Literature Study GuidesFaust Parts 1 And 2Part 2 Act 5 Scenes 5 7 Summary

Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Study Guide

Goethe

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Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Part 2, Act 5, Scenes 5–7 | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Act 5, Scene 5: Great Forecourt of the Palace

Mephistopheles is overseeing a team of lemurs (zombielike creatures) digging a grave. Faust joins them, happy to hear what he believes to be his men working. He tells Mephistopheles to have workers drain a certain swamp—the last place he needs to make livable. He foresees millions living there happy and free. While imagining this, Faust "enjoy[s] the highest, supreme moment." At this climactic point, he collapses. Mephistopheles sees all Faust's striving as "empty, meaningless." Whatever is created, he says, "just as well might not have been."

Part 2, Act 5, Scene 6: Burial

The specters take Faust's body to his tomb for burial. Mephistopheles is prepared for Faust's soul to put up a fight, remarking that souls don't go as willingly as they once did. Indeed, Faust's body is still moving from time to time because his soul is trying to stay in it. Mephistopheles opens the gates of hell and calls on some demons to help him get Faust's soul into hell. His plans are thwarted, though, when light bursts from above and the Heavenly Host arrives, "bringing sinners forgiveness." Despite Mephistopheles's exhortations, his demons falter and finally "tumble,/Tail first down to hell." The young angels tell him love is the power that's defeating him. Even Mephistopheles feels its attraction and starts flirting somewhat rudely with the angels. All this love makes his skin break out in boils. Suddenly the angels are gone, and Mephistopheles realizes they've stolen Faust's soul. He's been cheated. The power of love, he admits, is "no small thing."

Part 2, Act 5, Scene 7: Mountain Ravines

In a wild, mountainous landscape, a group of hermits live among the souls of unbaptized children and repentant sinners. It is here that the young angels who tricked Mephistopheles in Scene 6 bring Faust's soul and report on their success. One of the penitent souls is Gretchen's. She asks the Mater Gloriosa if she can be Faust's teacher, and Mary tells her that if she rises up, Faust will soon follow. Doctor Marianus sings Mary's praises, and a mystical chorus sings in praise of redemption and woman, who "eternally/Shows us the road."

Analysis

Mephistopheles cannot speak openly to any of the human characters in Faust—not even to Faust. With most characters he can't even give away his identity, and with Faust he must appear to be doing Faust's bidding, not his own. As a result, Mephistopheles is most honest in his asides to the audience and his comments to the few demons and evil spirits he conjures. His aside about all of Faust's work being something for "the demon Neptune to gulp down with pleasure," for example, is something Faust could never hear. If Faust were to see his life's main work in that light, he would never experience his "supreme moment," and Mephistopheles would never win his bet with Faust.

But this is how Mephistopheles sees everything, whether the works of man or of nature. It's all transitory to him. As Goethe said, Mephistopheles "is a living result of an extensive acquaintance with the world," which makes him a "very difficult" character. His experience tells him that the natural "elements work with us" and ultimately result in "death, destruction, ruin." Accordingly, after Faust's collapse, from Mephistopheles's perspective, Faust has created nothing. He knows that someday it will all be gone, even if that time is millennia away. For the Devil, all time is one.

As a human being, Faust's perspective is the exact opposite. He foresees centuries of people living free and happy on the land he reclaimed. Whereas Mephistopheles expects the sea to rush in and wash away Faust's creation, Faust expects the sea's incursion to be noticed and blocked by "common impulse." Humanity, Faust believes, must strive each day. That is what he has done, and he expects no less of others. His view of humanity is noticeably more positive than it was in Part 1 of Faust.

When Faust envisions the conclusion of his great work nearing, he feels fulfilled. Mephistopheles rejoices in having wrapped up their agreement. But has he? Faust only imagines the completion of his project; therefore, his sense of fulfillment may be seen as hypothetical, not real. Perhaps he has found a loophole after all in his contract with Mephistopheles.

Whether or not that is the case, certainly Mephistopheles has lost his wager with the Lord. In the Prologue in Heaven, the Lord said, "While man still strives, still he must err" and "For all his dark impulses, imperfect sight,/A good man always knows the way that's right." In Scene 5 it's clear Faust knows what's right and he has even given up use of dark magic, so he is certainly as worthy of redemption as any other sinner who repents. The Lord also said in the Prologue that he wouldn't interfere with Mephistopheles's attempt to subvert Faust as long as Faust "walks the earth." That is certainly a clever loophole, and it's clear that, as with Job, the Lord never intended to abandon Faust. So, while Mephistopheles feels cheated in Scene 6, the Lord is acting completely in accordance with the small print of their agreement.

Readers might be surprised that the battle for Faust's soul in Scene 6 ends up being in fact funny. Mephistopheles is as witty as ever as he berates his turn-tail demons and complains about the angels' activities. His susceptibility to love is also amusing—not only because of his attraction to angels, but because of the physical discomforts he suffers.

In contrast, Scene 7 is largely serious in tone. The scene is set among mountain peaks. The beings there are those in the act of leaving their earthly lives (transcendent hermits, penitent sinners) or those caught between Earth and Heaven (unbaptized souls). Gretchen is in this beautiful place, and it is likely that her child is here as well. Faust joins them because his striving has redeemed him: The angels sing "Who strives, and keeps on striving still,/For him there is salvation." Goethe considered these lines to contain "the key to Faust's salvation." He said, "In Faust himself, there is an activity which becomes constantly higher and purer to the end, and from above there is eternal love coming to his aid."

The last lines of Scene 7 wrap up a few of the major ideas discussed in Faust. First, they respond to Mephistopheles's comments on the fleeting nature of creation, elevating the "transitory" to the "symbolic" and rectifying "insufficiency." They also return to Faust's early consideration of the word logos, saying that "here"—that is, in Goethe's conception of eternal life—the inexpressible "is pure word." This refers to Proverbs 30:5: "Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him."

The last two lines significantly confirm the symbolic role of women in Faust: They lead the way just as various women have tried to turn Faust away from Mephistopheles and just as Gretchen's soul will lead Faust's as she rises toward heaven. It is the love of a woman that saves Faust. Like so much in Part 2, this is reminiscent of the final lines of Dante's Paradiso, where he speaks of "the love that moves the sun and other stars."

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