The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther Book 1: Jul 8-19, 1771 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
“What a child one is!” opens the next of Werther’s letters, but Werther is mocking himself with these words (rather than discussing Lotte’s siblings). He and Lotte have yet again shared a carriage, but she doesn’t so much as look at him this time. When he leaves the carriage, he begins to cry, and he watches her depart in hopes that she’ll spare him a glance. While she does lean her head from the carriage’s window, Werther remains uncertain that she did so in order to see him. His following letter to Wilhelm opens with a confession from Werther that he acts like an “oaf” at the mere mention of Lotte’s name.
This is the first time that Werther truly expresses uncertainty about Lotte’s feelings for him. He doesn’t express those doubts very often afterwards, either. But it’s important to remember that all we ever know about Lotte’s feelings (until the last few pages of the book) come from Werther. Though he often says how he thinks Lotte feels, he never suggests that she has actually told him this herself.
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Lotte, meanwhile, has been to the home of Mrs. M., who is dying and has requested the girl’s presence to comfort her. Mrs. M. informs Old M., her husband, that she has (for thirty years) been skimming money from their business accounts to make the household’s ends meet. She resorted to this because her husband refused to increase the amount of money allotted to household costs, despite both their property and family increasing in size over the decades. Mrs. M. doesn’t feel particularly guilty about this—she only tells Old M. so that he doesn’t expect his next wife to operate on the same meagre budget. Lotte relates this story to Werther, who in turn relates it to Wilhelm. Werther is amazed at the way Old M. deceived himself about the household expenses. But, he tells Wilhelm, people often deceive themselves about many things.
Mrs. M. shows herself to be a resourceful woman capable of going around her husband’s demands when the situation calls for it—and also of lying to him about it for many years. These actions suggest that, while Old M. thought he was in charge of his house, he was really being managed by his wife. In fact, the entire household was. Werther ignores this impressive ability in Mrs. M. because she’s a woman, and she isn’t meant to do such things. Instead, he focuses on Old M.’s inability to properly run his house. As a man, Werther feels that Old M. ought to have done better.
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Werther is not, however, deceiving himself about Lotte, he assures Wilhelm over the course of the coming days’ letters. Lotte loves him; he is sure of it. She, in turn, is “sacred” to him, so that even the casual touch of her hand becomes a divine experience. One day, when he is unable to see Lotte because of prior commitments, Werther sends his servant to her to help with household chores. Upon the servant’s return, Werther excitedly embraces him and feels joy at his presence—all because he’s been around Lotte. Yet, Werther confesses, whenever Lotte mentions Albert (which, he notes, she always does in a warm, loving way), he begins to doubt himself.
While Werther rarely expresses his doubts about Lotte’s feelings for him openly, as the novel progresses he increasingly offers these assurances of Lotte’s love. It’s as though he were drowning out reasonable, logical doubts with nothing more than his emotions. Whom Werther seeks to convince is an interesting question. He’s writing to Wilhelm, but this feels more as though he were trying to convince himself of Lotte’s love.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
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