Setting Werther Free
The spine was a faded yellow. The modest price was scribbled messily beneath the book's ragged cover. A musty odor had found a home amidst pages and pages of antique german script. It would have been impossible to guess that my shabby, unassuming copy of "The Sorrows of Young Werther" would have such a great effect on me. But it did. The novel wasted away on my top shelf, unopened, for over a year. Only until the book had gained a brother-this time, an english one-would my connection to it become firmly established. You see, Werther and I have a lot in common. Both of us are products of our societies, and both of our societies are in love with the idea of change.
As I believe most adolescents of Generation Z would concur, life is a journey filled with turbulence, woe, and the occasional spurt of happiness. Goethe's "Werther" chronicles this passage from hopeful beginning to tragic end. I saw myself in Werther's attempt to establish a life of personal creativity and freedom. For years this has been my own goal, and I have taken many of the same approaches as Werther in my effort to become a more accomplished artist. Daily sketches, paintings, and journal entries. I even laughed to myself as I read a passage describing Werther's intense observation of a water droplet. I had done the same just weeks before. But all of Werther's efforts were for naught. In the end he was reduced to a hopeless pile of emotional wreckage-his desire to become a better artist coupled with his desire for Lotte, his love interest, grew too burdensome. Should I have grown scared as I watched Werther follow a fruitless path into oblivion? No. I know that I can limit myself, apply restraints; that I can "be in this world but not of it."
Moderation and independence are two important lessons I gleaned from reading "Werther." Watching Werther fall deeper into his obsession with Lotte, the woman he passionately pursued, gave me the chance to see the ravages of letting one's desires grow out of control. Had Werther been able to limit his need for love, his life would not have ended so tragically. I feel independence ties into this need to limit oneself as well. Werther invests himself so deeply in others that he becomes dependent on them to grow and flourish. Finding out that Lotte has no desire for his affections is Werther's ultimate downfall. Herein lies the path to awakening I experienced while reading "Werther." We cannot be so needy as to wait for others to guide us from paths of destruction; we must keep ourselves from hanging on the words of others as if they are the reason for our sustained existence.
As I sit here now, both editions of the book placed before me, I see "three Werthers." Beneath the tattered cover of the first I imagine a Werther still writhing in the wretched agony of a world he forged for himself. The second edition reveals a Werther brought back to life; reanimated and ready for a second chance at being understood. This Werther waits on edge to pull the unsuspecting reader into his painful domain, but gives the reader a chance to pity him still. The last version, but an illusory construct of my own mind, is "my Werther." There is no room for suffering here. I find the "Sorrows" lessened when I apply my limits to them. My final Werther is set free from the chains of reliance and the fetters of need. I'm glad to be the author of my independent Werther.