The Sorrows of Young Werther Book Summary

The Sorrows Of Young Werther Book Summary
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The Sorrows of Young Werther, written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in 1774, is an epistolary novel completed in two weeks. Goethe was 25 years old when he wrote this novel. Following the release of “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” there was an increase in suicide rates, and Germany experienced a Werther epidemic, with streets invaded by emotionally charged and depressed youths wearing blue jackets and yellow trousers.

Summary of The Sorrows of Young Werther

Werther is a young, educated, middle-class lad set on making his mark in the world. His family expects him to find a job, and his friend Wilhelm is making connections to find opportunities in government service. Werther nurtures the desire to become an artist, finding it as a form of entertainment that doesn’t pay the bills but suits his keen observation and imagination. In the spring of 1771, he leaves home and writes letters to Wilhelm over a period of twenty months during his travels.

As Werther interacts with the world, he finds solace in the magnificent beauty of the natural world, depicting a picture of the monotony of daily existence. He liberates himself from his own introspective, melancholic thoughts through the grandeur of nature’s landscapes. Werther befriends the local townsfolk in a mansion managed by his family, particularly showing interest in children. However, while the people in the town lead simple lives, Werther longs for the intellectual stimulation from the educated classes.

Upon moving to Walheim, Werther meets Charlotte, the beautiful daughter of a local judge. Charlotte’s mother has recently passed away, leaving behind nine children. On her deathbed, she entrusted her children to Charlotte and blessed Charlotte’s engagement to Albert, a successful businessman. Werther and Charlotte dance at a ball while Albert is away on business.

Werther finds a kindred spirit in Charlotte and falls passionately in love with her. He visits her every day, developing a close relationship with her siblings who enjoy his storytelling. Charlotte, committed to marrying Albert, and Werther respects the boundaries of their friendship due to the unrequited nature of his desire and the realization that they have no future together. However, Werther’s unfulfilled longing for a closer relationship and the acceptance of the fact that he has no future with Charlotte gradually turns his love for her into an obsession. As Werther begins contemplating suicide, he realizes the urgent need to break free from this vicious cycle.

In the fall, Werther starts a position as the attaché to a minister, moving to a palace from the provinces. Although dedicated to his job, Werther realizes the conflict with palace culture. The emphasis on class rankings among the people surrounding the Count, whether peasant or noble, disgusts Werther as they evaluate people’s worth based on their achievements. Soon, Werther’s promising start in government service begins to unravel. His condescending criticism of social climbing comes back to haunt him.

Unable to conform to the rigid class protocols at the Count’s estate, Werther’s exclusion from his friends and colleagues leads to his resignation. A nobleman sponsors Werther to stay with him for a while, urging him not to join the army. Werther abandons this career path and spends his time improving his drawing skills.

Despite news of Charlotte and Albert’s marriage in February 1772, Werther’s melancholic thoughts return. Hoping to recapture some of the optimism and energy he once felt there, Werther returns to Walheim. Instead, life’s hardships press upon him. A child he once drew and valued dies, beautiful old walnut trees in the square are cut down, and Werther frequently visits Charlotte. However, their platonic relationship plunges him into a depression increasingly prone to suicide.

Werther’s behavior becomes increasingly unstable. When he adopts a manic defense in a confession to a murderer, Albert wants nothing more to do with him. Albert’s request for Charlotte to cut all ties with Werther forces her to confront her complex feelings toward him. On December 20th, Werther, while under the impression that he can only visit if invited, attempts to join the Christmas Eve celebrations at Albert’s.

Charlotte invites him to participate, assuming he would comply with her wishes only to find him uninvited and unaware of Albert’s absence. In a hurry, she attempts to call her friends to join them, but in the meantime, she suggests he read a translation of Ossian’s epic poetry that tells of the death of a hero. Realizing Werther’s suicidal tendencies, Charlotte immerses herself in the emotionally charged narrative of tragic events, and for the first time, they share a passionate kiss.

Filled with grief for Werther and the horror of betraying Albert, Charlotte locks herself in an adjoining room until Werther leaves. Overwhelmed by the joy of realizing that Charlotte loves him, Werther confirms his plan to end his life as a sacrifice for their marriage. He calmly organizes his affairs, writes letters to Wilhelm and Charlotte, and then, using a pistol borrowed from Albert, shoots himself. Before succumbing to brain damage caused by the bullet entering his skull, Werther survives twelve hours with a head wound.

Local field officials buried Werther’s body in an unmarked grave, without the supervision of any mourning or clergyman he mentioned.

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