ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther - Existential Sorrow (response and analysis)

Updated on March 5, 2013

Note on future changes:

I will revisit this article, as well as the article on Hoffmann, in order to appropriate the content to objective standards. This article is literally a copy/paste from a reading response that I had done, and so it is limited as my personal reflection. There is certainly some merit to reading this article, but be advised that I plan to clean up any subjectivity, and add further analysis, with citation, and possibly a brief summary.

Thanks,
HeavyDosage

Die Leiden des jungen Werthers
Die Leiden des jungen Werthers | Source

Journal de Bord #1

“That the life of Man is but a dream has been sensed by many a one, and I too am never free of the feeling.”

At the start of The Sorrows of Young Werther, I wasn’t completely sure what to think of the story. I didn’t really think so highly of Goethe’s portrayal of someone who seemed to live wholly through his emotion, with little depth to him. Werther seemed to me someone who was altogether intense and emotional, with his unbearable sadness at his separating from his dear friend Wilhelm, and an overwhelming sense of wonder and splendor towards his surroundings. I couldn’t help but wonder if the story really had someplace to go from here. Was it just to be the portrayal of someone’s exaggerated mood swings? Even later in the book, I would find myself wondering if Werther was just overly sentimental, and would be driven to suicide from that alone. I thought this, until I was able to see his much darker side.

Where does Werther’s sadness come from? I don’t think that it’s as simple as the case of Goethe’s ‘story-inspiring’ acquaintance, Jerusalem, who came to an end by his hopeless pursuit of love. Goethe’s sadness lies in something deeper than the simple effect that Lotte would have on him. He hints at one’s lack of purpose in being, and our inability to escape this prison of thought.

The beginning passage from the May 22 letter to Wilhelm, who, by the way, I believe is just Goethe/Werther’s way of reflecting on his thoughts through discourse with himself, gave me chills when I read it:

“That the life of Man is but a dream has been sensed by many a one, and I too am never free of the feeling. When I consider the restrictions that are placed on the active, inquiring energies of Man; when I see that all our efforts have no other result than to satisfy needs which in turn prolong our wretched existence, and then see that all our reassurance concerning the particular questions we probe is no more than a dreamy resignation, since all we are doing is to paint our prison walls with colourful figures and bright views … I withdraw into myself, and discover a world, albeit a notional world of dark desire rather than one of actuality and vital strength. And everything swims before my senses, and I go my way in the world wearing the smile of the dreamer.”

The reason that it gave me chills is because I could immediately relate to this with ideas that I’ve had before. He must be talking about epistemology and metaphysics, and I don’t doubt that he was somewhat inspired by Descartes when he uses the living dream as a reference to his uncertainty. What exactly is this world that we surround ourselves with? What purpose does it serve to exist? At the very base, we exist only to continue to exist: we eat, sleep, and procreate, in order to ensure the continuation of a new cycle. Anything that is in the periphery of this motion is simply the ‘colouful figures and bright views’ with which we ‘paint our prison walls.’ The things we do are either part of our continuing survival, or are the figures and views that we cover this true existence up with. Troubled by this lack of existential purpose, we question whether life is some sort of dream from which we (hopefully) eventually wake. Goethe believes that he can only experience a true sense of existence and, possibly, purpose, through his living in his own mental world painted by emotions and feelings; living through his heart and mind. However, he can’t escape living in the so-called ‘real-world’, where the truth of ‘being’ is in his continued importance on and seeking-out of perpetuation of his own existence. His thoughts, and later, act, of suicide that follow might not be simply a release from pain over Lotte and society, as we suspect, but also a release from uncertainty. In this way, Goethe makes me feel as though is about more than just the pains of love and complications of class, but about one’s place and purpose in being.

It was the letter of May 22 that really pulls me to this book; gives feeling of a close connection with it.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Jonathan Ashleigh 

      3 years ago

      “The Sorrows of Young Mike” recently published as a parody of “The Sorrows of Young Werther” by Goethe. I loved the aspects that were touched on in the updated version. John Zelazny, the writer of the parody, is in no way hiding from the original and makes this very clear. It is a marvelously done parody and takes on similar themes of class, religion and suicide. I love the way both books reflect on each other and think everyone interested in Werther should check out “The Sorrows of Young Mike.”

    • mbyL profile image

      Slaven Cvijetic 

      5 years ago from Switzerland, Zurich

      I LOVED Werther!! I finished it a few weeks ago, but due to school stuff it took me forever to read it. I felt somehow quite connected to Werther. Yeah, I knew how he felt. Another reason is that I simply like Sturm and Drang. Also read Stella, which was soo enjoyable to read. Good work on that hub! Try to add more pictures or take your own pictures (you can easily take a photo of Werther if you have it at home).

      Slaven / mbyL

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)