Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Werther mentions suicide even before he considers it himself, and after he falls in love with Charlotte it becomes clear that he is a suicide risk as he mentions this often in his letters to Wilhelm. Werther and Albert have a long argument about suicide after Werther, supposedly in jest, puts one of Albert’s unloaded pistols to his head. This allows Werther to discuss the notion of suicide hypothetically, and to say the words out loud without fear of judgment. He also considers suicide, along with murder, as a means of venting his intense emotions that surface in the wake of the scandal he creates at court.  

Unrequited Love

Werther’s descent into madness is the direct result of his inability to fulfill his desire to be with Charlotte, but he is not the only character to suffer from such a fate. The young peasant man who falls in love with a widow captivates Werther’s imagination so intensely that by the time he meets Charlotte, his heart is particularly vulnerable. The chaste aspect of the young peasant man’s love for his mistress is especially appealing to Werther. Werther defends the young man even when he learns that the young man’s supposedly virtuous passion turned to lust and he forced himself upon the widow because Werther can empathize with him. He also empathizes with Henry, a pleasant but pitiable young man whose love for the wrong woman led to his dismissal from a good job he liked, and ultimately robbed him of his sanity. 

New Beginnings

Werther does not detail the past troubles that caused the unpredictable moods he alludes to in his first letter to Wilhelm, but it is clear he is enjoying the respite from them that his new locale offers him. His inability to find society there ultimately stifles him, however, and he gladly accepts the opportunity to begin anew in Waldheim. Once his emotions threaten to completely consume him, Werther opts for a fresh start at court, and when things sour there as well, he unsuccessfully attempts to join the army.

Werther’s wealth and status allow him the luxury of starting over in a new location, but the people whom he meets in Walheim and at court seem utterly rooted there. This allows them to make deep connections, but also limits their opportunity for reinvention. Once Werther has exhausted his options he circles back to Walheim, where he will ultimately meet his end.