The Sufferings Of Young Werther: A Middle Class Novel?

1982 words - 8 pages

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's novel, The Sufferings of Young Werther portrays a young man coming to terms with his position in society, his views on life, and more importantly, his affections for Lötte. In reading the novel, and trying to reach a greater understanding of its meanings, it is important to distinguish that this is a middle-class novel, dealing with a young middle-class man in late eighteenth century Germany. Though the novel is middle-class in substance, it should be noted that it did enjoy a wide readership, which included the aristocracy. Goethe expressed these middle-class themes in the character of Werther, his social interactions with individuals in and out of his class, and in his examination of the young protagonist's sufferings.

It is clear in the novel that Werther is a young, educated middle-class German. In understanding this characterization of Werther, it should be noted that at the time when this novel takes place, the middle-class was generally divided between the educated middle-class and the entrepreneurial middle-class. Werther's education played an integral part in the development of his character. The most immediate sign of this was that the novel is written as letters to different individuals indicating that Werther was both intelligent and literate.

Werther is introduced to the reader as a naturalist, in that he takes great pleasure in the natural beauty that surrounds him. This is seen in his description of a garden, which was not designed scientifically, but to maximize that amount of enjoyment that could be derived (2). It is mentioned in the footnotes of the text that this is a part of the Sturm und Drang movement, with the preference of the natural over the scientific, or the contrast between the intellect and the heart. Additionally, Werther breathes in the nature around him and he feels God in nature (3). He becomes swept up in this feeling and this is a trend that will be seen through out the rest of the novel. Finally, it should be noted that these elements seen in the novel would later become incorporated in the Romantic Movement, with its emphasis on looking for God in nature.

These elements of the Sturm und Drang movement are more fully expounded upon in a debate that ensued between Werther and Albert (33-36). The debate ultimately revolved around the issues of morality or reason versus truth and passion or emotion. Albert represented the Enlightened point of view, while Werther argues for passion and emotion. He spoke of the limits of human nature, how much it can endure, and how it is actually noble for one to expire at the end of their endurance. This is obviously a foreshadowing of events to come, but it is again indicative of Werther's impassioned beliefs.

The education of Werther would serve him well, as seen in Book Two. He goes into the service of an ambassador. This was very much part of the growing trend in Germany for members of the educated...

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