In Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, the protagonist's characteristics and ideas define him as the prototypical romantic personality. The Romantic Movement emphasizes emotion over reason, an idea that Werther emulates throughout his life. Werther loves pastoral settings; in nature, he feels most in touch with his emotions. He rejects rationality and complexity with the sentiment that life is an adventure to be guided by intuition. Werther's longing for his love, Lotte, is a paradigm of the Romantic concept of sehnsucht, one's constant yearning for something that they will never possess or know. Werther finds Lotte to be the object of his hopeless desire, but social conventions of a world based on reason keep her just out of his reach. His unrequited passion for Lotte ultimately destroys him as his frustrated melancholy drowns every other aspect of his personality.
Werther's love of the countryside illustrates his appreciation of the untamed emotion to be found in natural settings. He believes that an artist can only become great by drawing nature scenes, and considers those who do not appreciate the beauty of the world to be unhealthy. Werther escapes the rules and regulations that saturate the rational world in pastoral settings such as Wahlheim, where he finds that "I can be myself and experience every happiness known to man" (43). He can best sense the presence of God and his spiritual self in nature, and develops some of his deepest connections with Lotte. Werther is deeply saddened when someone with "no feeling at all for the few things on this earth that are of real value" cuts down the beautiful walnut trees in f...
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...iliar sense of yearning that will never be fulfilled. Werther realizes that death is the only way to end his misery. Like the insane man picking flowers, Werther has found Lotte as his reason, but death is the only way to lose it again. Werther is deeply sympathetic for the murderer at Wahlheim because he feels every bit of his hopelessness and sees the man's fate as his own. The judge reasonably refuses to overlook the law merely because the man allowed emotions to control his actions, and his words, "The man is doomed," might as well have been directed to Werther (106). Werther is helpless to his longing, bringing him "to his sad end, lost in a fantastic sensitivity and infinite passion" (107).
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. The Sorrows of Young Werther. Trans. Elizabeth Mayer and Louis Bogan. 1774; New York: Random House, 1970.
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