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What is the message from the story Faust? I'm not getting the message.

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nikitasing | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted February 10, 2013 at 5:37 AM via web

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What is the message from the story Faust? I'm not getting the message.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:40 PM (Answer #1)

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A story's message is most often said to be its themes, but this is not necessarily always true. Themes are very often formally stated, such as Power and Greed, Individualism and Religion, Fraud and Honesty, Effects of Manipulation and Coercion. These are all themes that are relevant to Faust Part I, and I assume you are asking only about Part I. Yet, these themes in isolation may not tell the true message of the story, which may best be expressed as one cohesive and less formally stated idea, for example:

  • True and virtuous moments in life, moments that make us say "Stay a while," come from true love and devotion, not from manipulative power and knowledge that is used against a sincere human being toward their destruction for the purpose of personal gain.

Having read Part I, you'll see that this message sentence alludes to or incorporates (1) God's idea of serving Him from the Prologue, (2) Faust's wager with Mephistopheles from "Study (II)," (3) Faust's manipulation of Margarete from "Martha's Garden," (4) and Margarete's bitter suffering in the "Dungeon."

God
Though he’s still confused at how to serve me,
...
A good man, in his darkest yearning,
Is still aware of virtue’s ways. (Prologue)

Faust
When, to the Moment then, I say:
‘Ah, stay a while! You are so lovely!’ ...(Study {II})

Margaret
What would I not do for your sake?
I hope that it won’t harm her though! (Martha's Garden)

Faust
Misery! Misery! That no human spirit can grasp. That more than one being should sink into the depth of this wretchedness (A Field, Faust about Margarete)

Finding the message of Faust Part I is even more difficult because (1) it is the first half of an unfinished story if you read only through "Dungeon" and (2) while the story was begun in the style of what came to be Romanticism, Goethe rejected Romanticism, after having begun it with Sorrows of Young Werther, because he saw a young woman being dragged dead from a frozen river with a copy of Werther in her pocket.

Thus finding the message of half a thing is more difficult than finding the message of a whole thing. In addition, finding the message of a half a thing that is devoted to sensational emotionalism and a spirit of reckless self-abandonment (a spirit Goethe happily soon rejected) is more difficult than finding the message of a logical thing. The message sentence above is a good representation of a message that can faithfully be extracted from Faust Part I. However, we will never know with certainty Goethe's originally intended message because when he added to the Faust text over the years and finally finished it sixty years after beginning it, he did so in the style of Classicalism and a complete rejection of Romanticism ... thus we turn the page after "Dungeon" and find something unexpected and new.

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