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Faust I - A Look at the Good Doctor's Downwards Spiral

Johann von Goethe's Faust in its two parts, is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of the German literature of the time. It follows the titular Doctor Faust, a man who achieved great academic success and who is practically revered by his local community for his multitude of services over the decades, but who in the twilight years of his life is anything but content. His soul, still young and full of life feels trapped in his ever more decrepit body and wishes to fly out into the world akin to a bird in the sunrise. Well aware of his mortality and knowing he has precious little time left, he disregards following the path of God and endeavors to summon a spirit or demon to aid him, in return for his soul which such an arrangement would forsake.

The story is loosely based on the life and the rumors that surround it of a German renaissance alchemist with the same surname

The story is loosely based on the life and the rumors that surround it of a German renaissance alchemist with the same surname

Little does he himself suspect how his pursuits are well known to God, who makes a wager with a demon named Mephistopheles, or simply Mephisto, that the doctor would succumb to the corruption of the latter. The demon looks down upon humanity and wishes to prove its worthlessness by winning. God on the other hand holds the view how humans will always stumble but are capable of getting back on the moral path.

Where it all starts

Despite his burning passion and willingness Faust is unable to successfully summon and make a contract with any spirit on his own. Instead, Mephisto comes in contact with him and they agree to sign a pact with blood. This however is not a case of the doctor signing his own death warrant in and of itself. As by the stipulations, he would only loose his soul if the earthly pleasures the demon would provide him with are to be so great and to resonate to such an extent with Faust that he would finally become satisfied and find inner peace of mind, something he was lacking for a long time.

Here we see a dichotomy between the life that Faust had lived up to this point and the new one he was eager to start. The former; a life of academic pursuits, of supporting his high status in society and always looking and acting the part and of having fame, including after his death, all of this stretched over many decades, and the latter, a life of pursuing nothing but his passions, his sensual desires, a life of stimulating his senses with no regard for patience.

Unable for a multitude of reasons to live such a life without any guidance he now begins to rely on the demon to lead him through it.


Faust's sin

Through the use of a witch's potion, the doctor is granted a much younger physical appearance. What he does not know is that it has a second effect on him, making the next female he encounters to appear to him as his ideal of beauty. This ends up being the young Margaret, who attracts him furthermore through her kindness of heart and innocent nature.

He is immediately drawn to her and demands of Mephistopheles to assure her reciprocation of his feelings.

However for all the desire he possesses, Faust is still torn, the pure spirit of Margaret makes him hesitate, a part of him not wanting to defile someone as innocent. What tips the scales over is the fact that she herself is drawn to him, making his advances feel wanted and furthermore the manipulation of Mephisto, something that will become more apparent later on. The latter also mocks the nature of this relationship, pointing out its social connotations while knowing that they are too enamored with each other to be stayed off.

One last thing stands in the way of his desires, Gretchen's mother, a staunchly religious woman who chooses for them to live a plain and hard life seeing it as the moral choice. Faust has Margaret unknowingly kill her own mother by giving her sleeping medicine, which he claimed to be harmless. In this instance it isn't possible to discern whether this was intentional of him, an accident or a manipulation of Mephisto.

While visiting her house later he encounters her brother Valentine, a soldier who prided himself on his sister being for him the symbol of innocent, untainted maidenhood. He knows what the doctor did and intends to kill him for it, however fails due to the intervention of Mephistopheles, together with whom Faust bests Valentine in battle and flees as crowds gather.

Within a short stretch of time, he ended up destroying Gretchen's life, bringing about the death of her family and by deflowering and, as it later turns out, impregnating her turned her into a social outcast, shunned and hated by the townsfolk. Even her brother expresses his disgust with what he sees as her licentious behavior in his final moments of life.

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One is redeemed and the other continues on the path to hell

After the death of Valentine, Faust and Mephistopheles leave the premises of the town to avoid prosecution by authorities and head for the Brocken mountain near Schierke to take part in the sabbath at Walpurgis night.

Attended by all manner of demons, witches, wizards and spirits, it is both a pivotal point in Faust's journey as much as it is a metaphor for it. After all, the festivities last for only a single night and yet afterwards, Faust remembers Gretchen only a year later but in a manner as though it was indeed a short while before.

Here Mephistopheles continues his plan at damning Faust's soul. Firstly distracting him with other women, which Faust himself readily goes through with, and after the latter sees the visage of Medusa, wandering through the mountain, convinces him that her resemblance to Gretchen is nothing but magic and deception, making him forget about his worries.

Afterwards, following a year long time skip, Faust finally learns the truth about her. Here the evil genius of Mephisto fully manifests. Faust did not necessarily know how badly Gretchen's fate had turned out, however he did know a few facts; that she could have been pregnant, which would cause her societal stigmatization as well as that her mother and brother died, leaving her a lonely orphan. He knew and yet did not care, not until Mephisto finally let him know about her imprisonment. This created a convenient scapegoat for his reemerged conscience, saving him from having to completely blame himself.

Endeavoring to rescue her from the prison cell she now finds herself in, Faust learns the terrible truth that she had given birth and ended up going mad and drowning her child. For this she is sentenced to execution on the following day.

With little time remaining Faust tries to convince her to go but she hesitates, contemplating how he now feels cold to her and how she would live the life of a refugee. At last she makes her choice to stay and be judged for her crime in front of the people and in front of God. A voice is then heard from above that her soul is therefore saved. Still feeling attachment to the doctor she cries out his name as Faust and Mephisto flee at the break of dawn.

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