Epistolary Novels the "Narrative Therapy" Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

" This fire will not only die out, but will turn into the destructive flames of an obsession.

Werther's descriptions of his deductions, feelings, contemplation fruits and observations are accompanied by various dialogues he has with some of the people he happened to meet in the country. Although in love and obviously preoccupied with Lotte a great deal of his time, he is also keen to go on making observations about those around him. Still in the first stages of his unreciprocated love affair, the occasion of seeing a young couple gives him the chance to express his conviction that human beings are wrong to extract the dark sides of life over the bright ones and let them govern their lives. It seems that he is briefly becoming conscious of his own faults, speaking with the voice of the therapist and not that of the patient. Discussing this opinion with a pastor's wife, he launches in a judgment of the flaws of human nature: "We human beings often complain,' I began, 'that there are so few good days and so many bad ones; but I think we are generally wrong. If our hearts were always open to enjoy the good, which God gives us every day, then we should also have enough strength to bear the evil, whenever it comes" (Wain, the Oxford Library of Short Novels, Vol 1, Goethe, the Sorrwos of Young Werther, 25). Her answer reminds of the old voice of rationality and seems to come from experience and a wise spirit: "we cannot command our dispositions" (idem).

Although Derek Steinberg put together fictional letters in his book Letters from the Clinic, they were filled with real words he recorded from real patients. Among several techniques useful in psychotherapy, he introduces the aim of "speaking" one's mind directly and spontaneously, characteristic in letter writing, as one aiming at fulfilling "a moral duty" (Steinberg, 2). Another reason for writing a letter is in Steinberg's opinion that of a useful record, because "a letter can take the form of an agreed treatment plan, an aide-memoire, an informal contract between therapist, patient and family, and the beginning of an agenda for the next meeting" (idem).

By the end of the letter where young Werther is recounting his conversation with the young couple and Lotte, his last lines trigger the alarm of suicidal thoughts. They appear to be recurrent. From his original speech, full of hope in the endless possibilities of human nature and in its force to regenerate, he abruptly falls into the abyss of a very painful memory that completely contradicts what he so passionately argued so far: "The memory of a similar scene at which I had been present completely overwhelmed me as I said these words. I raised my handkerchief to my eyes and left the company. Only the voice of Lotte, who called out to me that it was time to leave, brought me to myself. And how she scolded me on our way home for my too warm sympathy with everything, saying it would be my ruin and that I should spare myself! O. angel, for your sake I must live!" (Wain, the Oxford Library of Short Novels, Vol 1, Goethe, the Sorrwos of Young Werther, 27). All of a sudden, Lotte appears like yet another pretext for him to postpone a decision to part with life that he was not experiencing for the first time. The very fact that he allowed himself to fall in love with a girl he knew was almost engaged to be married to another man could indicate to his reader that his decision to postpone a suicidal though was deliberately temporary.

He tends to exaggerate Lotte's virtues and capabilities to sooth and alleviate the sufferings of others, seeing the healing hand of the deliverer in every contact she has with others: and when I heard Lotte say: 'Now, that will do!' (but the child went on washing herself eagerly, as though Much would help more than Little) -- I tell you, Wilhelm, never did I attend a ceremony of baptism with more reverence; and when Lotte came up the steps again, I would gladly have knelt before her, as before a prophet who has washed away with holy water the crimes of a nation (Wain, the Oxford Library of Short Novels, Vol 1, Goethe, the Sorrwos of Young Werther, 28).

As Steinberg explains in his introduction to Letters from the Clinic, the recollections of such situations and especially the recalling of one's own feelings as a reaction to them is important as a term of comparison with the observations made by others with regard to the same event, or even in comparison with one's own feelings a few days after.

The sense that Werther's description of his feelings for Lotte are reaching far beyond reality is increased when he writes his friend about the sacred nature of his attachment to her. The passions of normal human beings involve matters of the souls as much as they involve matters of the flesh. Werther believes he is physically attracted to her while at the same time confessing to his friend that "any desire is silenced in her presence" (Wain, the Oxford Library of Short Novels, Vol 1, Goethe, the Sorrwos of Young Werther, 31). Words and phrases related to suicide start to appear more often in his discourse. Lotte is still presented as the only reason he is still alive.

The next weeks Werther's letters recount indicate a lesser disposition to share his feelings. He spends more and more time under the feeling that Lotte hopelessly, irrevocably and completely possesses the focus of his attention. His friend, Wilhelm, seems to give him advice and suggestions for finding things to keep him away from the dark thoughts, but Werther does not seem to be able to follow his advice. At some point, after having made a break in writing his letters, Werther shows a brief sign of waking up from his nightmare. Although what he strove to describe so far began as a beautiful love story in the countryside, it took more and more the shape of a tragic and unreciprocated love affair. He becomes aware of his own mistakes and agrees that he was the only one to blame for having allowed himself to fall so deep in the hands of despair and depression: "My diary, which I have neglected for some time, fell into my hands today, and I am amazed how I ran into this situation with full awareness, step-by-step. How clearly I have seen my condition, yet how childishly I have acted. How clearly I still see it, and yet show no sign of improvement" (Wain, the Oxford Library of Short Novels, Vol 1, Goethe, the Sorrwos of Young Werther, 35).

When it becomes clear that Werther has decided to put an end to his life, his dialogue with Albert, Lottes fiance, reveals one of the oldest subjects of conversation in the world: the worthiness or unworthiness of the act of suicide. Albert is situated on the side of the barricade that sees suicide as the result of madness or cowardice. Of course, Albert, although trying to counterattack Werther's arguments in favour of the suicidal act, is unable to really play the part of a clinician,. Not only does he not have the proper knowledge, but due to the lack of information, he is also unable to grasp his friend's inner drama. From this moment on, Werther seems unable to sense any pleasure life could offer him. His thoughts and thus letters become filled with stories about death and he becomes trapped in the net of depression, on the verge of committing suicide. Even if he goes away, as a last attempt to avoid the source of his suffering, Lotte, he is not able to see any positive side of his existence anymore. If the first part of the novel was loaded with a great deal of exaltation and admiration for people and places, the second part is only dedicated to his desperation and disappointment with people and with himself. The people he meets are 'dreadful', 'fools', 'horrid', the places are described as 'galleys' where he is enchained. He is disappointed with the whole human race that has "so little judgment and prostitutes itself in such a vulgar way" (idem, 52).

Werther's disposition evolves into that of a man who perceives everyone and everything as plotting against him. The spring does not bring the much hoped relief for his mood. He gives in to his resignation thus proving to be unable to perform his job related duties anymore.

Werther's letters will never return to the joyful spirit they began with. He will finally take his own life, as the ultimate solution to his sorrows, desperately obsessed by his love for Lotte and unable to free himself from its spell.

"The editor to the reader" chapter explains the evolution of…

Sources Used in Document:

Goethe. The Sorrwos of Young Werther. Wain, J. The Oxford Library of Short Novels Vol. 1. Clarendon Press, 1990.

Yalom, I.D. The Gift of Therapy. An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. HarperCollins, 2002

Walker, a. The Color Purple. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006

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