Provide a character analysis of Margaret, who is also called Gretchen, in Goethe's Faust Parts I and II.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The heroine of Goethe's Faust Part I is Margaret, the diminutive for whom is Gretchen (i.e., diminutive: an affectionate family or shortened name). Margaret is a heroine in the Romantic period style of heroines, meaning that she has a tragic life and end. When she happens to encounter Faust after she leaves church one day, she is a moral, innocent, honest, hard-working, and devoted daughter. After her association with Faust, she is hung on the gallows.

Margaret is a devout Christian who has every expectation of a moral and contented life and future marriage. She is an innocent, yet not overly naive as she and the other village girls have their fair share of gossip around the well as they work. In addition, she has an experienced, hardened neighbor who doesn't hesitate to give Margaret a clear picture of the ways of life. Further, she has no vain pretense to being or aspiring to something grander than she is, as she says to Faust, "I am no lady, am not fair, / Can without escort home repair." This means that she is neither a refined lady nor pampered and thus quite capable of and used to walking through the streets on her own without the attention of a male escort to see her safely home.

With the guidance of Mephistopheles, Faust tricks and bribes Margaret, whom we too may call Gretchen, into thinking that he loves her and, of course, she comes to love him. This of course is all part of Mephisto's (his diminutive) plan to ensnare Faust and win the wager by presenting Faust with that moment which will cause him to cry out, "Linger awhile! so fair thou art!"

As Mephisto and Faust work their guile and trickery upon Gretchen, she responds favorably to Faust's requests, even though they are against her beliefs, because she loves him and (blindly) trusts him. As a result, she accepts gifts, gives her mother a "sleeping" potion from which her mother never awakens, and yields to Faust's lusts thereafter finding herself impregnated. Gretchen is abandoned by Faust. Her sacrifices of moral and religious conscience are wasted because he will not make the results right by marrying her. She is now not only a traitor to her beliefs, her God, and herself, she is forsaken, shamed, guilty, and alone.

It isn't clearly revealed what happens to Gretchen's baby. Did the baby accidentally drown while Gretchen, in her emotionally distraught and distracted state, lost her focus and forgot to pay attention? Did Gretchen surrender the infant to the waters in some frenzied effort to morally cleanse her baby or rid herself of her sin and burden of grief? Whatever happened, Gretchen is captured, charged, and sentenced to be hung. Even in the derangement of her emotional and moral pain as she awaits the dawn of the executioner's day, Gretchen recognizes her own moral guilt and forgives Faust for his.

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