Justin Spiegel


Was ist Werthers Problem?
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote Die Leiden des jungen Werthers in 1774, and the work was an instant success, skyrocketing Goethe to a status of fame throughout Europe. It was touted as a literary classic, and is still seen by many today as one of the greatest German literary works of all time. There a number of reasons for this being the case. The central character in the story is a young man named Werther, whose character was very intriguing and in some ways applicable to much of Europe’s younger generation of the time. The question of where the protagonist’s problem lies is one that is very open to discussion. It is difficult to answer because Werther is an extremely complicated character, and the novel’s structure makes it difficult at times to interpret who Werther really is and what problems truly feature in his character. At times Werther may simply be misunderstood, yet perhaps this is just the nature of who he is. One key problem that features in his character is that he has a very morbid outlook on life. His constant references to suicide throughout the novel, and of course his own eventual tragic fate, make this clear to the reader. He is a very sentimental person, and perhaps this is another key problem that lies within him. This feature of his character manifests itself in the form of his unrequited and arguably unhealthy love for Lotte, the unattainable woman of his dreams. Perhaps these are both features of one major problem in Werther’s character, because it might be that he is simply a weak-minded person that is unable to deal with the world around him and the situation he has been faced with in life. It is important to note that establishing Werther’s problem is in some respects a difficult task because of the book’s style and form. Werther writes letters to his close friend Wilhelm as a way of communicating the story, yet we do not as the readers see Wilhelm’s responses. It is left up to us to assume what these responses may be, and this makes it difficult to truly establish who Werther is. We get insight into his character via his letters, and the way in which he talks about himself and his life. However it is difficult to be clear as to how Werther thinks about Wilhelm, which I believe is an important thing to consider. Rarely does Werther show any interest in his friend’s life and

However what is relevant here is simply the reference to the novel’s form. which would tell us a lot more about Werther in light of his subsequent replies..” However it is the final sentence of this entry that provides more of an insight into the suicidal nature of Werther’s thoughts. is the incessant morbid side of Werther’s character. and undoubtedly must be seen as a key feature of the problems in Werther’s psyche. It is a constant issue... ich kaum was noch höre. The nature of who he is manifests itself in an almost fateful belief that he himself will one day take his own life. und mich’s an die Gurgel fast.. whereby he cannot be with Lotte who he so dearly loves. seem to result in an eventual suicide. The first morbid comment in this entry is when he says “mir’s düster vor den Augen wird.ich möchte mir eine Ader öfnen. Ach ich hab hundertmal ein Messer ergriffen. and how it does cause the reader to have to assume a lot about Werther. um diesem gedrängten Herzen Luft zu machen. In the years following the publication of Das . One problem that becomes clear from very early on in the story and only strengthens throughout. die mir die ewige Freyheit schaffte. right up until the tragic climax. It is true that this in itself is a problem of Werther.” The connotations of such a comment are undoubtedly suicide related. He sees the option of suicide as one of freedom.„ It is clear from this statement how big a problem Werther possesses in the form of a weak state of mind. and statements with suicidal connotations turn into seriously morbid statements of direct thoughts about suicide.. On August 30 1771 Werther is telling Wilhelm about Lotte and how he feels after having been with her. In this instance Werther says “Wenn ich Blut sähe würde mir’s besser werden. and moreover the problem that suicide is incessant in his belief system.. manifesting itself in thoughts about suicide. This problem further manifests itself further on March 16 1772. that he is so self-centered and hence is unable to consider other people’s problems and situations.. This is clearly a feature of Werther’s mental weakness. something that can be used to relieve oneself of problems in life or anything for that matter. He says “Ich she all dieses Elends kein Ende als das Grab.problems. because in truth we can’t know for sure how Wilhelm is replying to him. Over time the situation has only worsened for Werther in his own mind. but rather he tends to talk merely of himself. It is not however merely a general belief for Werther. wie ein Meuchelmörder. His claims that he cannot deal with the situation around him. and moreover his thoughts about suicide and death.

which is a final stand by Werther. though it never seems likely that he would really want the story’s “antagonist” dead. This statement occurs quite late on in the novel however. This is final evidence of one of Werther’s . when he says “Wenn ich mich so in Träumen verliehre. Hence it is clear that Werther does have problems in terms of his morbid thoughts. It occurs only because it is possible. because it would seem from this fact that many members of the younger generation in that era suffered as Werther did and had the same problems in dealing with it.Leiden des jungen Werthers suicide rates increased across Europe. and its move to the death of others rather than suicide renders the further emergence of this incessant problem evident. It was not only in the form of suicide that Werther’s morbid attitude to life was seen. his favourite star. it just seems to be the natural progression for him. He talks about trivial things such as his clothes and “die Deichelsterne des Wagens”. and they were in the form of suicidal feelings and morbid thoughts. An excerpt from his suicide note which shows his disregard for the confusion usually associated with the process is when he says “Hier Lotte! Ich schaudere nicht den kalten schröklichen Kelch zu fassen. There were instances in the novel when Werther talks about other people’s deaths. so the thought does enter his thoughts. He is clearly not in any way worried about taking his own life. a way of communicating all of his final thoughts with Lotte. wenn Albert stürbe!„ Werther’s relationship throughout the course of the story does fluctuate. whom he finally accepts he cannot be with. aus dem ich den Taumel des Todes trinken soll!”. at least not in this life. in fact it became so fashionable that government action had to be taken against it in St Petersburg and London (Van Abbé 1972). and by this point Werther is clearly a lot further gone in terms of his emotional downward spiral. What this shows is that perhaps Werther’s problems were understandable to an extent. kann ich mich des Gedankens nicht erwehren: Wie. Of course the eventual suicide of Werther is a final insight into this key problem in the psyche of his character. in the sense that Werther would not even have thought or moreover have written it down if his mind were not willing to think of such a thing. and it seems as if he is largely at ease with it. One such instance occurs on August 21 1771. He makes this clear in his suicide note. or at least the potential of them. However this does not take focus away from the fact in itself that Werther did have problems. Perhaps what makes it the clearest is that he has no qualms about taking his own life.

in response to a failed final attempt to be with Lotte. This can only be seen as a signal of exactly how big a problem this unrequited love is. so it is unlikely to result in any official return of the feelings. He seems unable to get over these feelings. but it is his general demeanor that shows this. There is another key character feature that can be viewed as a problem of Werther. not only that he feels his way about her. It is indeed Werther’s problem. On August 15 1771 Werther says “Es ist doch gewiss. rather it is a feature of his personality. and that she does not feel the same way about him is destined to have only negative effects on him. however issues with his bourgeois background prevent this from being a success. and particularly the manner in which it manifests itself when it comes to Lotte. but that he cannot move on and forget about her and his feelings. The two problems which have been outlined are those of Werther’s morbid outlook on life and his inability to give up his unrequited feelings for Lotte. given that it leads directly to his tragic death. Morbidity and suicide any else relating to death does not faze him. It begins with the fact that he is a hopeless romantic.major problems. dass in der Welt den Menschen nichts nothwendig macht als die Liebe. She too likes him. though in Werther it seems to bring about his downfall. He models everything on this strong belief in the power and importance of love. However Werther struggles to deal with this. The concept of love is one that is clearly very important to Werther.” This is a clear indication of how he feels about romanticism and love. It is true that this need not necessarily be a character flaw. and a major one at that. and this is in the more general sense where the problems in the psyche of his character exist. He feels this way about Lotte. and in the majority of cases it is often a positive thing. Ultimately he commits suicide. Naturally the extent he goes to for Lotte and love shows how important it is to him. This can only be viewed as a problem with his character. but instantaneously falls in love with her. It many people it would be an admirable quality. however it seems that her feelings are not quite as strong as his are. no matter what he does. These . At any rate she is engaged to Albert. A perfect opportunity was there when he took the job as an envoy. Werther meets Lotte by chance. This process perpetuates itself throughout the story until the point where Werther’s feelings for Lotte can indeed be interpreted a problem. Surely he is simply weak minded in some respects.

It occurs because he is weak to deal with problems that a stronger minded person could have much more aptly dealt with. It can all be summarized in my opinion with the statement that Werther is merely a weak minded person. It details a complicated yet fascinating character in Werther. is one of the great works of the post-Enlightenment era. Many people followed Werther’s lead. but in any period of time before or after Goethe wrote it. It stands to reason that the literary classic that Die Leiden des jungen Werthers is. he struggles to really deal with the emotional anguish it provides.problems are a feature of a larger. It is tragic. the most general yet specific answer that can be given is that he is a person with a weak minded character. and eventually commits suicide. and it becomes clear that this problem was indeed a fatal one. And we are left to ponder upon what happened to Werther when he takes his own life at the end. This is relevant because Die Leiden des jungen Werthers is a literary classic and its effect on Europe at the time of its writing and even across the world post-1800 was undoubtedly widespread. and this is clear through several things he writes. as mentioned earlier. He is unable to deal with his situation because of this. He then takes his own life. it becomes clear that his morbid outlook on life also takes the form of suicidal behaviour. and is hence unable to deal with the unfortunate situation that he finds himself in. more general problem. as a seemingly talented individual was brought down by an unfortunate chain of events that he was unable to deal with. in Goethe. but since it is also unrequited. who the reader becomes involved with via his letters to Wilhelm. and . This is the direct trigger for his suicide. The fact that he cannot deal with this is specific to his character and accompanied with an ever-present morbid attitude to himself and those around him results in his tragic ending. It is unlikely that Werther is the only person ever to have loved someone who did not feel the same way. Hence in direct response to the question of what Werther’s problem is. and he cannot deal with problems that many other people have been able to deal with not only at the time of the novel’s writing. It is a story written by a writer whose own life heavily influenced the plot of this story. His love for Lotte is undying. Werther has a weak mind. however many more would have simply viewed the character of Werther as a weak minded one. As time progresses. He was certainly morbid from the outset. that has already been mentioned a couple of times. so it cannot be doubted that these feelings are a problem.

1972.” Deutcher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. “Goethe: New Perspectives on a Write and his Time. München 1997. References Goethe.” London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. At any rate one thing about this literary classic is clear.de/lindenpark/goethe/1/werthere.” Literature at Werther’s World. “Goethe: Zugänge zum Werk. 2001. . in: http://www.W. KG. Van Abbé. the protagonist in Werther is a fascinating character.fortunecity. J. 1774. D. “Die Leiden des jungen Werthers.the average reader would likely feel for him. Wagner. but his problem lies in the tragic fact that he is an emotionally weak character that is unable to deal with his unfortunate situation. 1999. Wahler. B. I.” Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH.htm. Reinbek bei Hamburg. “Goethe: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

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