Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Night
Gretchen's brother Valentine, a soldier, stands in the street outside her house. He relates how his sister's unsullied reputation was once a source of pride and happiness for him. Now he has heard rumors about her and sadly realizes that her innocence has been lost.
Valentine's love for Gretchen is sincere, but his attitude is cruel and unimaginative. He is waiting at her doorway with hopes of catching her lover and getting revenge. Suddenly he sees two figures, Faust and Mephistopheles, advancing up the dark street. Valentine steps back into the shadows, hoping that this will be his chance.
Beneath Gretchen's window Mephistopheles sings a song that mocks her misery. Faust seems to have no feelings left for the poor girl and is interested only in satisfying his carnal appetites again. He asks Mephistopheles to get more jewels because he does not want to call on Gretchen empty handed.
Valentine steps forward, smashes Mephisto's lute, and challenges Faust. The two men draw their swords. Mephistopheles assists Faust in the fight and Valentine is mortally wounded. The noise wakes the neighbors and a crowd gathers, but Faust and Mephistopheles manage to escape.
Gretchen comes out and discovers to her horror that the dying man is her brother. She tries to comfort him, but with his last words Valentine insults his agonized sister and predicts a sordid future for her.
Valentine serves as a representative of conventional morality. He demonstrates its intolerance, brutality, and inability, from Goethe's point of view, to deal compassionately with real human problems.
Nonetheless, Valentine's personal inadequacies are not bad enough to justify his murder. Until this scene it has been possible to sympathize with Faust and to view him as an innocent victim of Mephisto's guile, or to ignore his immorality because of the empathy one feels for his dilemma. But now Faust is at his lowest ebb — he has no sympathy for the girl whom he seduced and deserted, he speaks of Gretchen as if she were a common prostitute, despite the love he once claimed to feel for her and her continued love for him, and he participates in a senseless and cowardly murder. From this point on the reader has an objective picture of Faust's evil side and will be better able to understand the moral crisis he faces on the Walpurgis Night and in Gretchen's prison cell.