The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther Book One: August 15-September 10, 1771 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In his next letter to Wilhelm, Werther remarks that Lotte’s siblings, who once preferred Lotte’s method of slicing bread, have come to enjoy the way he slices their bread just as much.
Werther takes pride in this, which is notable because this is something he would typically consider “women’s work.”
Themes
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Some three days pass and Werther finds himself meditating on the state of nature in Wahlheim, returning often to the “thick and mighty” trees of the area. Such scenes are, he says, his only remaining source of comfort. Lately, though, even nature appears different to him—he has begun to see it as a destructive force, not simply because there are storms in nature that lay waste to entire villages, but because even a simple walk through the forest brings destruction with it. He worries that thousands of grubs and whole civilizations of ants might be killed by one of his walks in the woods.
Finding rejuvenation in nature became a major theme in the German Romantic movement that Goethe helped to initiate. It was also prominent in most other Romantic movements, including the English Romantic movement. Romantics saw city life as a kind of disease that made people ill. While spending time in nature could cure the disease, it also reminded people that their lives were very small and fragile in comparison to the greatness of the natural world.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Several days later, Werther confesses to Wilhelm that whatever comfort nature once provided him is completely gone now, and even his books make him feel sick. He claims to again be considering going to work for the ambassador as a way of escaping his current predicament, but he remains uncertain. He worries that his restlessness and desire for change will simply follow him, wherever he goes.
By saying that his unhappiness is a kind of sickness, Werther recalls the two previous times where he’s discussed the right of sick people to kill themselves. In this way he suggests—without actually saying it—that his unhappiness will eventually drive him to suicide.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Suicide Theme Icon
August 28 is Werther’s birthday, and Lotte and Albert give him a pocket-edition of Homer that he can easily take with him on his walks. Lotte wrapped the book using one of the ribbons she wore when she first met Werther. Werther compares the friendship between the three to a blossom on a fruit tree. Such blossoms are plentiful but only a select few end up becoming fruit. Similarly, many people come together in the world, but few form friendships the way he, Lotte, and Albert have. Nor is this fruit strictly symbolic: Werther tells Wilhelm that he has spent much of the summer sitting in the fruit trees of Lotte’s orchard, helping her harvest fruit.
Werther refers to his new book as a duodecimo. The word, Latin for twelve, is the term printers gave to small-format, novelty books where the paper was folded into twelve leaves (rather than the more common four, which produced a paperback-sized book called a quarto). Though books were becoming cheaper in this time, they were still expensive, and a duodecimo print (of a book Werther already had in quarto form!) would probably have been considered a lavish gift from well-off friends.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
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Two days later, however, Werther declares that he can envision no other end to his misery than “the grave.” By September 3, Wilhelm has convinced Werther to leave Wahlheim to find employment with the ambassador. A week later, Werther leaves; his sudden stiffening of resolve is the result of a conversation that occurred between himself, Lotte, and Albert, on the subject of life after death. The topic impacted Werther deeply, and he resolves (both to himself and his friends) that he and Lotte will meet again after death.
Werther wants to meet Lotte again after death because he hopes that, in the next world, things will be different than they are in this one. But remember that only recently Werther had proclaimed this the best of all possible worlds. His sudden shift in opinions marks how hopeless he feels his chances of winning Lotte away from Albert have become and how unable he is to live happily otherwise.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Suicide Theme Icon