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Patrick McEvoy-Halston

English 3768
Eric Miller
20 January2005

Werther, in Goethe's Tlte Sorrows of Young Werther,commentsupon the various

limitations of ordinary people. Now I found Werther to be a remarkableindividual, but sincehe

frequently draws our attention to how different he is from other people, he prompted me to

reflect upon the various ways in which Werther,the "exception" (60), the "genius," sharesthe
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V various limitations he finds in more ordinary folk (note:he clearly seemsmore intent on

distinguishing himself from the bourgeoisie,that is, from those with upwardly mobile

pretensions,than from ostensiblypleasant,peasant,easily satisfiedfolk).

Werther claims that most ordinary men make "Eden[s] out of [. . .] their garden[s]"(31).

Presumablyhe meanshere that ordinary men do not seethe world around them as it truly is;

instead,they seewhat they want/needto see. Though Werther occasionallyvaluesothers'

perception of things (such as when he decidesagainstviewing the girl that has struck a "farmer

lad['s]" [35] fancy for fear that "she would not appearto [his] t. . .] own eyesas" [36] beautiful:

the lad saw her true beauty,her beautiful soul), for the most part he imagineshimself as special

becausehe is one of the very few capableof seeingthings as they truly are, that is, as they should

be seen. Arguably, Werther valueshis ability to faithfully seeand reproduceNature ("without

putting into it anything whatsoeverof [his] t. . .l own" l32l) more than his capacity to originate

his own unordinary, unorthodox ideas. Yet we note that Nature is charactenzedvery differently

throughout the novel-it is either perceived as fundamentally "harmonious" (32) or as

destructive(66), apparentlyin accordancewith his needs. When he needsNature to act as a sort

of healingbalm, Nature's essenceis reflectedin harmoniouspastorallandscapes(32) or in the

"delights of moonlight" (78). And, when he desiresfor his own impassionedstateto suggesthis

fundamentalrightness,Nature, existence,is made to seemfundamentally destructive, as

somethingwhich "br[ings] forth nothing that doesnot destroyboth its neighbour and itself' (66).
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We note, though,that Werther very likely differs from most peoplein that he is capable

of finding value in socially disruptive forces. He reflectsupon the appearanceof a storm, of

lightning, at a social gathering,and decidesthat "distressingor terrible surprises"usefully serve

to "open [up our] t. . .] feelings [, to make us] t . .] more susceptibleto impressions"(42). But
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how downright unaware,how downright flawed, unconscious----ordinary-he seemsto us when
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he subsequentlytells us of his profound distastefor thosewho "ruin t. . .] sunny days" (47). (He, t f \ ( o \ s \ $ '
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conditionally, even identifies thesepeople as evil t48]). And when he complainsaboutthose

who ruin pleasurablemoments,he seemsmore alike than different from the various ordinary

people he detests,such as the gentlemenwho do everything they can to ensurethat their

"summer-houses,tulip beds and cabbagepatches[are not] [. . .] washedaway''by raging "floods

and thunders" (33), and the "respectablepeople [who are forever] [. . .] tut-tutting about

drunkenessand holding unreasonablebehaviourin contempt" (61).

Most certainly Werther comesup with provocative,disturbing,out of the ordinary ideas.

He seemsto originateprofound insightsinto humanpsychic tendencies.For instance,he

suggeststhat "it is the natureof our imaginationto t. . .] conceiveof a chain of beingswith

ourselvesas the most inferior and everything else more glorious and with greaterperfections"

(73). He concludesthat "the happy mortal is a model of completeperfection-which we have

ourselvescreated" (73). Yet Werther demonstrateshow much he sharesthis purportedly

ordinary human tendencyby unvaryingly describing ancient patriarchs and God throughout his

letters as fundamentally happy, "serene" beings (27, 66) (though, like Job, he doesbriefly

imagine God as unjust and cruel).

And so, Eric, we begin anotherextraordinaryjourney.


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