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Goethe The Sorrows Of Young Werther Essay

The Sorrows of Young Werther, novel by J.W. von Goethe, published in German as Die Leiden des jungen Werthers in 1774. It was the first novel of the Sturm und Drang movement.

The novel is the story of a sensitive, artistic young man who demonstrates the fatal effects of a predilection for absolutes—whether those of love, art, society, or thought. Unable to reconcile his inner, poetic fantasies and ideas with the demands of the everyday world, Werther goes to the country in an attempt to restore his well-being. There he falls in love with Charlotte (Lotte), the uncomplicated fiancée of a friend. Werther leaves but later returns, feeling depressed and hopeless no matter where he lives. Torn by unrequited passion and his perception of the emptiness of life, he commits suicide.

An exceptionally popular book, The Sorrows of Young Werther gave expression to what Scottish historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle called “the nameless unrest and longing discontent which was then agitating every bosom.” The mind that conceived its symmetry, wove its intricate linguistic patterns, and handled the subtle differentiation of hero and narrator was moved by a formal as well as a personal passion. The translated title (which uses “Sorrows” instead of “Sufferings”) obscures the allusion to the Passion of Christ and individualizes what Goethe himself thought of as a “general confession,” in a tradition going back to St. Augustine.

  • 1

    What does Goethe think about Werther? Is his protagonist a brilliant enthusiast of emotionalism, a self-absorbed villain, or something in between? Use textual evidence in making your case.

  • 2

    What are your impressions of Wilhelm? Although he doesn't speak for himself in Werther, he is a constant presence simply in being addressed. What is Wilhelm like, and who else in the novel is like him?

  • 3

    Discuss the women in Werther. What is Werther's opinion of the ideal woman? What qualities does she possess? Does Goethe agree with Werther, or is there some distance between them on this issue?

  • 4

    What is the role of class in the novel? Who is high class, who is low class, and where does Werther fit in this schema? Describe his attitude toward the lower classes.

  • 5

    Discuss the sideplots of Werther, especially focusing on the story of the country lad and the widowed employer whom he loves.

  • 6

    Madness is a lurking force in Werther. Who in the novel is mad? What is the meaning of madness in the novel?

  • 7

    Why is the editor a part of Werther? How does his or her presence influence the novel? What does it mean for Werther to have been edited, and how should the reader respond to this fact?

  • 8

    Is Werther good with children? What role does he play in his relationships with them? What is his opinion of them?

  • 9

    Discuss Werther's relationship with his mother. Werther never addresses her directly and seems to have a strained relationship with her; for instance, she doesn't even hear about his death at the novel's end, let alone attend the funeral (which takes place nowhere near her). Find textual clues as to the nature of this relationship. Why isn't she a focal point of the novel - or is she?

  • 10

    What is Werther's attitude toward learning? Is it as simple as he represents it?

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