Faust (fowst), a perpetual scholar with an insatiable mind and a questing spirit. The middle-aged Faust, in spite of his enthusiasm for a newly discovered source of power in the sign of the macrocosm, finds his intellectual searches unsatisfactory and longs for a life of experiences in the world of humans. On the brink of despair and a projected suicide, he makes a wager with the Devil that if he ever lies on his bed of sloth-fulness or says of any moment in life, “Stay thou art so fair,” at that moment he will cease to be. He cannot be lured by the supernatural, the sensual, or the disembodied spiritual, but he does weaken in the presence of pure beauty and capitulates to humanitarian action. He displays himself as a sensual man in his deep love for Gretchen (Margarete), only to be goaded to murder by her brother, who sees not selfless love in their actions, but only sin. Faust aspires to the love of Helen of Troy, but he is disconsolate when she appears. As an old man, he returns to his early vision of being a man among men, working and preparing for a better world to be lived here on earth. His death is not capitulation, though he thinks at this point man can cry “stay,” and he has never taken his ease or been tempted by a life of sloth. His death is his victory, and his everlasting life is to be lived resourcefully among the creators.
Mephistopheles (mehf-ih-STOF-eh-leez), the Devil incarnate and Lucifer in disguise of dog and man. Portrayed here as a sophisticate, cynic, and wit, he is persuasive and resourceful. He works magic, manages miracles, and creates spirits and situations for Faust’s perusal and delectation. His persistence is the more remarkable for the ability of Faust to withstand and refute these offerings, though Mephistopheles often expresses resentment. Somehow more attractive than God and the archangels, he powerfully represents the positive force of evil in its many and attractive guises.
Gretchen, sometimes called Margarete, an innocent, beautiful young maiden. A foil for the Devil, Gretchen remarkably personifies womanly love without blemish or fear. She gives herself to Faust, who swears he cannot molest her, with an earthy abandon and remains for a time unearthly innocent in her raptures, until the forces for morality convince her that she has sinned deeply and that she must pay first by destroying her child and then by being sacrificed to the state, suffering death for her transgressions. Brooding over her brother’s death, she refuses solace from her lover.
Valentin (VAHL-ehn-teen), a soldier and Gretchen’s brother, killed by Faust with the aid of Mephistopheles.
Wagner (VAHG-nur), Faust’s attendant, an unimaginative pedant. Serving as a foil for Faust, Wagner expresses himself in scholarly platitudes and learns only surface things. He aspires not to know all things but to know a few things well, or at least understandably; the unobtainable he leaves to Faust. He serves as the Devil’s advocate, however, in the temptation of Faust by helping Mephistopheles create Homunculus.
Homunculus (hoh-MUHNG-kyew-luhs), a disembodied spirit of learning. This symbol of man’s learning, mind separated from reality, interprets for Mephistopheles what Faust is thinking. The spirit discloses Faust’s near obsession with ideal beauty, and thus Faust is given the temptress, Helen of Troy.
Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy, who appears as a wraith at first and then with form. Representing the classical concept of eternal or ideal beauty, Helen very nearly succeeds where Gretchen failed. She finally seems to Faust only transitory beauty, no matter how mythological and idealized. After this final experience, Faust denounces such hypothetical pursuits and returns to deeds.
Dame Marthe Schwerdtlein
Dame Marthe Schwerdtlein (MAHR-teh SHVEHRDT-lin), Gretchen’s neighbor and friend, an unwitting tool in the girl’s seduction.
Faust contains a large number of minor...
(The entire section is 1,259 words.)