The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther Book 2: Editorial Interlude Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Shortly after the episode with Heinrich, a lack of correspondence from Werther forces the editor to interject into the story. The remaining story, the editor says, will be told using both Werther’s letters and additional sources as required. He reports that in the following days, those close to Albert, Lotte, and Werther found Albert and Lotte largely unchanged. Instead, Werther himself began to act with increasing irrationality and melancholy. He came to resent Albert in a way readily apparent to others, but also publicly resented himself for forcing his way into Albert’s happiness.
For being an outside researcher working off of letters and second-hand accounts of the story, the editor knows an awful lot about how the characters feel and think at any given moment. That’s because Goethe is using the editor as a solution to Werther’s increasing unreliability: he needs someone that can tell the story clearly, while also showing Lotte’s side of the story.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Suicide Theme Icon
The editor goes on to recount the final ending of the Farmer Lad’s story. Driven to madness by the thought that his replacement would marry the widow, the lad murders the other man. On hearing this, Werther rushes first to the scene, where the lad confesses his act, then to the officer in charge of the investigation. Werther is said to argue for the lad with the “greatest possible liveliness,” saying that his crime was a crime made understandable by the boy’s passion. The officer is not in the least persuaded by Werther’s argument, nor is Albert, who is also present. Albert offends Werther with his argument against the farmer lad.
Werther’s sudden energy is surprising considering the depression he’s sunk into recently. But he sees the farmer lad as an analog of himself, and his argument on behalf of the lad is, in reality, a defense of his own actions over the past few months. Normally Werther, as the most educated man in the room, should dominate such arguments. But the logical thought that would normally guide him has been overtaken entirely by a whirlwind of emotion.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Walking home from the scene, Albert advises Lotte that she needs to see less of Werther and that Werther’s too-friendly behavior towards her needs to change. Their situation has become a subject of town gossip. The editor says that Albert advises all this with the greatest possible fairness to Werther. He adds that Werther’s attempt to save the farmer lad was “the last flaring up of a dying flame.” Afterwards, the editor attests, Werther became sullen and confused in a way that seemed to make his suicide inevitable.
The importance of town gossip makes its appearance again. Remember from the episode with Miss von B. that Werther has a very low tolerance for being the talk of the town, even when he’s capable of admitting that he’s behaving foolishly. Nor does he think that other people should be able to tell him what to do.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Suicide Theme Icon
On December 11, a raging storm tears through Wahlheim, flooding the valley there. Werther watches the floodwaters from above and comes close to jumping into them, ending his life. But, in a letter to Wilhelm the following day, he remarks that it was not yet his time. During the storm, he witnesses the destruction of the willow tree under which he and Lotte once sat.
Since the storm represents Werther’s emotional turmoil, jumping into its floodwaters would be like giving himself over entirely to emotion. And he’s already made clear that he believes that those possessed of great emotions should be able to commit suicide without being condemned for it.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Suicide Theme Icon
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