Johann Wolfgang von Goethe builds a dramatic poem around the strengths and weaknesses of a man who under a personalized definition of a hero fails miserably. A hero is someone that humanity models themselves and their actions after, someone who can be revered by the masses as an individual of great morality and strength, a man or woman that never sacrifices his beliefs under adversity.
Therefore, through his immoral actions and his unwillingness to respect others rights and privileges, Faust is determined to be a man of un-heroic proportions. It is seen early in the poem, that Faust has very strong beliefs and a tight moral code that is deeply rooted in his quest for knowledge.
Sitting in his den, Faust describes his areas of instruction, “I have, alas, studied philosophy, jurisprudence and medicine, too, and, worst of all, theology with keen endeavor, through and through…” It is obvious that through his studies he has valued deep and critical thinking; however with the help of Mephisto, he would disregard his values and pursue the pleasures of the flesh.
Faust’s impending downward spiral reveals the greed that both Mephisto and Faust share. Mephisto’s greed is evident in the hope that he will overcome Faust’s morality and thus is victorious in his wager with God; also because he is the devil and that is what he does.
For Faust, greed emerges because of his desire to attain physical pleasures and therefore become whole in mind, body and spirit. Faust’s goal to become the Überminche is an understandable desire; however, the means at which he strives for those ends are irresponsible and unjust. It is through this greed that Faust with the help of Mephisto exploit others in the pursuit of Faust’s earthly desires.
Enter innocent Gretchen, a poor lower class young woman who experiences the impossible, love. Under Mephisto’s magical potion, Faust becomes intoxicated with passion and controlled by his hormones. It is under this spell that he approaches the “beautiful” Gretchen, however, the feeling of passion is not mutual between the two.
Faust realizes then, that his simple looks and personality will not attract Gretchen, rather Faust must deceive and manipulate this woman in order to possess her. Thus, Faust turns to Mephisto for help in his quest for Gretchen, “Get me that girl, and don’t ask why?”(257)
Mephisto replies with a quote that establishes the nature at which Faust will pursue Gretchen with, “We’d waste our time storming and running; we have to have recourse to cunning.”(261) It is from this point in the story that Faust declines into a state of immorality and irresponsibility; a level he will remain at for the majority of the story. Faust’s immorality emerges from the idealization that despite harming others, there are not any consequences to his actions.
The harm in combining Faust and Mephisto is that their actions become dangerous and deadly. Faust becomes an unstoppable, Napoleonic figure, when his irresponsibility is mixed with Mephisto’s lethal power. Gretchen is Faust’s first victim, before her death she was responsible for three deaths; ultimately she is imprisoned because of Faust’s influence upon her. Faust’s desire for progress and reformation in society led to the deaths of his second set of victims, an elderly couple.
Thus, Mephisto burns them out, a result that Faust had not asked for specifically, but an action which served the purpose and was almost as detrimental as what Faust had intended for them, to move them out of their home. This action against the elderly is analogous to any other parts of the story in which Faust commits an illegal or immoral act to heighten himself in his own eyes. It is obvious then that Faust is a criminal, a man who abuses the rights of others to gain spiritual and financial freedom for himself. A criminal is a person that should either be rewarded or idealized for his actions against society.
The only endeavor that Faust does in order to save himself, is to feel apologetic and remorseful for his immoral and self-serving actions, and is therefore allowed into heaven, an ending to the story which is unreal and unbelievable. Heaven should be a place where men and women who are virtuous and contain traits such as honesty, morality and decency should reside too.
Rather, Goethe poetically sends a man who’s indirectly murdered, is dishonest and greedy to such a wondrous and magical location only because he admits that what he did was wrong. Attaining passage into heaven is the only accomplishment that Faust makes in order to attain a hero’s status. Even this final accomplishment is questionable because God would not allow a man so unworthy to accompany people who have such a high moral standard and irrefutable grace.
Faust then, neither falls under the classical definition of a hero except that he was, “…favored by the gods” and he does not fit into my personal definition of a hero. For Faust is not someone whose actions should be followed, he sacrificed his beliefs under adversity, and most importantly; he destroyed anyone’s life if it conflicted with any aspect of his plan for superiority. Faust then may be considered the greatest un hero to have ever attain passage into heaven.
Faust can achieve heaven under the religious concept of contrition. I feel it is wrong to say that he cannot achieve salvation, as it is seen as theologically possible.