In Goethe's Faust (part 1), what does Faust mean referring to the "Two souls" within him (line 1112)?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

These famous words are an expression of Faust's torn personality. On the one hand, he wants to lead a worldly life full of wealth, fame, success, and the satisfaction of lustful desires. On the other hand, however, he yearns to soar to the very greatest heights, both spiritually and intellectually.

It is the latter desire that will lead him to enter into a diabolical pact with Mephistopheles. Simply put, Faust wants to be like a god; he's dissatisfied with his earthly life and wants the kind of power and control over others that only a god can exert. By selling his earthly soul to the Devil, Faust is willing to sever it from its "brother," as he calls it. From now on, there will be but one soul, a god-like soul, ceaselessly striving towards a higher form of existence.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Goethe's Faust Part I, in the section preceding (1064-1109) "Two souls, alas, exist in my breast" (1112), Faust delivers a long lament. It is the content of this lament to which the remark about two souls refers.

Faust says that humankind wants what is not known and yet what is know is worthless. Then he describes in Goethe's exquisite language the sights of evening that he and Wagner are gazing at. Faust says of the day: "Mild it retreats, the day that’s left, / It slips away to claim new being." Then he doubles his lament by saying that he desires wings that will lift him to the declining light and keep there so that he might gaze down at Earth in "eternal evening's light," seeing "silent Earth beneath" his feet, forever.

The two souls, as he explains in 1113-1117, are (1) his love of earthly life to which he clings with a tenacious grip and (2) his desire expressed as quoted above to go beyond the bounds of Earth and know the unknown. It is here that Goethe foreshadows Mephistopheles' upcoming offer to see the world on a magic cloak when, in Faust's continuation of his expression of desire to be free of his earthly limitations--which he also loves tenaciously--he says he would never resign a cloak that could fly him to remote lands:

Yes, if a magic cloak were mine, that
Would carry me off to foreign lands,
Not for the costliest garment in my hands,
For the mantle of a king, would I resign it!  (1125)

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial