Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Study Guide

Goethe

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Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Part 1, Scenes 14–20 | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Scene 14: Forest and Cavern

Alone in a cave, Faust thanks the Spirit of the Earth for giving him a new appreciation of the wonders of nature. He also thanks him for the "familiar" Faust cannot do without—Mephistopheles, who fans the flames of Faust's passion for Gretchen. Mephistopheles arrives and tells Faust off for "mooning about" and leaving Gretchen to suffer from his absence. Faust doesn't want to take her innocence, but Mephistopheles convinces him they are both suffering. Finally, Faust gives in and tells Mephistopheles to "Let happen quick what has to happen."

Part 1, Scene 15: Gretchen's Room

Gretchen sits at her spinning wheel, pining for Faust.

Part 1, Scene 16: Marthe's Garden

Gretchen asks Faust if he believes in God. She suspects he doesn't, but he refuses to say that. He believes in love, he says, in their feeling for each other. She also wishes he did not keep company with Mephistopheles, whom she hates. He is so sarcastic and yet angry. In his face she can see "there's nothing he cares for" and everyone is "his enemy." When he's nearby, she can't pray and she almost can't even love Faust. Faust wants to "pass a quiet time alone together," and so does Gretchen. But she is worried that her mother, who's a light sleeper, might catch them. Faust gives her a sleeping potion; three drops will "lull her into a pleasant slumber." Gretchen agrees and leaves. Mephistopheles, who has been hiding, has overheard their conversation and makes light of it.

Part 1, Scene 17: At the Well

When she goes to draw water at the village well, Gretchen runs into Lieschen, who tells her that an unmarried village girl named Barbara has gotten pregnant. Lieschen says it serves Barbara right for being so "stuck up." Gretchen feels sorry for Barbara. As she heads for home, she remembers how she herself used to be "scornful/Of any girl who got herself in trouble." But now, she's the sinner.

Part 1, Scene 18: The City Wall

Gretchen comes to a statue of Mary at the foot of the cross. She leaves flowers and prays for Mary to "save [her] from shame and death."

Part 1, Scene 19: Night

Valentine, Gretchen's brother, stands on the street outside her house, angry and ashamed that she has become pregnant. He sees two men and is sure one is "that rat." Valentine intends to kill him. Unaware, Faust is looking in the vestry window with Mephistopheles and plotting a robbery. He hopes to find something special to give his "darling." Mephistopheles sings a ditty warning girls about how men seduce them. Valentine arrives and smashes Mephistopheles's guitar. A sword fight ensues, and Faust stabs Valentine. Faust and Mephistopheles run away. A crowd gathers, including Gretchen and Marthe. Gretchen is horrified to see her brother is dying and even more so when Valentine says she's "a whore, privately" and advises her to "go public." He says she'll be shunned as a "slut" and tells her when she "said goodbye to honor," she struck the worst blow against him. He dies.

Part 1, Scene 20: The Cathedral

At the requiem mass, Gretchen's conscience is tormenting her, telling her she has caused her mother pain. She also worries she is pregnant. These thoughts are made all the worse by the words of the "Dies Irae." Eventually she faints.

Analysis

These scenes see the consummation of Faust and Gretchen's love and its repercussions. The characters indulge in emotional pain of longing and then of remorse. This exultation of feeling is typical of the romantic writers and one of the facets of Faust that makes it such a good example of the period. In Scene 14 it is Faust who is enjoying the heightened sensitivities brought about by being in love. He experiences nature much more intensely—another hallmark of romanticism.

In Scene 15 it is Gretchen who is suffering. As she sits alone in her room spinning, she is overwhelmed by her feelings of longing for Faust. It's likely that her lines, which inspired a teenaged Franz Schubert (1797–1828) to set them to music in 1814, were also in the mind of the English poet Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864) when he saw a fragment by the Greek poet Sappho (c. 620–c. 550 BCE) in 1846 and turned them into this poignant verse:

Mother, I cannot mind my wheel;
My fingers ache, my lips are dry:
Oh! if you felt the pain I feel!
But Oh, who ever felt as I!

In Scene 16, when Gretchen shows deep concern over Faust's agnosticism, he refuses to assign the name "God" to what he believes in. "Feeling is all," he says—a concise and very often quoted essential summary of the supreme tenet of romanticism.

In Scenes 18, 19, and 20, it's clear that Faust is still in love and enjoying his romance with Gretchen. She, on the other hand, is already suffering because she has sinned against the teachings of the church and transgressed against the social morals her family and neighbors embrace. It seems as though everyone she meets, from Leischen to her own brother, is set on heightening her emotional pain. In Scene 20 it's hard to know if she faints from the surfeit of emotion or as a symptom of pregnancy.

Lieschen and Valentine represent the voice of society. They judge others—Barbara and Gretchen—on superficial values. Just one transgression, and all the good a person has done is wiped away. Goethe didn't believe in marriage, but he saw that his longtime partner, Christiane, suffered because Weimar society refused to recognize Christiane's status because they weren't married. As she leaves the well in Scene 17, Gretchen admits to herself she was just as cruel as Lieschen, but that now she is the lost sinner. That realization allows her to have sympathy for Barbara, but it also serves as a warning about what will probably happen to her. Lieschen's comments about Barbara are nothing, though, in comparison to Valentine's cruel words to his sister. Goethe's putting words like "whore" and "slut" into the mouth of a dying man drives home his theme of man's inhumanity to man under the wrong influences—here organized religion.

When Faust and Gretchen meet in Marthe's garden in Scene 16, Gretchen uses his first name—Heinrich. (In the Faust legend, his first name is Johann.) Gretchen is the only human in the play to use his Christian name, which makes their relationship seem somehow more intimate than any other relationship he has in the play, even with his wife, Helen in Part 2. The use of first names also reinforces the sense that Faust and Gretchen have a relationship between commoners; in contrast, in Part 2 Faust and Helen are nobility and, what's more, beings of legend. To use first names, even with each other, would somehow undermine their status.

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