The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther Book 2: Mar 15-May 25, 1772 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Werther attends dinner at Count C.’s house and the two find themselves absorbed in after-dinner conversation. The Count, however, has a party planned that evening with other members of the aristocracy. While Werther takes no notice as they begin to arrive, the nobles, quickly noting Werther’s lower class, take great notice of him. Soon groups of people can be found whispering about him in the corners of the halls, and even Miss von B. seems embarrassed to talk to him. Sensing this, the Count apologetically approaches Werther, letting him know that his presence is upsetting the other guests. Werther leaves without having to be asked, instead choosing to read the book Lotte gave him while watching the sunset. Later, he learns from Adelin, a coworker, that the story is the workplace gossip of the day. Werther recounts all of this angrily to Wilhelm, whom he blasts for suggesting the job in the first place.
Remember that the book Lotte gives Werther is Homer’s Odyssey. Its main character, Odysseus, is a lot like Werther: he just wants to get back to his home and to the woman he loves. And, like Werther, Odysseus meets a woman from a higher class than him while on the road: the goddess Circe. They even have a scandalous feast together. In the Odyssey, Circe turns all of Odysseus’ companions into swine. Miss von B., of course, doesn’t do this, but there’s still a strong parallel between the two books. The aristocrats at the Count’s party act as though Werther were a swine, behaving in much the same way they would if a literal pig arrived at the door.
Themes
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
The next day, Werther meets Miss von B. on the street. She tells him, with tears in her eyes, that the previous evening is also a source of great amusement for her aunt and the other nobles, who have been mocking Werther ceaselessly ever since he left the Count’s home. Werther regrets (privately, to Wilhelm) that none of the aristocrats have mocked him to his face. If they were to do so, he promises to stab them. Instead, he turns to thoughts of stabbing himself.
Werther has turned a corner in his life, after which it seems like any hardship at all is met with thoughts of suicide. This episode confirms the prediction Werther made earlier, when he told Wilhelm that he worried his troubles would simply follow him if he left Wahlheim. Of course, Werther is not blameless in creating these problems, so their following him might be expected.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Upper Class and Lower Class Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Suicide Theme Icon
As a result of his humiliation, Werther resigns from the court. He asks Wilhelm to let his mother know, though he hopes that she will not try to stop the court from accepting his resignation. He also asks her for money, again through Wilhelm. In his next letter, however, Werther reveals that his resignation has been accepted. He also tells Wilhelm that the Prince of —, a local nobleman, has offered him a home at his hunting lodge. Thus, he will no longer need the money from his mother.
This Werther, asking for money from a single mother (though his own), is far removed from the Werther of Wahlheim. That Werther was always quick to help overburdened mothers by giving them money or even by helping them with chores. Werther certainly prefers this latter version of himself.
Themes
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
En route to the hunting lodge, Werther stops by the town where he was born. There he relives the scenes of nature that he first encountered as a boy. He tells Wilhelm that he can’t understand the value of being able to repeat random, disconnected facts (such as, the Earth is round) the way a schoolboy does. If one has their own plot of ground where they can readily encounter nature, then it doesn’t matter if the Earth is flat or round.
Werther’s sudden, total contempt for book-learning is at odds with his background. While it fits the pattern of his regression into nature, the complete disregard for book-learning he offers here feels like a rejection of who he is. Perhaps this is fitting, given his return to his birthplace.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Get the entire Sorrows of Young Werther LitChart as a printable PDF.
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At the hunting lodge, Werther finds himself out of sorts. The Prince’s friends aren’t exactly what he expected, and he isn’t sure he can trust them. Furthermore, the Prince himself seems only to care about Werther’s book-learning and not about his feelings. In response to this, Werther tells Wilhelm that anyone can know what he knows, but only he can feel the things he feels.
This is a beautiful sentiment. However, readers know a lot about Werther’s knowledge (he has discussed classical literature, art, and so forth), but they know only a narrow slice of what he feels, since he only speaks of his feelings for Lotte. In a way, then, Werther doesn’t even seem to know the full breadth of what he feels.
Themes
The Heart vs. The Mind Theme Icon
Self-Absorption of Youth Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon