Summary and Analysis
Act IV: Mountain Heights
Faust still has a vague image of Helen in his mind as he gazes about at the jagged mountains among which he finds himself. Mephisto enters and engages in a lecture on the origin of mountains with which Faust disagrees. Mephisto tries to tempt Faust with another offer of a life filled with pleasure and glory, but Faust does not accept. He has another sort of project in mind — a scheme for the reclamation of land from the sea. Such a battle against the forces of Nature is the only fit project for him to engage in, Faust says.
Mephisto claims to have known all along that Faust would suggest this plan. He tells Faust that a serious crisis was caused in the Empire by their earlier prank of inducing the Emperor to issue vast amounts of worthless paper money. Now the Emperor has been forced into a war to defend his throne and is encamped nearby with his army. Mephisto suggests that they aid the Emperor in this war, in return for which they can ask a gift of coastal lands for Faust to experiment with.
Faust protests that war is a wasteful pastime, and adds that he has no knowledge of military matters. Mephisto invokes the Three Mighty Men who fought with David and the Israelites against the Philistines. He assures Faust that with the help of these ancient heroes and his magic they will be successful. They set off for the Emperor's camp.
The discussion on the origin of mountains is based on geological theories current in Goethe's time, but also illustrates the theme of order arising out of chaos, which is the symbolic meaning of Faust's land reclamation project. In this scene Faust tells Mephisto that he has learned that activity is man's "natural element." His intense desire to reclaim the useless lands that are submerged beneath the sea is based on a moral aversion to inactivity and sterility. This new plan of Faust's is an important confirmation of God's optimistic view of human nature in the "Prologue in Heaven" and reflects a significant change in his outlook.
At this point it may seem like a moral regression for Faust to accept Mephisto's offer of assistance, but since Mephisto's magical aid in the war will be intended to get land for this worthwhile project, it can also be related to the theme of order from chaos and illustrates the principle that even destructive forces can be harnessed for constructive ends. The most important point of this scene is that as a result of his uplifting experiences in Greece and his exposure to noble ideals, Faust has developed a more mature and vigorous moral sense. He is resolved to enter into a struggle with Nature itself to assert the dominance of human order over unrestrained chaos.