You are on page 1of 6

Robin Banks

Final paper
20 March, 2017
Section: Wed. 9:20

On the Tragedy of Man

Faust​, as a whole, is a seminal work of literature that deals with such compelling

concepts as religion, faith, meaning, love, and (maybe) most importantly, the dichotomy of

gender. It is a play about a man’s journey through life and his search for meaning and

purpose. In itself, this is an age-old theme of literary works– but what makes ​Faust,​ in

particular, a remarkable work of its time, is its​ resolution​. ​Faust ​puts a revolutionary spin on

the typical arc of man’s journey, by bringing in the necessity and immutability of woman.

This paper will explore the theme of gender, in ​Faust​, specifically through the lense of the

divine archetypes of masculinity and femininity, with an added emphasis on its relationship to

the Baucis and Philemon episode.

When we first meet Baucis and Philemon, it soon becomes clear that Faust is striving

to create an empire by reclaiming the land from the sea– a euphemism for pushing back the

swamps. His goal is to create a united, utopian empire– but to complete this, he must take the

final plot of land that evades his grasp, which happens to be right where Baucis and Philemon

reside. He wants their land and is ready to take it, but by peaceful means only. The problem is

that he sends Mephistopheles to do his bidding, and as we have learned, when Mephisto gets

involved with anything, trouble is bound to follow. Instead of peacefully ceasing the land,

Mephistopheles destroys the couple and their home, and even the visiting traveller who comes

along. And although Faust is enraged by this, he still bares the brunt of the guilt, as he was the

one who sent his henchman to steal their land in the first place. But what is most important

and ideals. He has no defenses. After Baucis and Philemon are murdered. most vulnerable position. to complete the canal he was building for his people. In the end. But only Care can enter. he gives up magic for good. with her three sisters.about this last segment of the play is not so much in its direct events. has been defeated. in his dying breaths. but they also finagle a plot of . at this point. and it is pervaded by the devil’s involvement in all his affairs. but more so in the implications for Faust’s character. And these are all coincidentally (or perhaps ​not ​coincidentally) the kinds of things that Faust spends his entire life in pursuit of. He refuses to surrender to her. But what does all this have to do with Baucis and Philemon. and convincing the king to create paper money. and love– but not romantic love necessarily. All of part one is spent in his search for knowledge. blinds him. This is when Care shows up. It involves aggression. The kind of love Faust seeks is more similar to just sex. independence. meanings. and in response she breathes on him. Arguably. and is about to die– and without even completing his goal. They not only convince him to create the world’s first inflation crisis. involves the search for knowledge. and Debt. money. and is almost ready to die. and control. Faust is at his lowest. He finds his last solace. did past representations have similar constructs. Just like with the concepts of masculinity and femininity in contemporary society. because Care is the only affliction with which Faust remains entangled. acquisition of power. so too. Faust is finally finished. this may even be what saves him. Distress. Want. The masculine ideal. and how does the eternal feminine fit in? In order to address that question. and takes his magic. and heroism. dominion. Part two starts with the two of them masquerading as a god and a miser. it is important to first outline the dichotomy of gender in archetypal form. But from this he still rises up to call forth his workers. meaning. sexual potency. as he sees a bright hopeful future for his people.

this is an indication of the problematic attachment to the most materialistic of male pleasures: wealth. to fill the hole where a missing piece belongs. and especially everything that the devil gives him. one will become lost or discouraged along the way. which is undoubtedly underdeveloped and potentially bolstered by his hedonistic conquests. He is constantly striving to put himself back together. recall now. and every dollar. might represent his striving for internal unity. Often represented by marriage. Unfortunately for Faust. But to go deeper. that the very last moments of his life. Is this not what saved him? Further. and that is the connection to his inner self. it is actually more a . every piece of land. But. show him (finally) looking inward. sex. only pushes him further away from seeing this truth. Think of the self as being a gigantic puzzle. there is an even greater significance to Faust’s striving for material things. one that must be put together over a lifetime. This is the essence of Faust’s internal predicament. and seeing the goals and values he truly sought to achieve for his society. a theme which mirrors that of the unity of the self– the unity of man and for Faust to own. There is no guarantee that one even has all of the pieces to their own puzzle. before he achieves salvation. The goal of life is to complete the puzzle. and I would go so far as to say that even the land he desires from Baucis and Philemon. and because of this. and dominion– but still. we are liable to take whatever we can and try and shove it in place. Maybe those goals were always intertwined with the material delights of power. they had pure intentions laced alongside. there is a definite internal striving in all of us. Again. but more often than not. it should be pointed out that there is another important layer to this theme. and power. wealth. This does not necessarily mean that a man must become a woman to reach wholeness. which is directed towards uniting the feminine and masculine energies within ourselves. the solution can only come from within.

except the home of Baucis and Philemon. without any potential for material gain. not until the very end. In fact. so they can be at peace. he destroyed her. were taken out externally. and the masculine must find union with the feminine. It is a psychological archetype that carries the ideals of . in order to balance the individual. with physical gratification (sex). but not one house will take them in. It is no wonder he lived all his life in perpetual restlessness. who entertain them with great hospitality even though they have so little. and despair. He must seek union with woman. and eternal essence. not once did he truly look within to find his solutions– at least. and maybe the land is the material thing that bares the brunt of his desire. not in her physical form (as we know he has no problem with that) but in her traits. in order to be saved. chaos. ​Baucis and Philemon represent a contrast to Faust’s personality. The concept of the eternal feminine comes from the age-old idea that men and women both have different core essences. and that went nowhere good. And in the end. he must transcend his mortal selfishness and become like them. This is the essence of the tragedy of man. they all end in destruction. He followed Helen all the way to Hades to unite with her. but also to unite all​ of the opposites within. qualities.testament to the opposing forces which colour our existences so uniquely from person to person. what else does​ ​Faust ​really​ seek to unify? He tried to “unite” with Gretchen. but truly we must ask ourselves. they are caring and good. and that did not go well. In​ Metamorphosis​. and no internal resolution. Baucis and Philemon could very well represent the perfect union of masculine and feminine. The goal of life is not just to unite the fragmented pieces of the self. which would point directly to their significance in Faust’s self-development. He envies them. In ​Faust. Now. Similarly. Jupiter and Mercury (disguised as mortals) seek out a dwelling to stay and rest. All of Faust’s attempts at uniting with woman.

through moral guidance. He desires their wisdom and their unity. And the tragedy of man is to be living so out of sync with woman. that he cannot understand her. rather than his material desires.modesty. he wants more. and seeks to acquire it through theft. and he painfully regrets taking their lives from them. Yet. This is where he finally meets with the feminine. Baucis and Philemon are the opposite. it is because he inadvertently secures their demise through his striving for their possessions. sexual potency. and care. love. Faust’s only path to retribution for this and his other acts of horror. and as such. especially that which he cannot have. He sees how foolish he was to work with the devil. civility. These material things are the objects of man’s worldly desires. For Faust. It is not said explicitly. They are an example of true wisdom. politeness. respect her. but it is clear he respects them. but this is only because he lacks the internal wisdom necessary to see past the ruse of materialism. so long as he does not learn to integrate woman. his conquest of them becomes his eternal prison. and heroism. he meets them at the end of his self developmental journey. . and eternal affection. even enough to give to others through their hospitality. while man is action. grace. comes through changing his focus to his values. chastity. and still yet when he does not. Man seeks to affirm his importance. The eternal feminine is thought to be the bridge which allows men to cross over into the spirit world. is the last straw in pushing Faust out of his material prison. He is never satisfied. They have very little. this is represented in Faust’s eternal striving for material delights. his power. and spirituality. He is restless when he gets what he wants. Faust always wants wants wants. and the fact that he wants them removed ​peacefully​ can be a testament to that as well. I believe. or benefit from the eternal wisdom that she can provide. Once he gets what he wants. his autonomy. And again. When he does finally see this. and like the archetypal wise old woman and the wise old man. woman is contemplation. love. This. yet are content.

looks within to the light. through his own demise– the ultimate punishment. Nevermind that it took all his life. and Faust escapes because of Mephisto’s foolish striving for pleasure. This is a lesson in faith. and nevermind all the horrors he committed while on Earth. also. and eternal value of forgiveness. He was never satisfied by the devil’s gifts– he always sought resolution of his internal predicament. enlaced with the divine. he is only allowed to rest in peace. and in forgiveness. and finds solace. In the end. He is seduced by the angels. and his godless mortal form to perish. He lived on in the eternal feminine. leaving his material strivings. And while he arguably undergoes a​ slow transformation over the entire play. . feminine. because he ​does ​give into material delights once again. When Mephistopheles thinks that he has him. He sees the feminine as a part of himself. Faust escapes his clutches by following Gretchen into the sky. Faust’s restlessness is what saved him. It is also important to note. and seeks to make union with them– but it is all a trick. Mephistopheles fails at securing Faust’s soul.