Poem Summary


Heinrich Faust, a learned scholar, feels that none of his many achievements has provided him with satisfaction or a sense of fulfillment. He yearns to gain knowledge of absolute truth and the meaning of existence. Faust turns to magic in the hope of finding a solution and finally makes a pact with the devil. He agrees to sell his soul if the devil can give him one moment of experience which is so rewarding that his sense of alienation disappears and he calls upon that moment to stay as it is forever.

In Part One of the poem, Faust attempts, with the devil's help, to find happiness through emotional involvement. His tragic love affair with Gretchen ends in her death, but Faust is much chastened by this experience. In Part Two he tries to satisfy his craving through temporal accomplishments and exposure to all that the world can offer in terms of ideas and externalized gratifications. He attains an important position at the Imperial Court, learns much from the figures of classical antiquity, woos Helen of Troy, wins great victories, and is renowned for his public works, but none of these things gives him lasting peace of mind.

Faust dies bitter and disillusioned. He is finally admitted to heaven by God's grace, in reward for his endless striving after knowledge of goodness and truth, and his courageous resolution to believe in the existence of something higher than himself.