Critical Essays The Relationship of the Two Parts of Faust

Goethe himself once described the differences between the two sections of his poem by saying:

The first part is almost entirely subjective; it proceeded entirely from a perplexed, impassioned individual, and his semi-darkness is probably highly pleasing to mankind. But, in the second part, there is scarcely anything of the subjective; here is seen a higher, broader, clearer, more passionless world, and he who has not looked about him and had some experience, will not know what to make of it.

The two parts of the poem are essential elements of a single whole, but their relationship is an indirect and metaphorical one. They present alternative views of the human yearning for truth and fulfillment by exploring different aspects of this same problem. Part One is concerned mainly with highly personal experience, while Part Two treats society as a whole, and Faust develops from a single individual into a symbolic figure who represents the striving spirit of man in the modern world. This distinction between the two parts of the poem has been compared by some critics to the medieval philosophical conception of the microcosm and macrocosm; Part One is said to portray the "small world" of inner experience and Part Two the "great world" of social institutions, ideological systems and intellectual institutions. Thus, both sections mirror different aspects of the same philosophical theme.

Part Two of Faust is less fragmentary than the first in structure, and adheres to the conventional dramatic organization of acts and scenes, but in fact it is far more disorganized and difficult to follow. In addition, it has many complicated and abstruse allegorical elements, often drawn from Classical mythology. There are many parallels between episodes and characters in the two parts, and comparison of these offers heightened insights into the poem's meaning. The Classical Walpurgis Night, for example, is a counterpart to the medieval one in the first part. It has often been pointed out, also, that the general tone of Part One is Gothic and Romantic, while that of Part Two is Classic and staid. Part One is often read as an individual and self-contained work, but this approach overemphasizes Gretchen's tragedy and hinders the reader from grasping the poem's full meaning. Only by studying the two sections of Faust in conjunction is it possible to fully appreciate what Goethe intended and to understand the philosophical message he was communicating.

Pop Quiz!

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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