‘Key’ and ‘Treasure Chest’ Configurations in Goethe’s Works: A Comparative Overview in Poetological Perspective

Hellmut Ammerlahn


Goethe’s self-reflection as a poet and his life-long investigation into the creative as well as the perilous power of the imagination are analyzed in this article which traces varying configurations of the interrelated motifs of ‘key’ and ‘treasure chest’ in works from Triumph der Empfindsamkeit to Wanderjahre and Faust II. The study demonstrates Goethe’s increasing understanding, mastery, and poetological depiction especially of the artistic imagination in correlation with other cognitive faculties. Key and treasure chest constellations assume generally symbolic and specifically epistemological significance when linked to the three principal expressions and directions the imagination takes in Goethe’s oeuvre: While the Faust dramas are characterized by the instrumental “Mephistophelian fantasy,” the “therapeutic imagination” clearly dominates both Wilhelm Meister novels. The combination of the latter with the “playfully creative imagination” in two of Goethe’s fairy tales initiates an amazing metamorphosis and expansion of the key and treasure chest motif, ingeniously merging meaning and enchantment. (HA)