Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 571
Jacob Michael Reinhold Lenz
Jacob Michael Reinhold Lenz, a talented poet of the German Storm and Stress movement. At the age of twenty-seven, Lenz is no longer able to write and has gone to the small town of Waldbach, hoping to ease his mental suffering, which verges on insanity. His alternating mood swings and strange behavior reveal a deeply troubled personality. Physically, Lenz is shy and blond, with a child’s face and generally unkempt clothes. As a writer, he opposes idealism and insists instead on a reality portrayed so that the reader responds emotionally. At the beginning of this prose fragment, Lenz is desperate to save himself from the abyss of madness. Amid the normal, everyday activities of the village and with the soothing company of Oberlin, he finds a certain amount of peace and is able to fit into society. His tenuous hold on sanity is soon upset by the thought that he might have to leave Waldbach, and he begins to show increasing symptoms of mental breakdown: He suffers tremendous guilt and a religious crisis; he uses self-inflicted pain to combat the cold, dead feeling inside; he creates strange pranks in his mind and makes horrible faces; he talks to himself constantly to dispel an intense loneliness; and finally, when his attacks begin to occur during the day as well as at night, he attempts suicide.
Johann Friedrich Oberlin
Johann Friedrich Oberlin, a Pietist pastor in the Alsatian town of Waldbach in Steinthal. Extremely well liked and trusted by the townspeople, Oberlin easily offers advice, prayer, consolation, and instruction. At the age of thirty-eight, he is married and quite comfortable and satisfied as a family man and pastor of a small town. Generous and compassionate, he willingly takes Lenz in and cares for him, without knowing about his situation. Such action corresponds to Oberlin’s view of God’s will, that he help the less fortunate. He also enjoys Lenz’s company and comes to care deeply about him. He exudes an inner peace and attempts to give Lenz a refuge. Because he becomes so important to Lenz, he precipitates a serious crisis when he supports Kaufmann’s opinion that Lenz should obey his father and return home.
Christopher Kaufmann, a friend of many of the Storm and Stress poets. He had taken Lenz into his home for several months before Lenz went to Waldbach. A rather prosaic figure, he is a supporter of the idealist period in literature, which was then popular. His arrival at Oberlin’s home with his fiancée triggers a psychological crisis when he tells Lenz about Lenz’s father’s letters demanding that Lenz return home and stop wasting his time in Waldbach. Kaufmann complicates the problem by taking Oberlin away from Lenz at this critical time to go to Switzerland with him.
Madame Oberlin, Pastor Oberlin’s wife. She is in many ways a reflection of Oberlin himself, gentle and compassionate, accepting Lenz as he is and asking no questions about the past. When his condition becomes evident, she prays for him and substitutes as a good listener while her husband is in Switzerland.
Sebastian Scheidecker (SHI-dehk-uhr), a schoolmaster at Bellefosse. He befriended Lenz before this period in his life and comes, at Oberlin’s request, to take Lenz to Strasbourg when suicide attempts make it impossible for Lenz to remain in Waldbach.