Faust, Parts 1 and 2 By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Summary and Analysis Part 1: Martha's Garden

Summary

Faust and Gretchen are together in the garden. She has noticed that he never participates in any religious rites, and she is concerned about the state of his soul. She asks whether he believes in religion.

In answer, Faust states his tolerance for the beliefs of other people, despite his contempt for conventional religion and orthodox theology. He defines God as the creative spirit of the universe and describes his personal faith in Nature and human emotions as manifestations of this cosmic guiding force. He explains:

Then call it what you will — Happiness! Heart! Love! God!
I have no name for it!
Feeling is all;
Name is mere sound and reek
Clouding Heaven's light.

Analysis

Faust's answer is an equivocating one and demonstrates a contempt for reason and analytical thought. His creed, as given here, visualizes God as a dynamic force that imbues all of life with vitality and form. It can only be known by feeling and intuition, and not through artificial rituals or systems of belief. To recognize this force is to worship it, and the name one uses is of no importance. To a certain extent this is a statement of Goethe's own beliefs, but Faust overemphasizes the importance of sensory experience because of the influence Mephisto has on him. Faust's real concern here is not to give a complete or even a truthful answer, although he is truthful, but only to overcome a potential barrier between himself and Gretchen.

Faust's reply has not fully satisfied Gretchen, but she turns to another source of anxiety — her intuitive distrust and fear of Mephistopheles. Faust reassures her, then asks permission to come to her room that night. Gretchen's only objection is that her mother might overhear. Faust gives her a sleeping potion for the old woman. They arrange their rendezvous and Gretchen leaves.

Mephistopheles enters and comments sardonically about Gretchen's concern for Faust's religious status. Faust defends her, but Mephisto responds with some caustic remarks about Faust's interest in the girl. He adds that he will share Faust's pleasure with her in the coming night.

The devil's keen understanding of Faust's character is shown by his observation that Faust is really not loathe to violate Gretchen's trust and that the spirituality in her, that Faust continually praises, is just another source of her sensual attraction for him. The devil's final remark implies his belief that the damnations of Faust and Gretchen will be ensured by their tryst that night. He will enjoy snaring both their immortal souls, and, as a result, winning his wager with God.

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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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