The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther Book 1: Jun 16, 1771 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A gap of more than two weeks occurs between letters and Werther is forced to beg Wilhelm’s forgiveness. He suggests, though, that if Wilhelm were truly thinking, he might already know why it’s been so long since Werther wrote; Werther has met a woman, Lotte. Werther hesitates to call her an angel, as that’s what all men call their beloveds, and such a common word simply isn’t adequate to Lotte. Instead, Werther describes her as a soul possessed of equal parts goodness, tranquility, and vitality. Yet, even this praise proves insufficient: no words, it seems, are good enough to describe the woman. Werther works himself up into such a fever thinking about how to portray Lotte that, in the end, he simply runs off to see her again, mid-letter.
The speed at which Werther abandons his intellectual leanings for the rustic beauty of the countryside is impressive, but nevertheless it is no match for the speed with which he loses himself to Lotte. While “losing himself” might seem the antithesis of self-absorption, Werther undertakes his obsession with complete disregard for how it’ll make others (his mother, Wilhelm, or even Lotte) feel. It’s all about him; the desires of the woman he’s chosen to gift with his affection do not matter.
Themes
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Having calmed somewhat, Werther proceeds to tell Wilhelm of his meeting with Lotte. Some of his newfound friends had held a ball in the country, and Lotte’s house was on Werther’s way, so they had stopped along the way to pick her up. Lotte’s Aunt had warned Werther, however, not to fall in love with Lotte: she was already engaged to Albert, of whom the aunt had spoken highly. Werther promptly forgot these sage words when he entered Lotte’s house. Her siblings—for whom Lotte had cared since the untimely death of her mother—populate the home, enchanting Werther. When Lotte arrived, however, all other thoughts flew from Werther’s head. He could scarcely concentrate. In his letter to Werther, he recalls the ensuing conversation only vaguely, relaying generalities about her “great character” and “fresh charms.”
That love is a facet of Werther’s self-absorption comes through quite clearly here. So, too, does Werther’s conception of women: as with the widow, Werther’s initial assessment of Lotte isn’t one of a full, multi-faceted individual. He speaks of her in platitudes, openly admitting that he doesn’t remember a word she has said. The picture that he paints of her is thus incomplete, and the reader must conclude that Lotte is not special of her own accord. Rather, she is special because Werther has decided to make her so by becoming infatuated with her.
Themes
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Werther does, however, recall the books that Lotte mentions reading to her aunt. Like Werther, Lotte is an avid reader. The pair soon engage in a hearty conversation about the books they’ve read, forgetting the other passengers in the carriage. This earns them some reproachful looks, and it’s clear that at least some of the others feel this easy friendship to be untoward.
Lotte’s knowledge of literature marks her as a member of Werther’s own class, and thus someone worthy of Werther’s affection. (Notice how quickly books regain their value!) The others, unable to participate in this worldly conversation, don’t so much as factor into Werther’s thoughts.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Once at the dance, Werther struggles to keep his eyes off Lotte. Soon, Lotte and Werther arrange to dance the allemande together, a waltz traditionally danced by couples, but which Lotte claims her fiancé will be happy to give up to Werther, as Albert is not a good dancer. They continue dancing together even after this initial dance, earning Lotte a well-meaning reprimand from one of her older friends. The reprimand comes simply in the form of her fiancé’s name coupled with a shaking finger. Yet, Werther seems surprised by the name Albert. Inquiring to Lotte who the man might be, her answer shocks him so badly that he collides with the dancers around him.
Albert, from this moment on, becomes something of an afterthought to Werther. More often than not, he refers to Albert not by name, but rather by his function: Lotte’s “intended.” This robs Albert of the three-dimensionality that he might be able to achieve in Werther’s eyes. But it also shows Werther’s hopefulness: if Lotte only intends to marry Albert, Werther might be able to change her mind.
Themes
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Get the entire Sorrows of Young Werther LitChart as a printable PDF.
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At this point a storm, which had threatened in the distance since Lotte and Werther first met, finally breaks, forcing the countryside ball to move indoors. Dancing is no longer possible in these cramped quarters, so the party shifts instead to a game called counting. It proves a simple game, where people sit in a circle and count as quickly as possible, picking up wherever their neighbors leave off. Any mistakes in the count are playfully punished with a box to the ear. The game leads to a general fit of laughter and frivolity, and the storm is soon forgotten.
The storm becomes one of the book’s great symbols, and you can be sure that when one appears, it’s because Werther is undergoing a life-changing event. Werther felt embarrassment earlier when asked to participate in these sorts of rustic, child-like games. With Lotte, however, they take on a different light, and Werther is able to enjoy them.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Soon after, the party breaks up and Werther finds himself alone with Lotte. She confesses that she instigated the game because she was afraid of the storm and wanted to take her mind—and everyone else’s—off of it. The topic then switches to books, as they both recall a poem that reminds them of the strange beauty of springtime storms.
One of the many roles that women perform in the book is that of caretaker. Lotte already serves as a mother to her siblings, and now she undertakes those same duties for an entire crowd of adults. She even caters to Werther’s needs by intellectualizing the event with a literary reference.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes