The Sorrows of Young Werther


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Sorrows of Young Werther, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Heart vs. The Mind

The idea that the mind and body are distinct entities is one that originated in seventeenth century philosophy and has informed cultural attitudes ever since. Goethe accepts this divide in The Sorrows of Young Werther; he depicts emotion and intellect as conflicting and irreconcilable forces, with the heart incessantly needing love and attention, and the mind trying to moderate these needs to little avail. Rather than coming down in favor of the rational influence…

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Self-Absorption of Youth

The Sorrows of Young Werther contains characters of nearly all ages, but its primary concerns rest with Werther, Lotte, and Albert, three youths at the threshold of adulthood. As Goethe depicts it, young adulthood is a dangerous time: the authorities of youth (parents, teachers, elders) become less powerful, while the young adult’s own perceptions begin to seem like the only reliable, true guide in the world. Werther is a classic example of…

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Upper Class and Lower Class

Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774, a year that also marked the beginning of the Age of Revolution, when many people across the globe fought wars for the sake of equality. His native Germany avoided the armed conflicts of France and America in part by enacting legislative reforms that sought to improve living conditions for the lower class. Serfdom, for example, was abolished in 1770, and for the first time, peasants were…

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Although the story unfolds mostly as a series of letters from one man to another, women play a central role in The Sorrows of Young Werther. Goethe sometimes portrays them stereotypically as mothers, domestic servants, and wives or widows. At other times, though, he sketches women as intellectual equals, beings of tremendous resolve, and people of great emotional depth. But the work Goethe puts into creating varied and well-rounded female characters is lost on…

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Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther at the end of the Enlightenment, a time that saw the role of religion drastically diminished in favor of reason and science. But despite the waning power of religion in Europe, Goethe’s Germany remained largely Christian, with an audience who was generally against suicide on moral grounds. Still, suicide is a theme that circulates repeatedly in The Sorrows of Young Werther, and it’s Werther’s infamous suicide that…

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