The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther Book 1: Jun 19-Jul 6, 1771 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Werther has apparently sent the first portion of his memories to Wilhelm, and he resumes writing them three days later. He begins with the simple fact that he didn’t get to bed until two in the morning following the party. The rest of the night, he says, was unremarkable.
The book never suggests that something inappropriate happened between Lotte and Werther that night. However, the mere mention of how late they stayed out serves to plant that suggestion in Wilhelm’s mind.
Themes
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
The memories of the party being amply described, Werther now returns to his previous philosophical attitude. He once again expounds on the virtues of a simple life: of not wishing for things beyond one’s station, of eating a dinner of plain cabbage that one has grown one’s self. To eat such a meal—and to remember the simple chores of planting and watering that went into it—ought, Werther feels, to be enough for any man. He discusses his play with Lotte’s siblings, whom he has come to befriend, and he likens the simplicity of their lives to that of the farmer eating his own cabbage.
Werther prescribes this simple life free from extraneous desires while actively coveting another man’s fiancé. Nevertheless, his words likely come across as both beautiful and wise to many readers. The spotlight that Werther uses to examine those around him is by no means always wrong; it’s just that he never turns that spotlight on himself. As such, a lot of his worthy advice becomes mired in the self-absorption of his youth.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Suicide Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In his next letter to Wilhelm, Werther discusses Lotte’s habit of visiting the sick and dying. Recently she and Werther have been to see the Vicar of S. and his Wife. The Vicar, an old man, took great pleasure in talking with the young people, especially about the grove of walnut trees. He had distinct memories of many of them being planted, and most of these memories were tied up with other memories about his wife, his career, and his family.
As a Catholic figure, the Vicar is neither rich nor poor. He exists outside of money. Yet, Werther here aligns him with the lower class by situating him in nature. This creates a standard in the book whereby natural elements, such as trees, serve as focal points for memory. This becomes the selfsame system that Werther uses to remember his times with Lotte.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Related Quotes
During this visit, Lotte and Werther also meet Friederike, the Vicar’s daughter, and her beau Mr. Schmidt. The two couples go on a walk together. Friederike proves amiable enough, but Werther is disappointed in Schmidt’s gloomy mood. Werther chalks this up to a kind of jealousy, and he takes the issue up with Lotte and the Vicar’s wife when they return. Young people, he says, have the entire world before them and have only to realize it in order to be happy. Yet, so often they remain mired in their own thoughts that they let this opportunity slip by them. To Werther’s annoyance, the Vicar’s Wife counters that a person cannot change their disposition, but he can’t accept what she says. Eventually, after much debate, Werther considers himself to have won the argument.
Goethe undertakes a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing here. It’s quite easy for Werther to criticize Mr. Schmidt’s jealousy while traversing the countryside with another man’s wife. But the same sullen disposition that Werther critiques here will come to characterize him in the near future, as Albert returns and Lotte focuses her attention on him. Perhaps not surprisingly, Werther never returns to his philosophical thoughts on Mr. Schmidt; although, he will remember his debate
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
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Following this, Werther returns immediately to the subject of children. He remembers a time when one of Lotte’s siblings fetched a glass of water for the group of them, but insisted that Lotte, their beloved caretaker, be the first to drink. This thoughtfulness so delighted Werther that he kissed the child, who was unwilling to be kissed. The child’s subsequent fit, coupled with Lotte’s exaggerated washing of the child’s face to remove Werther’s kiss, only served to further convince Werther of the good, simple lives of children.
A pattern emerges wherein Werther encounters something which troubles him (in this case, Mr. Schmidt’s jealousy), criticizes it, and then instantly returns to thoughts of children. He does this as if to suggest that the way children live their lives is ideal; he’s even said as much. Yet Werther, who has all the responsibilities of a child, nevertheless seems incapable of living a simple life.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon