The Sorrows of Young Werther

Charlotte as Penelope

In Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, Werther compares himself with the suitors from Homer's Odyssey. At first his comparison seems only to be an ironic parallel. Like other instances where Werther is over-dramatic and silly in his grand metaphors, it is natural to laugh at the comparison, take little notice, and continue reading. But, in this case, the comparison has several layers of depth since Charlotte, too, has much in common with another Homerian character: Penelope. Charlotte's character resonates with Penelope's because they share many roles: both play the nurturing mother, the loyal wife. And, paradoxically they play these roles of the mother and wife while simultaneously acting as unconscious sirens. Because both Charlotte's and Werther's lives are fashioned so closely to Penelope's and the suitors, Werther's relationship with Charlotte also parallels the suitors' treatment by Penelope: he is destroyed by his love for her.

Upon first reading, Werther's comparison of himself and the suitors from The Odyssey seems to just be ironic, a device that Goethe uses to create humor. Soon after meeting Charlotte for the first time, Werther describes how gathering sugar peas and cooking...

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