Faust, Parts 1 and 2 By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Summary and Analysis Part 1: Forest and Cavern

Summary

Torn by the ambivalence between his unselfish love for Gretchen and his passionate desire for her, Faust seeks the solitude of the woods for his thoughts. He is grateful for the new joy in life which his love for Gretchen has given him, but he is undergoing severe emotional pain also because of his unsatiated lust. He realizes despondently that he is becoming dependent on Mephistopheles for the fulfillment of his wishes.

The devil enters and urges Faust to stop brooding. He reminds Faust that it was he who saved him from suicide and who is responsible for his present ecstasy. Furthermore, Mephisto goes on, Faust is only rationalizing when he tries to make his love for Gretchen seem exalted. His interest in the girl is carnal; he ought to admit this and take advantage of the situation.

Faust protests this callous indifference to his feelings, but Mephisto's continued erotic references to Gretchen have stimulated his passion. Still confused by his doubts, Faust can no longer control himself and hurries away to see Gretchen, saying:

I, the loathed of God . . .Her too, her peace, I must undermine . . .This was the sacrifice I owed to Hell!
Help, Devil, to shorten my time of torment!
What must be, must be; hasten it!
Let her fate hurtle down with mine,
Let us go together to the pit!

Analysis

In this crucial transitional scene Faust wrestles with himself and the dual aspects of his nature strive to gain dominance. He is tormented by self-doubts and torn between spirituality and sensuality, conscience and desire, idealism and nihilism — in effect, between the ways of life represented by Gretchen and Mephisto. Faust reproaches himself but cannot maintain his balance. Mephisto is unable to convince Faust that his feelings for Gretchen are only physical. Faust is so confused and demoralized that he retreats from further debate and follows the path of least emotional resistance — that to Gretchen's bed — with no concern for the possible consequences, her welfare, or his own ethical qualms.

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At the beginning of Part Two, what solution does Mephistopheles, dressed as a jester, give for the kingdom's financial problems?




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