Die Neuen Leiden Des Jungen W.

For our project, we looked at Ulrich Plenzdorf’s short novella “Die neuen Leiden des jungen W.”—which is based off of Goethe’s classic novel “Die Leiden des jungen Werthers”. Plenzdorf’s version is a social critique of the GDR—using a disjointed narration that also fell under Communist censors, the reader must guess at the main character, Edgar Wibeau’s, actual meaning. The story begins with Edgar already dead (an accident or suicide?), however, the majority of the story is Edgar narrating flashbacks in his life and idealizing Western Culture, whilst the those left behind continue having conversations about him.

What we did was attempt to mark up this story in a way that would allow the reader to see the events unfold chronologically—as opposed to the originally non-linear timeline. We marked up the text into scenes which we created ourselves—since there are no real chapters or page breaks. In the Text section of our site, you can jump to the different scenes that we have created, so no unnecessary scrolling needs to take place. We then added flashback (all the main events that lead up to his death), conversation (that all take place post-mortem), and event elements to the XML and numbered them to help us put our story in order. All the flashbacks come first, followed by events and conversations (all with a well-formed schema). With our finished timeline (using XSLT and SVG), the reader should be able to see the original flow of the story versus the chronological one we created. This shows the unreliability (commentary on the censorship of the communist GDR) of the narrator, as well as the generally erratic behavior of the character Edgar himself—not unlike his original counterpart, Werther.

We also marked up any blatant East and West culture references—since Edgar likes to indulge in telling the readers anything that floats through the transom of his mind (like how much he loves blue jeans and J.D. Salinger). We hypothesized that as Edgar’s life progressed; he would go deeper into depression and would reference the conformity of the East more. While this actually seemed generally speaking to be the case—what we noticed something much more apparent and significant: it wasn’t when Edgar talked about the East or West, it was how long he talked about them. There is a significant difference between the amount of time Edgar spends idealizing and idolizing things from Western culture, as opposed to that of his own. Edgar speaks about the East almost only when stating a fact—it is brief, and rather emotionless.

You can find our timeline and bar graphs of east and west refernces on the Analysis page. We hope that those using our site will utilize the timeline to see our protagonist Edgar’s unreliability and disjointed story telling skills—of course due to the heavy censorship. And also be able to follow him in his life, by witnessing how idolizing Western culture and also conforming to the East, made him so sporadic.

The timeline shows the non-linear nature of the story by connecting Edgar's flashbacks, the events in his life, and the conversations about him that take place after his death on the bottom row of numbers with the narrative events on the top row of numbers. It becomes obvious that the story is disjointed, with flashbacks interspersed between conversations and the jumbled narrative fits the erratic nature of the main character.

The graphs show that Edgar references the West more earlier in his life, as he is less depressed and farther away from suicide. As time progresses, references to the West become rarer, while references to the East remain terse and a part of the everyday reality of living in the Communist GDR.