The Faustian Bargain Part 1

In Marlowe’s Faust we come to find a man that was in search after power and lust. A man who wanted to be twenty for life, sleep with every woman, and have the power to do as he will. What we find in Goethe’s Faust is different. Faust is a wise man, he doesn’t want anything worldly. Instead, what he desires is an experience, a feeling, that will arrest time itself, that will make him say, tarry awhile thou art so fair. A feeling that he can never tire or bore of. The agreement is set and the devil takes him through endless possibilities that only the devil can provide. The journey beginss at the bottom of a bottle. The Devil takes Faust to a bar, but Faust will have none of it, and is impatient to leave. The journey goes on and Faust meets a young girl by the name of Gretchen. She’s beautiful, pious, and the very symbol of innocence. He chases after her and they fall in love. They have a discussion in a garden where she asks Fausts inquiring questions, where he reveals himself as a priest of the Romantic period priest. She asks:


Then say what religion is.

            You are a sweet good man, and yet

             I think religion doesn’t matter much to you.


Hush child! Your feelings tell you that I love you;

            I’d give my life for those who’re dear to me,

            I would deprive no one of either faith or church.


If I only could persuade you to!

But you don’t even venerate the holy sacraments.


I pay yhrn due respect.


But you don’t want them

            It’s long since you have been to mass or to confession.

            Do you believe in God?


My Darling, who can say,

            I believe in God

            To priests or sages you may put your questions,

and what they answer will but seem to mock the asker.


Then you have no faith? (3415/3430 translated by Stuart Atkins)


Are not my eyes reflected in yours?

            And don’t all things press

            On your head and heart,

And weave, in eternal mystery,

Visibly: invisibly, around you?

            Fill your heart from it: it is so vast,

            And when you are blessed by the deepest feeling,

            Call it then what you wish,

            Joy! Heart! Love! God!

            I have no name

            For it! Feeling is all;

Names are sound and smoke,

            Veiling Heaven’s bright glow (3446/3458Translation by A. S. Kline)

            Feeling is all is the romantic mantra. Feelings are immediate. You can’t deny that you are in love or that you are in pain. Reason, as Wordsworth put it, is a meddling faculty because of its constant questionability. Call feeling what you will, but take comfort, even in pain, that there is feeling. It’s a mysterious, divine gift bestowed upon humanity that makes life worth living for–even in the darkest of hours! The utilitarian moral calculous is directed at the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. However, it doesn’t account what we are prepared to die for, or in other words, what we are prepared to live for! Feelings, rooted in empathy and sympathy, that the gentle soul is capable of seamlessly able to slip in and out of give humanity a sense of urgency, which defeats metallurgy.

            We can’t know if it is God that has bestowed this gift upon us, all we can know is the very feeling we feel at that very moment. Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.” And started modern philosophy, but the romantics want to balance that with, “I feel, therefore I am.” And that it didn’t take the faculty of reason to come to this conclusion.

Faust seduces the young Gretchen gives her a potion, whipped up by Mephistopheles to put Gretchen’s grandmother asleep, for Gretchen lives with her grandmother. She gives it to her and she falls asleep. The door closes and Gretchen soon loses her flower, and her Grandmother never awakens. The devil’s concoction killed her and she this young soul feels it hard in her heart. Her Brother Valentine finds out about her plucked flowers and finds Faust at the scene of the crime. Faust and the Devil dual with Valentine. Valiantly he attempts to attack Faust but the devil’s instructions are too good, and Fausts gives Valinetine a fatal blow and flee. On the Street, in front of the family’s home, Gretchen comes out and says:


            Who is it, lying there?


            Your mothere’s son.


            Almighty God! What misery!


            I’m dying! That’s soon spokien,

            And, sooner still, it will be don.

            Why stand there, crying woman?

Come, hear everyone!

(They gather round him)

Your still young, my Gretchen, see!

And still haven’t sense enough, to be

Effective in your occupation.

I’ll tell you confidentially:

Now that you’re a whore indeed,

Be one, by proclamation!


            My brother! God! Why speak to me so?


            In this business, leave God alone!

            Sadly, what is done is done,

            And what will come; will come

            Begin with one, then in secret, then,

            Soon you’ll gather other men,

            And, when dozen of them have had you,

            All the town can have you too.  (3719/3739 Translated by A. S. Kline)

To have a child out of wedlock in the religiously rigerious 17th century was looked upon as a scarlet letter, so she hides her pregnancy, and when she gives birth, to prevent shame, she commits a most unnatural act. Out of the religious stresses and strictures of the age she commits infanticide. So ripe with guilt she can’t get over it and the towns people find out about this atrocity. The guilt and shame are overbearing for her. Guilt is an internal struggle within do you see? While, shame is something other people impose upon you. She feels both pressures bearing down one her. The towns people then lock her up and sentence her to be burned at the stake. So overcome with guilt and shame she feels the weight and fate of this. She feels like Homer’s stateless, hearthless, lawless person. She believes she deserves the death sentence and feels an overflow of remorse and regret. Nothing is so disheartening than the belief of hating yourself so much as deserving you deserve to be put to death. What must be going in her head to feel this must hate in her heart towards herself… if only I could hold her. However, this all began with love, and then to the community’s perversion of Christianity’s morals that so stress a young girl to driven to madness to the point to an unnatural act. The symbol of innocence is then goes through the trials and tribulations of self-loathing and the great contempt. In her jail cell, Faust comes to the rescue. He tells her at the eleventh hour:


Come! Follow me! Darling, be bold!

I’ll clasp you with a thousand fold

Warmth; now follow me! I beg you.(4997/4500 Translated by A.S. Kline)

            And then tells her, “Let the past me past I say!/ Your destroying me!” She laments and Faust continues, “You can! Just will it! The door is open! However, she can’t move on, and says:


I dare not: There’s no hope for me then.

What use is flight? They lie in wait for me.

To be forced to bed is a bitter existence,

And cursed too with an evil conscience!

To wander among strangers, bitter,

And even then I’d still be captured! (4544/4549 Translated by A. S. Kline)

            And he continues, “Only one step, and then you’re free!”  He basically says to look forward toward the sun and what you can become. But it is too late to save the young girl. She is judged, and then a voice from above says, “She is saved!” This is the greatest tale of human suffering I’ve ever read, Faust points out that emotions such as shame and guilt are useless, that they have no point and place in life as long as one struggles and strives. The devil acts as a creature of constant negation prodding faust along to the next possibility. What we learn in this first part of Faust is that activity is good and passivity is evil. That what one should sell their soul for is something transcendent, and not calculable riches a d ephemeral feelings at the bottom of a bottle, but for a moment that will forever last. That is what Faust’s bargains for with the devil–to create an experience that he will never tire of.. He nearly finds that in Gretchen, however, Mephistopheles leads him astray and leads poor Gretchen to pray. This first part is the tragedy of Gretchen. Like in Blake, we find a woman wedded in innocence, yet driven to experience. She can’t find a synthesis and finds it in her self-reflected dissonance. She is in a moral prison, but the door is open. Faust opens that door and tries everything to compel her to leave but she still believes in the lock and key. All she needs to walk through that moral prison into freedom is self-compassion, which she has not the strength to find in this world of religious unrepentable sins. Like a lamb out for slaughter, her life is then no longer.

Daniel takes a deep breath for it was too much for the heart to bear as it weared and tared on the strings of it. Pity for a pious young woman driven to insanity. If only that community would be judged itself, he thought to himself.


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