The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther Book One: October 20, 1771-February 20, 1772 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Some ten days later, Werther writes Wilhelm to inform him that he’s begun work for the ambassador. It’s a difficult job, especially after having had so much free time in Wahlheim, but Werther admits that it’s just what he needed. Those who don’t work, he says, always think of themselves as inferior beings in need of some vague, but poetic, improvement. Working keeps the mind grounded and that makes for happier, more genuine people.
Werther, as usual, seems to be an expert on everything as soon as he’s begun it. His philosophizing on work is a bit hard to take from a character who hasn’t worked a day up until now and who will, very shortly, begin to complain bitterly about having to work at all.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
By the end of November, Werther has made a friend out of Count C. The Count’s education and warmth impress Werther, and he feels they have a genuine friendship that extends beyond the workplace. The ambassador proves another matter. Werther already detests the man’s inflexibility and stringent work habits. The ambassador, for his part, is jealous of Werther’s friendship with the Count and constantly sends Werther’s work back for revision.
Werther’s ability to exist naturally amongst members of either the upper or lower class sometimes seems to make him forget his own class position and the limits it has. Though he can be friends with the Count, that friendship has limitations that he fails to recognize.
Themes
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Another friend that Werther has made in his new position is Miss von B. This friendship, however, causes Werther to bemoan the strict class divisions of his day and age. Miss von B. is an aristocrat, and her aunt (with whom she lives) disapproves of her friendship with Werther, who is of a lower class. Werther writes angrily to Wilhelm about this, saying that even kings must take some guidance from those of the lower class if they wish to be successful. This, he feels, proves that class (and the noble titles that come with it) is essentially meaningless.
Up until now, Werther has only been shown interacting with members of the lower class. While he clearly admires them and respects them to some degree, it’s equally clear that he also feels superior to them. He uses his higher class as a way to distance himself from them. When others do the same to him (as Miss von B.’s aunt does) he is instantly outraged at the injustice without pausing to consider his hypocrisy.
Themes
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
On the 20th of January, Werther finds himself in a small country inn, weathering a storm. He decides to write to Lotte to tell her about his new life as an employee of the ambassador. He likens his job to a game that he is playing but not truly invested in. His thoughts turn to Miss von B., and he admits that he has spent a lot of time with her, often daydreaming about nature side-by-side. But, in the end, their conversations always end with Werther telling Miss von B. everything he can about Lotte.
Most storms in the book come when Werther has whipped himself up into some emotional frenzy (as when he first met Lotte). While he’s upset about Miss von B.’s aunt here, his emotions aren’t nearly at that level when this storm rolls through. His decision to write to Lotte out of the blue, however, suggests that maybe Werther is still dealing with his feelings for her—just silently, for now.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
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A full month later, on February 20, Werther again writes back to Wahlheim. This time he writes to congratulate Albert on his marriage to Lotte. The two married without telling Werther. Werther had previously decided that he would remove Lotte’s picture from his bedroom wall on her wedding day. Since Albert and Lotte hid their marriage from Werther, however, the day has passed without the picture being removed. Werther decides to leave it on his wall.
Though Werther congratulates Albert, there’s an unasked question between the two: why did Albert feel the need to hide the marriage from Werther in the first place? There are no cut-and-dry answers to this question, but two possibilities are that Albert feared Werther would create some scene or that he hoped Werther had moved on.
Themes
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon