Character Analysis Gretchen


Gretchen is a simple, innocent, and pious maiden who develops into a figure of genuine tragic stature. She is essentially pure and innocent, but becomes a willing victim of Faust's seduction due to loneliness, inexperience, resentment of her mother's strictness, and an idealistic naiveté that leads her to assume that Faust's love will be as permanent and unselfish as her own. In a sense her crimes are the result of her innocence, although this does not negate her own responsibility for her downfall. Gretchen has an innate religious sense, and one critic has called her the only true Christian in the poem. This is why she is able to accept her punishment at the end of Part One, and also explains her intuitive aversion to Mephisto and her insight that Faust's plan for escape would be morally unbearable. Gretchen is admitted to Heaven at the close of Part One because, despite her acts, she was never motivated by evil intentions and had acted according to her natural instincts. Although in Goethe's view, positive action is better than negative action, nonetheless humans are basically creative and good, and action is better than non-action, so this entitled Gretchen to an opportunity to find salvation.

Gretchen appears again in the final scene of Part Two as Una Poenitentium, a penitent woman. While Faust's earthly adventures have continued, she has purged herself of sin and has progressed toward the attainment of ultimate Salvation. Her final entrance to Paradise is dependent on the aid of Love, which for Gretchen is represented by Faust. She welcomes him into Heaven because the highest and purest fulfillment of both of them can only be achieved together. At the end of Part One Gretchen's refusal to leave the prison prevented Faust from becoming absolutely dependent on Mephisto's power, and thus made his ultimate salvation possible.

At the end of Part Two her sacrifice is rewarded by the joy of guiding Faust to the highest level of Paradise and, with the aid of his Love, herself rising to the highest sphere.