Werther As a Force of Nature

March 21, 2019 by Essay Writer

From the beginning of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Werther emphasizes his connection to Nature in order to embellish the tragically creative persona he presents to Wilhelm. As his infatuation with Charlotte grows and he laments the injustice and misfortune of his situation, his views distort; we see his self-perceived affinity with Nature becoming more twisted and less peaceful. A turning point in this tranformation can be seen in his entry of 18 August; Nature is no longer sublime and beautiful to him, but merely sublime and filled with the potential for destruction: Werther finds himself paralyzed by the thoughts of his own destructive powers.Werther is describing the anguish of his unrequited love for Charlotte, which has transformed his previous love for Nature into torment. The extent of his torment is described in the form of a vision: “It is as if a curtain had been drawn from before my eyes,â€? hinting at an epiphany-changed Werther, expecting to feel attachment and oneness with Nature, but “instead of prospects of eternal life, the abyss of an ever-open grave yawned before me.â€? The image of a curtain being drawn aside to reveal a Truth which concerns “the prospects of eternal lifeâ€? has strongly religious connotations; despite its lack of precision, this phrase conveys a wealth of images associated with ineffable experiences as in Biblical stories of religious epiphanies; curtains are prominent in Old Testament descriptions of the ark and the Holy of Holies — where a curtain encloses the heavenly presence. Such a religious tone indicates that Werther views this revelation with the fervency of a prophet, willing to allow it to determine his fate.Inflated imagery dominates the rest of the paragraph: Werther finds himself overshadowed by storms, torrents, the ocean, time, and Nature, the “all-comsuming monster.â€? These parallel his fear of his own destructive power: that at some scale he, too, is all-consuming, and could destroy a world in the same way an earthquake swallows a village.Werther finds himself before “the abyss of an ever-open grave,â€? which symbolises to Werther the tenuousness of his life: that he might plunge into the abyss as easily as falling into a hole in the ground. While a grave is a clear connection between this world and the next, an abyss is of a completely different category.\footnote{Abyss, in its original sense, means “an other-worldly pit,â€? in contrast to the weaker modern connotation.} That Werther can magnify one into the other gives this paragraph a fantastic flavour: in Werther’s dreams and visions an earthly grave becomes otherworldly and grows in magnititude when he interprets it.Werther continues with this image of life’s tenuousness: “Can we say of anything that it is when all passes away?â€? Werther’s question is more clearly emphatic in the German: “Kannst du sagen: Das ist! da alles vor ubergeht?â€? One can picture Werther standing at the edge of his abyss shouting these words at the turbulent grey sky, in the sort of stereotypical angst-ridden soliloquy he would, no doubt, enjoy giving.Imagery of blindly consuming forces bolsters this image, as Werther expounds upon existence’s ephemerality: “Can we say of anything than it is when all passses away — when time, with the speed of a storm, carries all things onward — and our transitory existence, hurried along by the torrent, is swallowed up by the waves or dashed against the rocks?â€? Although Werther changes metaphors for this fateful natural power three times in the course of the sentence, the image of coursing water, relentless in its flow, is explicit in each: time is compared with storms, torrents, and ocean waves — a human may be carried away by time, like a sapling may be uprooted and carried away by coursing water. The imagery of rushing water parallels that of the sentence itself: although the sentence is long, its flowing nature — especially its many dependent clauses — and common imagery carry the reader to finish the sentence before realising that the metaphor for time changed several times midcourse. The image of being swallowed by such forces is also introduced in this sentence — the waves are of such enormousness (and enormity!) that they could simply engulf one’s existence and extinguish it. In some sense, one could see a beginning of the swallowing motif in the vision of the abyss, which is sometimes described as engulfing humans in older poetry and literature.In accord with this swallowing motif, Werther concludes, “There is not a moment that doesn’t consume you and yours — not a moment in which you don’t yourself destroy something.â€? The first part of this sentence continues the theme of time as an active force; that time could consume a person inverts the usual image of humans as consumers of time; one is literally eaten by each moment which elapses. Thus, Werther’s imagery evolves: instead of merely being caught in the flow of time, one is consumed by each sucessive moment in what might be seen as a perverse game of Pacman.The second half of the phrase reveals an interesting leap of logic; Werther concludes that because each person is consumed/destroyed, each must also consume and destroy. While it’s possible that Werther has simply jumped to conclusions, brooding about the destructive power of Nature, and concluding that he, as part of Nature, must also be inherently destructive, a more plausible conclusion is that Werther has imagined a world on a smaller scale, for which he is a large force. This alternate interpretation evokes the initial scene when he observes “the little world among the stalksâ€? (6), and finds himself so entranced with the insects and plants on such a small scale.In fact, Werther shows his concern for such small worlds: “The most innocent walk costs thousands of poor insects their lives; one step destroys the delicate structures of the ant and turns a little world into chaos.â€?

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