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

Summary

Martha, the neighbor, is Gretchen's friend. At the opening of the scene she is alone, thinking about the long absence of her husband. Gretchen runs in and tells Martha that she has found another casket of jewels, but this time has not told her mother. Martha advises that she continue to keep it a secret, otherwise these will be taken from her also.

Mephistopheles enters the house and attempts to win the friendship of the women by flattery. He pretends to be a traveler, then claims he knew Martha's husband in Italy and was a witness to his death. Martha is not upset by the news, particularly since her husband left no estate, but wants definite proof so she can be free to remarry.

Mephistopheles flirts with Martha and says he will return with a young companion (Faust) who will attest to the death. He asks that Gretchen be present also, saying that his friend has an eye for attractive girls. Though embarrassed, Gretchen agrees, and a meeting is arranged for that evening in Martha's garden.

Analysis

Martha's worldliness and materialism make her an effective contrast to the innocent and romantic Gretchen, and a human counterpart to Mephistopheles. This scene is important because it shows Gretchen's first moral lapse in her decision to keep the second casket of jewels a secret, and thus is the first step leading to her eventual downfall. Gretchen's motives are not evil — she is moved by a naive joy in what seem to her only pretty baubles. Gretchen's sins will become more serious, but the simplicity and innocence of her motives will not change. She will be victimized by her lack of experience and her faith in human nature.

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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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