Fiction – von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang
– Classic German Literature
– OhMyGod when is this going to end?!
Dear The Sorrows of Young Werther,
I read you as part of a favor to a friend. He had written a treatment for a screenplay that updated your story and put it in a modern setting. He wanted me, with my brand new English degree, to read the treatment and give him my thoughts. I wanted to be able to understand the story from its point of origin and so picked you up and dived in.
Oh, my god! You almost put me on anti-depressants. I mean, Werther is a complete loser who kills himself after everything in his life goes to shit. And, of course, his shit life revolves around a woman. An engaged woman.
Most of what I remember about you is that the protagonist whines constantly. Like through the entire story. Whine, whine, whine. And then he kills himself. He was a total Emo prototype. Give him a pair of black, taper-leg jeans and a bad dye job and he would have all the early-2000 tween girls swooning.
And, yeah, I know it’s supposed to be autobiographical and it IS written in the form of a diary and sequence of letters. But, see, that’s why diaries and personal letters are usually burned after their authors die. Because the contents are often so damn embarrassing and filled with nothing but whining. We can’t all be Anais Nin for crying out loud!
Now, you do take on a very tough subject – suicide. A subject that has never been irrelevant unfortunately. And that has gained even more momentum in modern times over that past decade or so. And you do make a good point about the impossibility of understanding someone else’s interior life:
“It is in vain that a man of sound mind and cool temper understands the condition of such a wretched being, in vain he counsels him. He can no more communicate his own wisdom to him than a healthy man can instil his strength into the invalid by whose bedside he is seated.”
But, I think this is why the subject of suicide is so rarely taken on by authors. Because it is SOOOO difficult to create a story and protagonist that illustrates this most devastating of subjects without seeming pathetic, even irritating. The depressed person doesn’t MEAN to be pathetic or irritating, just like I’m sure YOU didn’t mean to be. But to someone outside of the situation, who doesn’t have the context of the person’s psyche, all he/she hears is “Blah, blah, blah, life is shit and everyone hates me. Blah, blah, blah.” Which is why a lot of people struggling with depression don’t talk about it. They figure no one cares. And, to a certain extent, their right. Let’s be honest here (otherwise insurance would be way better about covering mental health care)
I’m convinced that why so many depressed people end up as comedians. They try to so hard to convince everyone around them that life is grand, to NOT be irritating and pathetic, that they end up withering away inside.
And, please keep in mind that I to have depression. Have had since I was ten-years-old. I’ve contemplated suicide and dwelt in the “depths of despair” (love you Anne of Green Gables). But, damn, you not only made me more depressed, but EMBARRASSED to be depressed. Sorry, but Werther was a great example of why society doesn’t take mental illness seriously.