Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Desolate Day, in Open Country
Faust knows now that Gretchen is in prison and asks Mephistopheles to help free her. The devil refuses. He says there is no need to be concerned since she is not the first girl to be punished for her sins. Faust becomes infuriated and harangues Mephisto:
Dog! Loathsome monster! . . . Not the first, you say . . . It pierces me to my marrow and core, the torment of this one girl — and you grin calmly at the fate of thousands!
Mephistopheles sneers that humans are always like this. They join forces with the devil but have not the courage or will power to endure the consequences of their decision. He also reminds Faust of his own responsibility for Gretchen's misfortunes. Mephisto says
Now we're already back at our wit's end — the point where your human intelligence snaps. Why do you enter our company, if you can t follow it through? . . . Did we force ourselves on you — or you on us? I cannot undo the avenger's bonds, his bolts I cannot open. Save her! Who was it who plunged her into ruin? I or you?
Faust continues to insist that Mephistopheles rescue Gretchen. In his despair he shouts wild threats at the devil. Mephisto tries to sway him by pointing out that there would be great danger in any rescue attempt because avenging spirits linger at the place of Valentine's death to punish Faust, the murderer. But Faust is no longer concerned with his own welfare and persists. Finally Mephistopheles relents. He agrees to do all he can, but adds that he does not have unlimited power in matters of this sort.
This is the only scene of the tragedy in prose. The violent shift in style makes a sharp contrast with the luxuriant lyrical poetry of the preceding scene to emphasize Faust's rediscovery of his moral responsibilities, incomplete as this is, and his return to the world of reality. Faust is still not fully aware of Mephisto's evil nature, since he calls upon him to help in the rescue of Gretchen, and this request reveals that he is still dependent on Mephisto and thus still a potential victim of the devil's powers of dehumanization. Faust's newly discovered moral fervor seems genuine, but he does not acknowledge his own guilt for Gretchen's misfortune. This scene is an affirmation of the power of love rather than morality, but it suggests the underlying relationship of the two principles and thus is not inconsistent with Faust's definition of God earlier in the poem and the conclusion of Part Two.