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The Individual and the Community in the Gretchen Story

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The Individual and the Community in the Gretchen Story

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  1. The Individual and the Community in the Gretchen Story David Pan Humanities Core Course Winter 2011, Lecture 3

  2. Problems • How does the Gretchen story fit with the Faust story? • What is the main conflict for Faust once he has made his wager? • Wherein lies the tragedy of the drama?

  3. Goethe’s Faust establishes the priority of the individual against community constraints. • Goethe refashions the bourgeois tragic drama to highlight the conflict between individual development and community values. • Faust’s feelings are focused on his own individual goals and development. • Though she participates in Faust’s individualism, Margaret is condemned as a result of her commitment to community values.

  4. The Gretchen tragedy has its origins in the bourgeois tragic drama. • Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, • Emilia Galotti (1772) • A prince tries to capture a bourgeois daughter in order to make her into his mistress. • The daughter’s father kills her at her request so that the prince cannot capture and seduce her. • Heinrich Leopold Wagner, • The Child Murderess (1776) • A bourgeois daughter is seduced by an aristocratic officer. • Fearing her father’s condemnation, she flees her home when she becomes pregnant. • She kills her child in her despair over her situation and is condemned to death. The conflicts of these dramas focus on the formation and defense of bourgeois morality as an alternative to the licentiousness of the aristocracy.

  5. Goethe alters the bourgeois tragic drama to shift the perspective from the community to the individual. • The story is told from the perspective of the seducer. • Fathers are absent, and individuals must decide for themselves. • The class conflict is overshadowed by the conflict between Faust’s dynamic, striving character and Margaret’s static attachment to her family and community. Bourgeois tragic dramaGoethe’s Faust Perspective Role of Fathers Role of Community • The story is told from the perspective of the daughter. • The moral severity of bourgeois fathers is central for the action. • The daughter’s situation involves a defense of bourgeois families against aristocratic excesses. The problem in Faust I is not the status of the community but the moral decisions of individuals.

  6. Goethe’s Faust establishes the priority of the individual against community constraints. • Goethe refashions the bourgeois tragic drama to highlight the conflict between individual development and community values. • Faust’s feelings are focused on his own individual goals and development. • Feelings are the basis of Faust’s individual conception of divinity. • Faust treats feeling rather than the word as the evidence for God. • Faust’s ethic of individual experience has no need for God. • Faust uses his feelings to justify his actions to himself. • Faust’s relation to nature and people is based on his own feelings. • Faust regrets that he must lie, but does so on the basis of his feelings. • Faust’s talk of everlasting love to Margaret is based on feelings rather than a promise of commitment.

  7. Faust treats feeling rather than the word as the evidence for God. Faust ‘s response to the “Gretchen question.” FAUST. The All-Enfolding, All-Sustaining, does He not uphold and keep you, me, Himself? Do you not see the vaulted skies above? Is our earth not firmly set below? Do not everlasting stars rise up to show their friendly light? Is my gaze not deeply locked in yours, and don’t you feel your being surging to your head and heart, weaving in perennial mystery invisibly and visibly in you? Fill your heart to overflowing, and when you feel profoundest bliss, then call it what you will: Good fortune! Heart! Love! or God! I have no name for it! Feeling is all; the name is sound and smoke, beclouding Heaven’s glow. (3438-58, pp. 309-11) Faust is concerned more with worldly phenomena than with a personified God. God is one with creation. The name is not important. Feeling is the evidence for God. Feeling rather than the word becomes the source of authority.

  8. Faust’s ethic of individual experience has no need for God. Faust praises the Earth Spirit and Mephistopheles, not God. FAUST. That nothing perfect ever can accrue to Man I know deeply now. With all my bliss which brought me close and closer to the gods, you gave me the companion which I even now can no longer do without; though cold and insolent, he humbles me before myself, and by a single breath he transforms your gifts to nothingness, and busily he fans within my bosom a seething fire for that radiant image. I stagger from desire to enjoyment, and in its throes I starve for more desire. (3240-50, p. 293) Faust address the Earth Spirit as the one who has given him Mephistopheles Faust praises Mephistopheles for stimulating his feelings,turning everything of value to nothingness and then spurring Faust’s desires anew.

  9. Faust’s relation to nature and people is based on his own feelings. Relation to Nature Relation to People FAUST. Sublime Spirit, you gave me everything, gave me all I ever asked. Not in vain you turned your fiery countenance on me. You gave me glorious Nature for my kingdom, the strength to feel and to enjoy Her. (3217-21, p. 291) FAUST. When in her arms, I need no joys of Heaven. The warmth I seek is burning in her breast. Do I not every moment feel her woe? (3347, p. 301) Faust justifies his actions with regard to Margaret based on his own feelings. Faust praises the Earth Spirit because it grants him power and feeling.

  10. Faust regrets that he must lie, but does so on the basis of his feelings. MEPHISTOPHELES. That’s good of you! And then you’ll speak of faith and love eternal, of a single, overpowering urge— will that flow so easily from your heart? FAUST. Enough, I say it will.—When I am deeply stirred and through the raging tumult seek and grope in vain for name and speech, sweep through the world with all my senses, reach for the highest words that come to me, and the ardor in which I burn I call infinite, eternal fire— can that be called a devil’s game of lies? MEPHISTOPHELES. All the same, I’m right. FAUST. Listen now! Mark this well, I beg of you, and let me save my breath— Anyone intent on winning, if he but use his tongue, will win, But come, I’m tired of this idle chatter, for you have won your point, since what I do, I must. (3055-72, pp. 269-71) • Mephistopheles points out that Faust can lie about Martha’s husband being dead because he will also lie to Margaret about the eternal character of his love. • Faust’s response is that, although his intention will not be to stay with her forever, he might still call his love eternal in a moment of passion without it really being a lie. • Faust also claims that words do not reveal the truth but are just a rhetorical strategy for convincing others. • But this point can be directed against Faust as well, and in the end Faust agrees to lie.

  11. Faust’s talk of everlasting love to Margaret is based on feelings rather than a promise of commitment. Faust uses the word everlasting in an ambiguous and deceptive way. FAUST. Oh, do not tremble. Look into my eyes; let my hands which press your hands convey to you the inexpressible: to give oneself completely and to feel an ecstasy which must be everlasting! Everlasting!—the end would be despair. No—no end! no end! (MARGARET clasps his hands, frees herself, and runs off. FAUST stands for a moment in deep thought, then follows her.) (3188-94, p. 285) The focus is not on his promise of marriage, as Margaret desires and might imagine, but on how he describes his present feeling.

  12. Goethe’s Faust establishes the priority of the individual against community constraints. • Goethe refashions the bourgeois tragic drama to highlight the conflict between individual development and community values. • Faust’s feelings are focused on his own individual goals and development. • Though she participates in Faust’s individualism, Margaret is condemned as a result of her commitment to community values. • Margaret at first follows Faust individualist stance but then submits to the community. • Margaret’s return to community values contrasts with Faust’s individualism. • While Margaret adheres to Christian principles in the end, Faust judges actions simply according to practical consequences. • While Margaret dies because she is focused on remaining within the bounds of the community, Faust escapes condemnation by continuing to seek his own continual movement. • The play frames church and community principles as the voice of an evil spirit. • Margaret’s feelings of guilt are intensified by the evil spirit who repeats the criticisms of the townspeople. • Faust rejects the evil spirit’s and the townspeople’s criticisms, suggesting that they are the cause of her suffering.

  13. Margaret at first follows Faust’s individualist stance but then submits to the community. Trajectory of Margaret’s development in the play Individualism Gives her mother a sleeping potion to spend the night with Faust. Though she would like at this point to return to her community, they will not accept her. Feels guilty when she hears Lieschen criticize Barbara’s behavior. Continues with Faust even after he rejects the name of God. Kills her baby Hides 2nd jewelry box from her mother with Martha Seeks comfort from the Mater Dolorosa Has no father, but takes 1st jewelry box to her mother Hears Evil Spirit’s repetition of community opinions. Asks Faust about his belief in God. Chooses judgment over escape from prison Respect for Community

  14. While Margaret adheres to Christian principles, Faust judges actions according to practical consequences for her as an individual. FAUST. That too from you? A world of murder and death upon your monstrous head! Take me to her, I tell you, and set her free! (Gloomy Day—Field, p. 403) MARGARET. Judgment of God! To thee I surrender! (4605, p. 423) Margaret refuses to leave the dungeon and prefers to submit to the judgment of God. Faust criticizes Mephistopheles for causing so many deaths, but also imagines that things can be set right if Margaret is freed from prison.

  15. While Margaret is focused on remaining within the bounds of the community, Faust seeks his own continual movement. FAUST. Let me plunge into the rush of passing time, into the rolling tide of circumstance! Then let sorrow and delight, frustration or success, occur in turn as happenstance; restless action is the state of man. (1754-59, p. 137) MARGARET. I dare not leave; for me there’s nothing more to hope. Why escape? I know they lie in wait for me. It’s misery to go begging, and with a guilty conscience too. It’s a misery to wander where I am not at home, and in the end they’ll come to hunt me down. (4544-49, pp. 417-19) Sees his experiences in terms of his own continual movement through the world. Margaret sees her life as bounded by her surrounding community.

  16. Margaret’s feelings of guilt are intensified by the Evil Spirit who repeats the criticisms of the townspeople. The evil spirit repeats to Margaret the community condemnation from Valentine and Lieschen. EVIL SPIRIT. What misdeed is lodged in your heart? Do you pray for he soul of your mother, who through your doing passed to never-ending sleep? Whose blood stains your doorstep?— Is something not stirring and swelling beneath your heart, making itself and you afraid with stark foreboding? (3787-93, p. 343) EVIL SPIRIT. Hide! Hide! Yet sin and shame will not remain concealed. (3821-22, p. 345) EVIL SPIRIT. From you the blessed turn their faces. The pure recoil from offering their hand. Woe! (3828-32, p. 347) VALENTINE. Once you said farewell to honor, you dealt my heart a heavy blow. (3772-73, p. 341) LIESCHEN. It stinks! Now she must eat and drink for two. (3548-49, p. 321) VALENTINE. You will hide in dismal nooks and corners among the cripples and the beggars, and even if our God forgive you in the end, you’ll still be damned on earth until you die! (3760-63, p. 341) VALENTINE. Even now I see the time when all the decent people of this town will turn, as from a festering cadaver, away from you, you slut! (3750-53, p. 339)

  17. Faust rejects the Evil Spirit’s and the townspeople’s criticisms, suggesting that they are the cause of her suffering. Faust. Given over to evil spirits and to the unfeeling who presume to dispense justice! (Gloomy Day—Field, p. 399) Faust criticizes the way the townspeople persecute Margaret by means of their moral principles. His feelings of guilt are related, not to the transgression of moral principles from the community or the church, but to the practical consequences for Margaret. Faust. It was her life, her peace I had to ruin. (3360, p. 301)

  18. Goethe’s Faust establishes the priority of the individual against community constraints. • Goethe refashions the bourgeois tragic drama to highlight the conflict between individual development and community values. • The Gretchen tragedy has its origins in the bourgeois tragic drama. • Goethe alters the bourgeois tragic drama to shift the perspective from the community to the individual. • Faust’s feelings are focused on his own individual goals and development. • Feelings are the basis of Faust’s individual conception of divinity. • Faust treats feeling rather than the word as the evidence for God. • Faust’s ethic of individual experience has no need for God. • Faust uses his feelings to justify his actions to himself. • Faust’s relation to nature and people is based on his own feelings. • Faust regrets that he must lie, but does so on the basis of his feelings. • Faust’s talk of everlasting love to Margaret is based on feelings rather than a promise of commitment. • Though she participates in Faust’s individualism, Margaret is condemned as a result of her commitment to community values. • Margaret at first follows Faust individualist stance but then submits to the community. • Margaret’s return to community values contrasts with Faust’s individualism. • While Margaret adheres to Christian principles in the end, Faust judges actions simply according to practical consequences. • While Margaret dies because she is focused on remaining within the bounds of the community, Faust escapes condemnation by continuing to seek his own continual movement. • The play frames church and community principles as the voice of an evil spirit. • Margaret’s feelings of guilt are intensified by the evil spirit who repeats the criticisms of the townspeople. • Faust rejects the evil spirit’s and the townspeople’s criticisms, suggesting that they are the cause of her suffering.