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Course Hero, "Faust (Parts 1 and 2) Study Guide," July 20, 2017, accessed July 19, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Faust-Parts-1-and-2/.

Faust (Parts 1 and 2) | Plot Summary

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Summary

The two parts of Faust are very different in form, content, and style. Part 1 is written in a series of scenes, but not in acts. The poetry is largely rhyming doggerel—light verse meant to be funny and characterized by uneven rhythm—of the kind that had been common in German popular literature since the 16th century. The story is contained in several German settings, and the characters would have been familiar to local German readers.

In contrast, Part 2 has a more formal five-act structure. Its poetic forms are varied, some hearkening to classical origins. Similarly, it is peopled by emperors and nobles as well as characters drawn from classical mythology and even the Bible. The plot and setting are wide ranging, even grandiose. In fact, Goethe agreed with his friend Johann Eckermann, who suggested that Faust "begin[s] as a tragedy and end[s] as an opera."

Part 1

Mephistopheles, also known as the devil or Mephisto for short, meets with the Lord in Heaven and bets he can tempt the Lord's favorite human, Faust, away from goodness. Meanwhile on earth, this eminent scholar Faust is deeply dissatisfied with his life. He believes he has learned everything he can through scholarship and needs to start experiencing life. Mephistopheles turns up in Faust's study and offers to help. They make a contract: Mephistopheles will become Faust's slave on Earth, helping him experience life to the fullest, but if Faust ever feels completely satisfied, he will die immediately and become Mephistopheles's slave in hell.

Mephistopheles takes Faust to visit a witch and get a potion that will make the old professor young again. It's effective, and Faust feels a youthful response to everything around him—especially pretty young women. He sees and immediately falls for a girl called Gretchen, also known as Gretchen. With Mephistopheles's help Faust meets Gretchen, they fall in love, and soon she is pregnant. When her brother, Valentine, learns his once virtuous sister is unmarried and pregnant, he attacks Faust, intending to kill him. With Mephistopheles's help, Faust wounds Valentine mortally. Being unmarried and pregnant is one of the greatest sins a girl can commit, and the village is bound to turn against Gretchen—especially after Valentine brands her a whore with his dying words.

Faust, who has had to flee after killing Valentine, attends a Walpurgis Night celebration with Mephistopheles. Walpurgis Night is the eve of the feast day of St. Walpurga, an English saint who was an abbess in Germany and renowned for her power to heal the sick. Her feast day, May 1, coincides with the traditional pagan celebrations of the coming of spring. In Germany there is a legend that all the witches in the world gather on Walpurgis Night—the night of April 30—on Mt. Brocken, the tallest peak in the Harz Mountains. At this gathering, Faust sees an image of Gretchen; her eyes are corpselike, and there is a red string tied around her neck. The next morning he learns Gretchen has been condemned to death for infanticide. He and Mephistopheles concoct a plan to rescue her. They arrive shortly before dawn on the day she is to be executed, and Faust goes to Gretchen's cell. She is raving when he arrives and thinks he's the hangman. When she realizes who Faust is, though, she still refuses to leave; she believes she deserves her fate. Mephistopheles appears at the door to say they have to leave. Gretchen sees him and panics, suddenly sure he is there to take her soul. She prays to God to save her, and a Voice speaks from above to say, "She is saved!" Faust and Mephistopheles disappear.

Part 2

Faust reappears sleeping in a field. Earth spirits bathe him in the waters of the mythical Lethe river, which makes him forget all about Gretchen. He wakes after a good sleep and finds life wonderful.

Mephistopheles arrives at the German Emperor's court. The Emperor, who likes to celebrate, is unhappy because his counselors insist he focus on the empire's financial problems instead. Mephistopheles claims to have a remedy: print money secured by the gold in the ground beneath the empire. He introduces Faust as the man who can find the gold and extract it. First, however, the Emperor and his counselors want to see Faust perform some magic. The Emperor wants him to conjure up Paris and Helen of Troy. Mephistopheles can't help directly, but he gives Faust instructions on how to reach the goddesses known as the Mothers. Faust descends into the underworld to meet with them. He is successful in bringing Helen and Paris to the Emperor's palace. However, the moment he sees Helen, Faust is entirely smitten. When Paris appears to be about to rape her, Faust attacks him. There's an explosion, and the two mythical figures disappear. Faust faints.

Unable to wake Faust, Mephistopheles returns to Faust's study, looking for Faust's old student, Wagner. Wagner is now a master alchemist and has just succeeded in creating life in a test-tube. What he has created is a tiny being with a brilliant mind, Homunculus. Homunculus realizes Faust must return to classical Greece. As soon as he touches ground there, Faust wakes up and starts looking for Helen. He, Mephistopheles, and Homunculus go their separate ways and meet mythical people, beasts, spirits, and gods.

Helen and her servants arrive back in Sparta after the Trojan War. Waiting for her in her husband's palace is a housekeeper who looks like an ugly old witch. After convincing Helen and her servants that King Menelaus intends to kill them all, she helps them escape to Faust's castle. Immediately Helen falls in love with Faust. They go to live on the island of Arcadia, where they have a son, Euphorion, who dies in an attempt to fly. Helen hears Euphorion's voice calling to her from the underworld and follows it.

Faust returns to Germany, where he helps the Emperor defeat an uprising. In gratitude, the Emperor gives Faust the shorelines of the empire. Using engineering and magic, Faust reclaims land from the sea and sets up a prosperous trading nation. He owns all the land there except for one parcel belonging to an old couple. When he sends soldiers to clear the old couple from their property and move them to a new home, fear of the soldiers kills the old people. Faust is conscience-stricken, but moves on to his last reclamation project. Envisioning his success, Faust feels a moment of complete satisfaction and dies. Mephistopheles prepares to take Faust's soul to hell, but is thwarted when the Heavenly Host appears and steals it. At the very end, Gretchen's soul shows Faust the way to Heaven.

Faust (Parts 1 and 2) Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675

Introduction

1 Mephistopheles bets God he can tempt Faust to choose evil.

Rising Action

2 Faust makes a pact with the devil.

3 Faust falls in love with Gretchen, who becomes pregnant.

4 Gretchen kills her baby and is condemned to death.

Climax

5 Faust marries Helen, has a child, and loses both.

Falling Action

6 Faust reclaims land from the sea and creates a kingdom.

Resolution

7 Faust dies and, with Gretchen's help, will go to heaven.

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