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Werther as the Prototypical Romantic in Sorrows of Young Werther

Werther as the Prototypical Romantic in Sorrows of Young Werther

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).

Work Cited

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. The Sorrows of Young Werther. Trans. Elizabeth Mayer and Louis Bogan. 1774; New York: Random House, 1970.

Trading Salvation for Personal Gratification in Anna Karenina

Trading Salvation for Personal Gratification in Anna Karenina

The epigraph of Anna Karenina: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord,” implies that judgment is a theological entitlement (Romans, 12:19). Tolstoy uses both social and moral issues to illustrate his characters’ attitudes towards religion. For Oblonsky, Vronsky, and Karenin, religious values are secondary. Their lives are devoted to establishing a social position and monetary gain. Levin finds salvation and happiness because they learn to live for something beyond themselves and devote their lives to spreading the goodness of the Lord. Like Levin, Anna responds to her emotional instincts, but she is hindered by society’s judgment. Anna distances herself from salvation by seeking only personal gratification in her love affair.

Oblonsky values his indulgent social life and his occupation above all else. He lies in direct contrast to Levin, who focuses not on the relentless pursuit of pleasure, but takes joy in his work and devotes himself to his loved ones. Stiva finds meaning in life only from his personal interactions, although he often ignores commitments to his wife and children. Religion is just another social institution, and he has no relationship with God: “Oblonsky could not bear standing through even a short church service without his feet hurting, and could not understand the point of all those terrible, highfalutin words about the other world when it would be very gay to live in this one too” (7).

Likewise, Vronsky is totally dedicated to his military career and his status as a high society player. He pursues Kitty with no intention of marrying her; he deserts her the moment he lays eyes on Anna. Vronsky seems …

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…piness with the man she loves. She refuses to get a divorce because she does not want to compromise her son’s future.

Her character deteriorates when her only goal in life is to keep Vronsky in love with her. Levin is saved when he learns to live for something beyond himself; Anna moves away from God when she focuses only on keeping the interest of her lover. She tells Dolly that she has no plans for more children because she fears that her pregnancy will make Vronsky disenchanted with her. Anna’s self-assertion leads her to abandon “faith in God, in goodness as the sole purpose of mankind” and death is the only way for her to escape the world that she sees as full of hate (849). Her last words are, “Lord, forgive me for everything!” (816).

Works Cited:

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: The Modern Library, 1993).

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