An uncertain period of time has gone by since the last scene. Gretchen and Lisbeth, another young woman, are at the town well drawing water. Lisbeth gossips about a maiden of their acquaintance who has been made pregnant by her lover. She makes some bitter comments about the girl's character and predicts that the man will not marry her. Gretchen reacts to this story with sympathy.
After Lisbeth leaves, Gretchen muses on the lack of understanding she once had shown for girls in this predicament. Now that she is pregnant also, though no one else knows as yet, she has learned compassion. Lisbeth's predictions about the other girl's lover make Gretchen more aware of her own plight, for Faust has abandoned her. Gretchen does not understand what drove her to sin, but insists to herself that her motives were pure.
Originally in her idyllic affair with Faust, Gretchen had acted naturally and without submitting to the inhibitions of convention, following what one critic has called, "the divine right of emotion." Her only justification for her actions had been subjective. Now she is beginning to accept society's standards again, is regaining the conventional absolute distinctions between right and wrong, and will soon become a victim of the destructive forces set loose by a sense of guilt.