Goethe & Vonnegut

Satisfactory Essays
Powerful Emotion (3)

Anyone who reads The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe instantly feels the emotional intensity portrayed by Werther, the protagonist. His speculations about life are indeed unique, especially in modern times when life often goes by quickly without notice. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why his immense emotion strikes a chord with readers as coming from someone crazy or dangerous. Werther’s mental state seems incredibly alive at some times while seemingly lifeless at others. This lifeless state of mind is similar to another sorrowful character in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. In his story of Billy Pilgrim, a similar wonder engulfs the reader, causing us to question the cause of both his mindset and of our own. These books bring a couple of interesting questions to mind… How much emotion is too much? How little is too little? These characters struggle with powerful emotion in many ways, and are therefore judged as mad. The two protagonists engage in totally different journeys, but each of them leads the reader to discover the limits of human emotion. These limits are reached by Werther and Billy, therefore leading to both characters’ demise.
In simple terms, I think that Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five demonstrates the extremity of too little emotion, in contrast with Werther in The Sorrows of Young Werther demonstrating the extremity of too much emotion. Both of these characters live their lives in suffering because of this lack/surfeit of emotion. I’d like to start my analysis off with the odd style of Kurt Vonnegut and how he portrays his main character.
Billy Pilgrim has mental problems. Too many to name, in fact. He has difficulty in almost every aspect of life because of these mental problems. Vonnegut has concocted an anti-war novel that blames Billy’s health (or lack thereof) on the trauma of being in a war, but poor Billy has many problems even before the war. He seems to be extremely emotionally detached from all aspects of life. Yes, he gets married and has children, but it seems to be portrayed as somewhat sarcastic and unimportant. This is the danger of being unemotional in life.
One of the strongest points proving Billy’s lack of emotion is when he is at war and essentially tries to set himself up for his enemy to shoot him (Vonnegut 29). The incident seems very ironic considering Vonnegut’s anti-war opinions, because he seems to want Billy to honor the fairness of war.
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