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Sorrow of Young Werther

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Death has been the consequent for the main characters in each of the first four novels read for the course. The protagonist in each of the first four novels; Werther, Rafael, Ivan Ilyich, and K., respectively; met their demise on the final page of their respective novels. All four directly or indirectly were the cause of their painful demise. Werther chose suicide over conforming to the ways of adulthood, and moving further away from nature. Rafael chose to live a life of possessions, and in turn, his inner-self dwindled. Ivan Ilyich alienated himself from those around him, and hid behind the aristocratic social mask. Finally, Joseph K. causes his won demise by being a puppet of society, conforming to all rules, and to his own sense of guilt. Ivan Ilyich was the only character to somewhat remedy the situation before slipping into the darkness of death. In all cases, the actions of the lives of all four protagonists very clearly displayed their weaknesses as characters.

In Goethe’s novel, Werther died a very slow, excruciatingly painful death. He refused to conform to life as it was; refused to move further away from the nature he so cherished. By doing so, Werther was in denial of adulthood. Werther saw suicide as the only escape from adulthood, and his only chance at eternal happiness. Anything was worth happiness, “certainly, whoever is sick…will not refuse the bitterest medicines, in order to restore the health he longs for.”(July 1) Werther uses this analogy to prove his point that a person will go far to rid themselves of unpleasantness. Werther’s source of unpleasantness is Lotte, for he cannot have a claim to her. To be an adult is to be able to say no to oneself. Werther was incapable coming to an understanding that Lotte will never be his. Feeling closer to adulthood, Werther begins to sense himself being torn from nature, and losing part of himself. “I have no feeling for nature…when we have lost ourselves, we have lost everything.”(Aug. 22) To keep himself intact, he sought isolation.

Werther shut him self out from society. He purposely confined himself to a small place within the society in which he lived, and was cast out because of it. However, even he admits that “happiness or misery lies within the objects we associate ourselves with, and in this there is nothing more dangerous than solitude.”(Oct. 20) Werther’s solitude makes his suicidal thoughts only grow stronger. “I would like to open one of my veins, to bring me eternal freedom.”(Mar. 16) The only way to keep from conforming is suicide. Werther hoped that by doing so, he would “lose himself in the fullness of the infinite.” (Dec. 6) However, just as he fails in life, Werther fails in death. He shoots himself, but remains alive, dieing for hours. Finally, when he falls into the darkness, his body is confined within a wooden coffin, just as he was confined within his own box in society. Werther’s isolation from the society around him was even more apparent as his coffin was being carried at his funeral, described in the last three lines of the novel. “The old man follow the coffin and his sons, Albert was not able to. Lotte’s life was feared for. Artisan’s carried him. No clergymen attended.” Werther disappears into the nothingness that consumed his life.

Rafael Valentine, in “The Wild Ass’s Skin,” dies of consumption, in a life driven by a need for material possessions. Every want in his life is based upon social standing.

The infernal pact is concluded when Rafael realizes that “to be is to have.”(48) With the skin, Rafael possessed all material goods he wanted. However, as one begins to possess more things, ones inner-self dwindles. The skin warned that “THY WISHES WILL BE MEASURED AGAINST THY LIFE,” (51) but Rafael took that chance. However, Rafael failed to take into account the fact that the more one has, the more one can lose. Rafael died long before his physical death, for he was living for possessions, and therefore living in the life of an object. He describes human will as a “material force similar to steam power.”(124) Even Foedora is an object for she stands for Rafael’s desire, for what he wants her to be, rather than what she actually is. Rafael’s importance of objects become even more apparent when alludes to his worldly belonging as “flesh of my flesh.”(183)

Rafael seemed to want as if there was scarcity, when actually it was a society of abundance for which he lived in. However, as Rafael keeps wanting, his life begins to diminish, just as the Talisman had said. The skin was the symbol for the industrialism that was gobbling up nature and everything within it. It cannot be stopped, just as the skin was indestructible. “The chemist broke several razors in an attempt to cut it.”(238) Rafael finally dies from his last want; to be with Pauline. The battle between subjectivity and objectivity came to an end, and

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