Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Study Guide

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Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Part 1, Scenes 7–13 | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Scene 7: A Street

In a very different and less fanstastical setting, Faust, apparently out for a walk, sees Gretchen passing and offers his arm. She has just left church and rebuffs him. He tells Mephistopheles he must have her, but Mephistopheles warns she's "the soul of innocence" and it won't be easy. He promises to take Faust to her room that evening while the girl is visiting a neighbor.

Part 1, Scene 8: Evening

Gretchen's room is small and tidy. She's doing her hair and speculating on the man who approached her earlier: "He seemed a fine man, decent, good." After she leaves, Mephistopheles brings Faust in and leaves him there. Faust explores the room, thinking of Gretchen and imagining her childhood; he looks at the bed and pictures her sleeping there innocently. His lust, he realizes, has turned to love. When Mephistopheles returns to warn that the girl is returning, Faust says he'll "never come here again." But Mephistopheles has a jewel box with "choice things in it" and puts it in the closet for Gretchen to find. When she returns, Gretchen finds the atmosphere in the room oppressive and has a sense of foreboding. She sings a song about a man whose dying mistress gives him a cup he treasures above all else but which he one day throws into the sea. Putting away her clothes, Gretchen finds the jewel box. Inside is expensive jewelry. Gretchen tries it on and thinks how little value beauty has; what men really want in a woman is money. "Oh us poor people," she exclaims.

Part 1, Scene 9: Out Walking

Mephistopheles is angry. When Gretchen's mother saw the jewelry, she made her daughter give it all to the church. The priest, Mephistopheles says, pocketed the items "as if they were the cheapest household things" and thanked them as much "as a body gets for a mouldy potato." Gretchen, he says, is fretting about the jewelry and wondering who gave it to her. Faust orders Mephistopheles to get her more and better jewelry.

Part 1, Scene 10: The Neighbor's House

Gretchen goes to visit her neighbor Marthe, whose husband has disappeared. Gretchen has found another box in her closet containing jewelry "more splendid/Than the first ones." Gretchen says she can't wear them in public, and Marthe says she should feel free to wear them whenever she comes to visit. There's a knock at the door. It's Mephistopheles. He informs Marthe that her husband died in Padua and is buried there. Mephistopheles advises her to find another man and flirts with her, saying, "I'd marry you myself." She's flattered, but in an aside to the audience, Mephistopheles calls her "an ogress [who'd] sue the Devil for breach of promise." Marthe needs proof of her husband's death, which requires two witnesses. They agree to meet that evening. Mephistopheles says he'll bring a gentleman he knows and tells Marthe to bring her "young friend," Gretchen.

Part 1, Scene 11: A Street

Mephistopheles tells Faust his plan: Faust is to confirm he has seen Marthe's husband's grave. Faust says he won't lie, but Mephistopheles talks him into it.

Part 1, Scene 12: A Garden

In Marthe's garden Mephistopheles walks with Marthe while Faust walks with Gretchen. Marthe flirts with Mephistopheles, unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, Faust and Gretchen declare their love for each other. She runs up the garden path, and he follows her. Marthe tells Mephistopheles she can't ask him in because people will talk; then she discovers "our little couple" is missing. Mephistopheles tells her they "Flew/Up that path like butterflies."

Part 1, Scene 13: A Summerhouse

Gretchen runs into a summerhouse and hides behind the door. When Faust discovers her, they laugh and kiss. Mephistopheles knocks and tells Faust they must leave; Marthe is close behind. Gretchen says she must go home to her mother. The two men leave, and Gretchen wonders aloud what "such a man" sees in her, "an ignorant child."

Analysis

In this series of scenes, the focus passes from Mephistopheles to Faust and his new love, Gretchen. Faust and the girl have fallen in love at first sight, and these seven scenes take them from that first meeting through to their first kiss. Despite the plot focus on Faust and Gretchen, the audience learns a great deal more about Mephistopheles, who is the mover and shaker behind Faust's success with Gretchen. Not only does he steal boxes of jewelry to leave as gifts in Gretchen's closet, but he uses Marthe's missing husband as an excuse to get Faust and Gretchen together. In all of this, it is his supernatural knowledge of humans' lives that enables him to ensure Faust's success. He even gets Faust to do something against his own moral code: to lie to Marthe attesting that her husband is dead. At the same time, Mephistopheles manages to get Gretchen to commit her first sin: keeping the second box of jewelry hidden from her mother. Slowly, it appears, he is making progress toward winning his wager with the Lord. But what about his bet with Faust?

Almost every scene in Faust has something in it that reminds the audience that Mephistopheles is the devil, even if indirectly. For instance, in Scene 8, when Gretchen finds the room warm but notices that it's cool outside, the audience realizes the heat came from Mephistopheles, who carries some of the warmth of hell's fires with him. He has also left an unsettling atmosphere. Gretchen feels afraid, and her song indicates she is thinking about lost love and death. In Scene 9 the audience learns that when Gretchen showed her mother the jewelry, her mother could feel the devil's taint on it. To some extent, Mephistopheles's plans are foiled—at least temporarily—by the truly holy. Apparently, the Lord was correct when he asserted that some people are incorruptible. But is Faust one of them?

In these scenes, the audience meets Gretchen and Marthe. They are friends despite what must be quite an age gap. Gretchen is a naive churchgoing teenager (older than 14, according to Faust) who's very close to her mother. According to her history with her sister, whom she raised almost like a daughter but who died, she is self-sacrificing by nature. Since her brother is away in the army, she lives alone with her mother and keeps the house. At the same time, she is very self-aware. For instance, she knows she's beautiful, but also knows beauty has little real value. She also knows she's inexperienced, which makes her wonder what a man of the world would see in her. Although this knowledge should make her suspicious of Faust's interest, her youthful trust and infatuation overcome her suspicions.

Marthe, in contrast, is certainly a middle-aged woman. From what Mephistopheles says to her about her husband, it is evident that she raised children with him. Since they are not seen or mentioned otherwise, it's possible they have already left home. But it's unlikely she's older than middle aged as she is still interested in men and possible marriage. She is not a highly religious person, and her actions are sometimes morally ambiguous. This can be seen in her advice to Gretchen about the second jewelry box. Gretchen, she says, should keep it hidden from her mother; instead, the two of them can enjoy it at Marthe's house. Later, she keeps hinting that Mephistopheles should replace her husband but, despite her obvious interest in him, doesn't invite him in. This is not out of a sense of morality but because the neighbors will talk. She seems to apply the same moral ambiguity to Gretchen: Faust should leave because it's late, not because it's wrong for the two to be caught kissing in the summerhouse.

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