Do you think Margarete is responsible for what befalls her or is she truly a pawn of the men around her in Goethe's Faust Part I?

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

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To extend the "pawn" chess metaphor, Mephistopheles is very powerful chess master and formidable opponent. In this light, it is clear that Margarete was his pawn, though she didn't feel his influence in a directly manipulative way. Nonetheless, Margarete does feel Mephisto's overpowering negative influence:

Margarete
You can see he’s not at all in sympathy:
It’s written on his forehead even,
That there’s no spirit of love within.
...
Yet I’m stifled in his presence.

On a mortal level, she is also the pawn of Martha, who seems to want to relive her own youthful adventures while Margarete lives hers. So though Martha seems to be her friend, Martha makes a pawn of Margarete in her game of chess. And what of Faust? He is in collusion with a devil. What can he do but manipulate Margarete as he would do an expendable pawn piece in a game of chess?

Thus according to the text, Margarete is a pawn with no hope at all of escapeing suffering on earth, as Valentine so movingly says in his death throes. Yet she is not exclusively the pawn of men, so a feminist reading of Margarete's plight falls through. She is the pawn of a demon, an avaricious woman, and a man in demonic collusion with a devil who is an agent of Lucifer.

If you want to separate the facts of the text from the moral question, in the way Lisbeth might do at the city fountain, the question takes on a different aspect.

Lisbeth
       Why are you so pitying?
When each of us was at our spinning,
When mother never let us out,
She and her lover hung about: 

From a purely moral perspective, with no knowledge of the demonic forces present, the text presents the point of view, through Lisbeth, that, indeed, Margarete is responsible for her conduct and its outcome just as all other girls are responsible. Yet, in a logical fallacy, while Lisabeth assigns full moral responsibility to girls like Barbara (and Margarete), her own argument against them and for their full responsibility assigns responsibility to their mothers, not to themselves, thus sabotaging her own argument for the girls' moral responsibility:

Lisbeth
When each of us was at our spinning,
When mother never let us out,

When you add in God's willingness to forgive and give mercy, the consensus falls against Margarete bearing responsibility for her heartsick submission to Faust and for the triple entanglement caused by Faust, Martha and Mephisto.

Margaret
Ah, I only have to see you, dearest man,
And something bends me to your will,
For you, so much, I have already done,
Little remains for me to do for you still.                                                   
(She exits.)
(Mephistopheles enters.)

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