The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther Book 1: May 26-30, 1771 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As though the previous conversation had never taken place, Werther begins a new letter describing the picturesque town of Wahlheim, which exists about an hour away from his new home. The town boasts an inn where Werther enjoys drinking coffee and reading. It also affords him many opportunities for drawing, a pastime that has eluded him for a while. Here, Werther seems to feel nature fostering great artwork within him, and he resolves to remain in nature in the future. Society has too many rules that keep an artist from flourishing, he tells Wilhelm, although he knows that the other man won’t agree. While those rules might be good for respectable young men, who manage to responsibly court their sweethearts while saving money, Werther suggests that the rules and norms of high society quash genius, love, and beauty altogether.
Werther seems clearly to advocate for art as a product of emotion here. Yet, art is one of the first things abandoned by Werther as he steps from his former life of intellectualism and into the emotional life of the lower class. In Wahlheim he hopes to find a space where the highbrow leanings of his artwork can coexist with nature. That he feels the beauty of Wahlheim cultivating greatness within him is a testament to Werther’s youth. It’s a trope of young artists to believe that they, and they alone, are being groomed for some great destiny by some unknown force.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Having sent Wilhelm two rather lengthy and heady letters, Werther begins his next letter by chiding himself. He’s forgotten to recount a story about two young boys he’s met: Philipps and Hans, along with their mother, the Woman with the Basket. Werther loves children, and he dotes on Philipps and Hans while their mother tells Werther of their family’s circumstances. Their father has left for Switzerland to collect inheritance, though he’s been gone longer than expected and the family has begun to fear for him. Werther sympathizes and gives them each a small sum of money to ease their burden.
Werther establishes a pattern here that he’ll continue throughout the novel of infantilizing the poor. This perceived equivalence between children and the poor strengthens the already established one between the lower class and emotion, since children are largely incapable of logic and intellectualism.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
In his next letter, Werther introduces the Farmer Lad, a young servant who has fallen helplessly in love with his employer, the Widow. The Widow was badly treated by her first husband and has no desire to remarry. Though she is considerably older than the Lad, the Lad still pines for her. Werther is touched by what he perceives to be an innocent crush and he makes it a point never to meet the Widow, since he doesn’t want her actual appearance to spoil the image he’s conjured of her in his mind.
Werther reveals a lot about how he perceives women in his recounting of the Farmer Lad’s tale. Women are, for him, objects designed to receive masculine affection when men desire to give it to them. In turn, nothing about the widow matters except what the Lad says about her. To Werther, she’s not even really a person.
Themes
Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes