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Dangerous weapons in The Sorrows of Young Werther

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The novel The Sorrows of Young Werther engages with a complex discourse of communication. It deals with a society highly lacking in personal communication, yet desperately in need of it. Although Werther longs for intimate face to face communication, books mediate his life, which leads to isolation, and ultimately suicide.

The form the novel takes illustrates a tension that plagues Werther. Though he wants to express himself, it is always through letters. He describes his passionate love not to Lotte but to Wilhelm. Furthermore, the reader is never allowed to experience any of Wilhelm’s answers, producing a kind of unrequited dialogue, or a failed communication. The desire to actually touch Lotte tortures him, as he states “How many times have I been on the point of embracing her!”(113). Yet when he and Lotte do finally embrace, it is via a book.

Books, or more specifically epic poems, seem to dictate Werther’s life. In Book One Werther is consumed by Homer and the “patriarchal ideas”(7) his works demonstrate. Even when he attempts to return to nature, he carries a copy of his book to read under shade while enjoying a cool beverage. He imagines himself to be Odysseus and Lotte “Penelope” (33). As he reads The Odyssey the tone and pace of the novel is forward looking and centers Werther as the hero. The world is ruled by God and God’s actions are comprehensible by humans. However, in Book Two, Werther is reading Ossian, which Werther presents as full of howling “gales…and the lament of the maiden who pines for death”(110). Ossian presents a Godless world ruled by natural law to which everyone is susceptible and unable to control. Therefore Book Two takes on a much darker tone leading up to Werther’s suicide.

Book Two, influenced by the wailing, unanswered cries for help and deafening winds of Ossian marks the beginning of Werther’s most extreme isolation. He voluntarily removes himself from Walheim but becomes greatly annoyed at the society he finds himself in; most irritated by the “disgraceful social conditions”(81), and does not enjoy the company of anyone but Fraulein Von B. However, his relationship with her marks an interesting tactic toward communication with Lotte. We see very few letters addressed to Lotte, therefore their subjects become highly important. During this time he sends her letters that declare Fraulein von B. to be a lesser version of Lotte: “How often she must do homage to you! She is not compelled to- she does it voluntarily, loves to hear about you, and loves you”(85). He uses these subtle compliments as a kind of attack, intending to make her jealous. These kinds of subtexts show up more frequently through the second book and act as a kind of crying out on the part of Werther.

Another significant moment in the novel comes again in the form of writing: “Will you be good enough to lend me your pistols for my intended journey. And goodbye”(158). This dubious note contains both a harmless request and an overt message. Werther is putting Albert and Lotte through a test. Albert is already aware that Werther considers suicide an option per their earlier conversation, and Lotte is aware that he is in love with her and has been recently rejected. Therefore, the “goodbye” is quite loaded. The editor makes us even further aware of this moment when he says, “If some happy intimacy had brought them together before this…perhaps our friend might have been saved”(159). This implies that what Werther needed from Albert and Lotte was communication, rather than pistols. The novel implicates Albert and Lotte in Werther’s death because of their silence.

Another kind of communication takes place here, between the reader and the editor. The editor subtly accuses Albert of purposely ignoring Werther’s warnings that he was suicidal, which almost transforms the pistols into murder weapons. The editor claims “Werther had never…kept his longing to depart from this world a secret”(159), and further explains that Albert’s cavalier attitude toward the possibility of suicide had affected Lotte’s interpretation of the threat: “This may have set her mind at rest for a time, whenever her thoughts presented to her the tragic picture- but it also prevented her from communicating to her husband the anxieties that tormented her at this moment”(160). Again, the question of the pistols become a test. Albert makes Lotte physically responsible for passing the pistols to Werther, for if she refuses she will have to answer “Albert’s questioning glance”(161). Though there is very little speech between Albert and Lotte, the editor fills in the silence with condemning words like: “guilt”, “foreboding”, and “fatal weapons”(161).

As Albert makes Lotte responsible, Werther takes it to an extreme level. Again, communicating his deepest feelings through a letter, he thanks her for the pistols, writing “they have passed through your hands; you have wiped the dust from them. I kiss them a thousand times because you have touched them”(162). This letter can be read as a thank you or a final goodbye, but also as a deeply troubled and veiled accusation. As this is a suicide note, the letter will become Lotte’s inheritance. Before killing himself, he ensures Albert and Lotte’s ensuing misery and attempts to kill Lotte with guilt and grief.

The multiple layers of communication both in the scene of the pistols as well as throughout the novel reflect a seriously flawed language for discussing emotions such as Werther experiences, and his suicide serves as a cautionary tale for misled, untrue, and ignored attempts at intimacy.

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GradesFixer. (2018). The Fatal Weapons. Retrived from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-fatal-weapons/
GradesFixer. "The Fatal Weapons." GradesFixer, 03 Jun. 2018, https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-fatal-weapons/
GradesFixer, 2018. The Fatal Weapons. [online] Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-fatal-weapons/> [Accessed 11 July 2020].
GradesFixer. The Fatal Weapons [Internet]. GradesFixer; 2018 [cited 2018 Jun 03]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-fatal-weapons/
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