Portland State University. Department of World Languages and Literatures.
Steven N. Fuller
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in German
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749-1832. Wahlverwandtschaften
1 online resource (66 p.)
The interpretation of Ottilie in Goethe's Wahlverwandtschaften stems from an understanding of romantic motifs, which find their most systematic expression in her childlike character. Ottilie embodies the romantic idealization of childhood as a means of withdrawal from the enlightened world, echoing the Romantics' rejection of the disenchanted Age of Enlightenment. Through her portrayal of innocent childlikeness, her adolescent conflict with the rational world, and her final rejection of enlightenment, Ottilie maintains her childlike purity, expressing the romantic ideal of childhood. Ottilie's childlike emotional disposition puts her in conflict with the enlightened world of adults and academia. In an attempt to maintain her childlike innocence, she separates herself from the present world and establishes ties to the medieval past through monastic duties and catholic sympathies. However, Ottilie's attempt to remain separate is futile due to her enlightened surroundings. Her journey toward self-awareness begins as a result of her love for Eduard, whose sexual thoughts of Ottilie launch her into a state of adolescence, against which she unconsciously struggles. Continual contact with the enlightened world weakens Ottilie's efforts to maintain ties to her childlike state. In her weakened condition she is unable to resist Eduard's continual amorous pursuits and openly displays her affection for him with a kiss. Her inner turmoil, resulting from her deliberate indiscretion causes the accidental drowning of Charlotte's and Eduard's baby Otto, which illuminates the iniquitous nature of her love for Eduard. She makes the decision to reject full enlightenment and transcends her human frailty by becoming saint-like. Through renunciation, which results in her sacrificial death, she spurns enlightenment and returns to a state of everlasting purity. As the portrayal of the romantic ideal of a maintained childhood innocence, Ottilie seems to be a vehicle to express either Goethe's commendation of condemnation of Romanticism. For the romantic, Ottilie's life and death are a triumph, for she succeeds in passing from this world, having proceeded from innocent child to saint into everlasting life. For the non-romantic, Ottilie's death is a tragedy, for she never reaches true enlightenment and never develops to her full potential.
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Steele, Melodie Joy, "Ottilie: Expression of the Ideal of Romantic Childlikeness in Goethe's Wahlverwandtschaften" (1996). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5201.