and essential separateness from the external world. Decorporealization, a breaking of the damn of the body, thus proves necessary in Werther’s construction of a fluid reality. In declaring that “Nature alone forms the great artist,” (Goethe 14) Werther elides his body from the process of creation. Negating his own agency, he emphasizes that it is only “by accident” (Goethe 13) that he finds the two boys in the square and that it is only “without adding the slightest invention of . . . [his] own” (Goethe 14) that he completes the sketch. Reducing the artist to a conduit of nature, Werther presupposes self-destruction as a necessary counterpart to the self-creation of genius.Wishing to become dissolved in and disseminated into the world’s reality, Werther’s yearning is profane, because it challenges God’s omnipotence. God can be everywhere at once only because He has no body that localizes His being. Corporeality makes one an individual, binding his existence to a finite locality. Perceiving the finitude imposed by his body, Werther muses, “What is man, that celebrated demigod . . . is he not . . . held back and restored to dull, cold consciousness at the very moment when he longs to lose himself in the fullness of the infinite?” (Goethe 124-125). Werther seeks to dissolve his body as a gesture towards boundlessness. So great is his narcissism that he aspires to God’s omnipotence4; to Werther, genius is to be no less than a bodiless, boundless Creator5. As he states, “That the life of man is but a dream is a thought which has occurred to many people, and I myself am constantly haunted by it” (Goethe 11). Werther seeks to be the creator of his own “dream”.The body’s finitude poses a problem for the genius. Specifically bounded, corporeality limits genius in its essential irreproducibility. As Werther realizes, Lotte, once produced, cannot be reproduced: “Three times I have started Lotte’s portrait, and three times I have bungled it . . . Finally I gave up and cut her silhouette, and with that I shall be satisfied” (Goethe 50). Werther can fill the evacuated silhouette with himself, but he can never fill it with the real Lotte; although he can merge with his construction of Lotte, he cannot reproduce this identification with the real girl.The body denies genius the ultimate act of creation through its reassertion of individual irreplaceability. Genius can destroy but cannot recreate that which has already been created. Only through the impossibility of decorporealization can there emerge a reality where artists can be lovers and where individuals can merge with the world.

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