Plot Summary of Faust Part 1 &2

By Joseph T. McGarry, MD

Faust is divided into two parts. Part 1 was termed by Goethe as being “objective” and has a relatively straight forward story line. God sees Faust as his flawed, struggling servant. He grants Mephistopheles permission to tempt and seduce him to the dark side, but states: “ A good man in his darkest moments is still aware of the right path.” Faust is a highly acclaimed and accomplished scholar, who is disenchanted by academia. He concludes that man cannot truly “know.” His desire is to know what holds the world together at its innermost core, and, since academic rigors have been unsuccessful, he has turned to magic. This attachment will be his most difficult task to break. When he meets Mephistopheles, they form a pact or wager. Traditionally Faust sells his soul to the devil for a stipulated number of years and becomes property of the devil for eternity. In this wager Faust is certain that earthly life cannot provide him the unsurpassable moment in which he would choose to live forever. If  Mephistopheles can give him that moment, Faust surrenders to him.

Mephistopheles takes Faust to a tavern, which is totally unattractive to him. Then he takes Faust to the witches kitchen where Faust’s youth is restored and he is given a vision of feminine beauty, Helen of Troy. This young and rejuvenated Faust falls into love, or at least lust, with the young, naive Gretchen. Eventually with Mephistopheles’ magical help Faust conquers his prey. Gretchen becomes pregnant. Faust is oblivious to her plight. She is insane with grief. She drowns her child. She is arrested and sentenced to death. Along the way Faust has killed Gretchen’s brother and has been the agent of her mother’s death. Part 1 concludes with Gretchen awaiting her execution and calling out to Faust, while he slinks away subserviently with Mephisto.

Goethe described Part 2 as being “subjective.” Whereas Part 1 was a story of one-on-one personal contacts, Part 2 concerns itself more with the individual’s relationship to society and the world.

Part 2 begins in “Pleasant Landscape.” Faust awakens and determines his quest is to take his experiences of Part 1 to the greater world. He seems to recognize that he won’t be able grasp the light itself, but only its refracted colors. He goes to the court of the Emperor.

 He and Mephisto temporarily resolve an economic crisis by magic. The Emperor demands that Faust conjure up Helen of  Troy. Faust does so and falls in love with her. He ignores Mephisto’s directions regarding such apparitions, vaporizes Helen and renders himself unconscious. Acts 2 and 3 are dream sequences of the unconscious Faust. In Act 2 Faust begins his search for Helen. To do this he wanders through a world rich in classical mythology. Goethe also gratifies himself to posit his own ideas on evolution through the creation of a Homunculus.

In Part 3 Helen has been retrieved by Menelaus and awaits an uncertain fate. Mephisto , who is disguised as her servant, allows her to escape to Faust, who in this dream is a powerful Emperor. Faust and Helen exchange vows based on producing a just and ideal society. They raise a son, Euphorion, who eventually dies because of his felt obligation to go to war. Helen leaves Faust to go the the land of Shades to be with her son.

In Act 4 Faust and Mephisto again come through magic to the aid of the Emperor, who is on the brink of defeat by disloyal forces. As a reward Faust is given a vast tract of land, much of which is under water.

In Act 5 many years have passed. Faust is approximately 100 years old. He has continued a relationship with Mephisto and now is the world’s richest man, but naturally he is dissatisfied. His “need” for a meager tract of land and a chapel belonging to his ancient neighbors, Baucis and Philemon, eventuates in their brutal death. Finally Dame Care visits Faust and challenges his vision of  himself, and she renders him blind. Faust resolves to end his relationship with Mephistopheles and to complete the task of reclaiming good land from the sea where millions could live free and as a community without the use of magic. He sees his contribution as the high point of his life and dies. Mephisto thinks he has finally won the wager, but is tricked by a group of young, lascivious angels. Faust is taken to heaven and is admitted and accepted , because of his constant striving to be a good man. Gretchen will be his special teacher.

The play concludes with the Mystical Choir singing a tribute to womanhood, die ewige weibliche: the eternal woman who leads us onward and is our guide.”

Goethe's Faust
A Colorado Documentary

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transcript in its entirety for free.

Faust, Eine Tragodie in Zwei Teilen, Ein Dokumentarfilm aus Colorado

Receive the eight hour documentary
transcript in its entirity for free.