Wendla Bergmann never had a Chance

TW: rape

This essay is an adaptation of one I wrote for class. It’s not a direct copy/paste of the essay, however. I don’t think they essay’s tone fits my blog very well…plus the essay wasn’t in English. I might link to my essay in the future, but for now I wanted to talk about some of my thoughts on the subject matter.

Wendla Bergmann is a character in Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play Frühlings Erwachen. She is a fourteen-year-old girl discovers his sexuality while her mother tries to force her to remain a child. Frühlings Erwachen can be translated as Spring Awakening and there is a musical loosely based on the play, but I’m focusing on Wedekind’s original text here.

Frühlings Erwachung focuses around a group of 14-15 year old students, but Wendla Bergmann and Melchoir Gabor fascinate me in their arcs and interactions. Melchoir is on the other end of the spectrum in a way. He knows a LOT about sexuality, and he is the only real source of sex education for both Wendla and his friend Moritz Steifel. And neither person is happy at the end of the play. They’re not alive at the end either, but that’s not Melchoir’s fault. Still, it’s interesting when you look at the play to explore the utter failings of the parents and teachers here.

Wendla is at the cusp of her sexual awakening, and in fact has reached the age of consent in Germany, where this play takes place. Then again, that’s by modern legal standards and I haven’t been able to find any concrete age of consent laws from Wedekind’s time. Still, as far as the law is concerned she is an adult and fully capable of consenting to sex. But she can’t still, because she has faced so many roadblocks that ultimately she had to pay the ultimate price for.

Spoiler alert: Wendla Bergemann dies. After a sexual encounter with Melchoir she ends up getting pregnant. After a botched abortion attempt, she dies. The thing is, at no point does she have any say in what was happening to her, and in fact she didn’t have the tools that she needed to make a sound decision regarding her sexuality.

First of all, the “sex scene”. I hesitate to call it that because that phrase implies that it’s a consensual scene that’s meant to be in some way enjoyable for the audience. This was not that at all. In a scene that aged…interestingly, Wendla has her first sexual encounter with Melchoir in the loft of a barn. The thing is, the lack of consent wasn’t even implied. She explicitly said no. She repeated “don’t, don’t” as the scene progressed. While at the time Wedekind intended for the scene to be more ambiguous, and in the text itself it leaves room for confusion between Melchoir and Wendla. This infamous scene is the first in which Wendla’s agency is stripped away and and she has to deal with the consequences.

The next person that thoroughly takes away Wendla’s ability to decide her own fate is her own mother. Frau Bergemann refuses to tell Wendla about pregnancy when she essentially begs her to. As a result, Wendla has no idea that she is pregnant. She thinks that she has to be married for pregnancy to be possible, when her mother meant that she should abstain from sexual activity until after she is married. But since Frau Bergemann won’t give her daughter a straight answer, she suffers.

Also, since Wendla doesn’t know that she’s pregnant, she thinks she’s ill when she’s experiencing the early symptoms of pregnancy. Her mother makes the decision to abort the pregnancy, which leads to her death. Because Wendla didn’t have the knowledge that she needed, she had no say in the decision that ultimately ended her life.

So that’s why I say that Wendla Bergemann never had a chance. Every circumstance that she faces through the play works against her and gets in the way of her making the decisions that she needed to so that she could simply survive to the end of the play. Everybody that should have been supporting her failed her. She stood alone against her circumstances, and ultimately she succumbed to them.

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