Mephistopheles Materialized To Faust As He Was About To Drink Poison
Making Castalia Real
One month after I arrived at CMU, I became employed as a food service custodian. The job wasn’t permanent, but I had a good feeling about it. After five years, I had arrived; I was working at a university– a dream come true. Feeling secure in my job, I went to my old Professor, Dr. Gill, and asked if I could sit in on his mythology class. We had a pretty good relationship going back to when I first started at CMU. He was my Philosophy Professor when I took a class on Plato, but that class was short-lived because I dropped out of school and moved to Arizona. I finished my ’73 class with him, the one where I studied Goethe’s Faust. I loved that class. I even kept my final exam– an essay on Faust’s growth. I got an A in the class, and my exam did a lot to help me get that grade. Here’s the essay, the quoted parts I pretty much memorized from Goethe’s own words:
The play began with a despondent, old scholar huckstering over the
worth of words. Faust searched so hard for meaning and substance that he was willing to give up his life for “the right answers.” He had,
for many years, thrust himself headlong into the pursuit of knowledge
only to find the written word empty and valueless. Defeated, he gave
up on everything—books, sensuality, hope, and faith (the play was set
at the time when the Catholic Church reigned supreme). In desperation, he was about to drink a vial of poison when Mephistopheles—the devil materialized. He got Faust to participate in a wager. It didn’t take much coaxing, though. “While I abide,” Faust said to the devil, “I live in servitude, whether yours or whose, why should I care.” Losing the bet was not a major concern for Faust; winning did have its allure, however. The devil had promised Faust a moment of bliss that would be so blissful that he would be willing to give up his soul in return. Faust agreed to the wager.
It wasn’t going to be easy for the devil. The problem was that Faust
did not seek pleasure. When Mephistopheles began to tempt Faust with his bag of sensual pleasures, Faust replied, “Have you not heard? I do not desire joy…To sound the heights and depths man can know, their very souls shall be with mine entwined. I’ll load my bosom with their weal and woe and share the shipwreck of mankind.” Faust entered the wager without knowing what would make him happy, but he did know what would not make him happy. Mephistopheles was irritated at first, but once Faust met Gretchen, the devil’s confidence beamed.
Faust, seduced by Gretchen’s charm and sweetness, fell in love with
her. Mephistopheles saw the whole affair as a “puppet show,” as the
pursuit of physical delights. Faust, on the other hand, used this
physical relationship to explore the transformative power of love.
When Faust fell into a passion, however, Mephistopheles rejoiced.
“Flame is still mine,” he exhorted, “the power of flame alone, or else
were there nothing I could call my own.” But Faust wasn’t satisfied
with just passion; he managed to turn his love for Gretchen into
something more than a mere love fest.
Forever the “seeker,” Faust’s striving confused Mephistopheles. In
fact, Mephistopheles never did comprehend Faust’s desire to “go beyond himself.” That striving got Faust involved with Gretchen, in both a passionate physical way and a non-physical way, but no less
passionate. Out of his love for Gretchen he forged himself a new
identity, an identity that came with the realization —”To seek, as in
the bosom of a friend, beholding the train of all living things, to
learn to perceive my brothers in the sky, the stream, and in the
silent glade.” His passion took him to a new high, but, as everyone
knows, “the higher you climb, the harder you fall,” and it was no
different for Faust. For Mephistopheles, “demolition man
extraordinaire,” it was easy to take advantage of a vulnerable Faust.
In conjunction with Gretchen’s unplanned pregnancy, the devil’s
influence over Faust resulted in several other tragedies. Overcome
with guilt, Faust fell into Mephistopheles’ waiting arms. The devil
diverted Faust away from his higher goals by using a young witch to
tempt him. Faust was on his way to life of debauchery when, in a
passionate embrace with the young temptress, out from her mouth ran a small mouse. Faust, at that point, was shocked into remembering his quest for a higher purpose. Before it was all over, however,
Gretchen’s brother, mother, baby and, eventually, even Gretchen
herself, died as a result of the entanglements of Faust’s relationship
At the end of Part One, Faust, tricked by the devil, handed Gretchen
what he thought was a sleeping potion to give to her mother. The
potion turned out to be poison and Gretchen was sentenced to death for her mother’s murder. Faust tried to rescue her, but when, on the day of her hanging, he burst into Gretchen’s jail cell, he found a
completely transformed woman. Gretchen, no longer the sweet innocent thing he fell in love with, rebuked Faust. Her pain and guilt just too overwhelming to live with, Gretchen had chosen death over suffering; she had crossed over into infinite resignation. Out of pity, Faust still sought to rescue her, but Gretchen didn’t want sympathy. Her terrible suffering had left her with no hope for redemption. She had sinned and she had to pay. Death was her only salvation, and Faust could do nothing to prevent it. As Gretchen was led up to the gallows, Faust turned his back on her, and walked away with Mephistopheles by his side.
Faust, in his love for Gretchen, had found what he was looking
for—that anything was worth looking for at all—but he also found, as a
result of that love, unexpected and unbearable suffering. Kierkegaard,
in his response to his own unfulfilled love relationship, put it this
way, “Ah, it is a wretched man who has never felt the compelling urge
of love to sacrifice everything out of love and accordingly not be
able to do it, but it is precisely this sacrifice out of love which
causes the loved one the greatest unhappiness.” Faust bore his torment and guilt well, and, although despair became his constant companion, he was not, surprisingly, damned for eternity.