“The Sorrows of Young Werther” by Johann Goethe was first published in 1774, and very quickly spread across Europe in the 18th century. The novel and the “Werther Fever” it unleashed show us that Germany during that time was a very cultural, but easily persuaded place. Many people took hold of the story and related it to themselves, their lives, and soon everything that they did. The people were artistic and knowledgeable, but Werther also was. Werther was just like your everyday person during that time period, so this made it very easy for people to relate with his character.
In the book, Werther meets Charlotte and in spite of knowing that Charlotte is already engaged to a man, he falls in love with her. He spends months forming a close relationship with the couple until it becomes too unbearable, and he leaves. Upon realizing there’s no hope for romance with Charlotte, Werther could not deal with the heartache and disappointment in his life, so he commits suicide.
Werther was an important novel of the Sturm und Drang period in German literature. It is also said that it influenced the romantic literary movement. Soon after the book was published, it started the phenomenon known as the “Werther Fever”. “Werther Fever” reportedly led to some of the first known examples of copycat suicide; it also spawned a fashion trend of wearing yellow trousers and blue jacket combination.
When this book was published Germany was going through an Enlightment period. During this time, the people were very artistic, cultural, knowledgeable, but also easily persuaded. The people respected life and had strong morals and beliefs. They also believed in freedom; the freedom to think, live, and create. “The Sorrows of Young Werther” was very similar in nature to the people of Germany during this period of time. The book time frame is based on the period of romanticism, where Werther is very complex, literary, and an intellectual noble person even as the German people of the time were. The period of time mentioned in the book was similar to the time of the people reading the book. Therefore, the people of Germany considered themselves very like a young Werther.
Werther, like the people of the time, was down to earth and just like the average man that lived during that period of time. The men saw themselves reflected in Werther. His sorrows and disappointments were theirs. It was as though everyone had a piece of Werther inside of them. Men began to idolize him. Werther seemed to resemble all men, this made it very easy for ‘Werther Fever” to come into effect. Men became so obsessed with his story that they began to think that they were him. This caused concern with the authorities and other authors.
Everyone has disappointments and heartaches, due to the fact that people closely related themselves to Werther, they felt that if suicide was the only way out for him, then it seemed like it was the only option for them to use also.
Based upon the fact that the suicide rate among young men increased in those that read this book, it appears that the people of this time were more open to persuasion. Young men were open to suicide after reading this book, showing that the people of this time were more open and embraced the idea of using suicide as a way to deal with disappointments and heartaches in their lives.
“The Sorrows of Young Werther” left a mark in German literary that will not be forgotten. Germany was going through a weak stage during the enlightenment period. The people needed inspiration, and someone to look up to. “The Sorrows of Young Werther” just happened to be everything that the people of the time needed. He was the everyday man, that all could relate to in some way. Not all followers of the book committed suicide, but they made others options for their self. The ones that did commit suicide were people looking for someone to tell them what to do; this is where Werther and the “Werther Fever” came into effect. This book touched the lives of many, and it also left is place in the history of German literature.