Faust. First Part Characters

This Study Guide consists of approximately 25 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Faust. First Part.
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Heinrich Faust

Faust begins the play as a relatively good person. He serves the Lord but according to the Lord Himself, he serves in confusion. The Lord grants Mephistopheles permission to try to draw Faust away from the Lord. The description the Lord and even Mephistopheles give of the faith of Faust is greatly contrasted with the audience's first view of Faust as they see him in dismay and melancholy, and at the brink of committing suicide. Faust has reached this point because he no longer sees the sense of his learning. He feels that although he has dedicated his life to the task of gaining knowledge he is no better off than when he began. He has no wealth or riches to show for his learning and even feels mocked by the respect others show to him.

In literary terms Faust is categorized as a tragic hero. Faust fits this term because he is a person who is highly respected those around him. This respect is evidenced by Wagner's allegiance as well as that of the unnamed student who comes to Faust seeking advice. The tragic hero generally makes a bad decision that leads to his downfall. In this case, it is Faust's decision to make a pact with the devil that leads to his downfall. Often a tragic hero will cause others to fall along with him. In the case of Faust, he causes the ultimate destruction of Gretchen's life when he becomes involved with her.

At the beginning of the play Faust is struggling with his own self-worth as well as his ability to believe and have faith in God. Although he knows he was made in God's image, he sees himself as little more than a worm. It is this mindset that allows the devil to get an easy grip on Faust. Throughout the remainder of the play Faust struggles with Mephistopheles as he tries to show Faust pleasure beyond learning and knowledge. As Faust participates in the devil's deal, he impregnates a young girl, kills her brother and assists in the death of her mother.

Mephistopheles

Mephistopheles acts as Faust's antagonist in the play. He is a devil-like character who tries to entice Faust away from his belief in God. Note that while God is considered all powerful, there are several instances in the play that refer to the devil's lack of power. While speaking with Faust the devil admits he is not omniscient as God is, but that he knows a lot. Mephistopheles is also forced by the laws of hell to exit a room or home the same way he entered that room. This is evidenced in the scene in Faust's study where Faust is able to hold the devil captive for a short while because of the pentagram on his threshold.

Although Mephistopheles is portrayed as being the leader of the underworld, he is not even recognized by the witch in the scene entitled "The Witch's Kitchen." The witch admits she expected the devil to have a cloven hoof, while the Mephistopheles that travels with Faust appears to be a normal human. Note, however, that in the tavern scene, one of the revelers even notices Mephistopheles' malformed foot. These differences could indicate that Mephistopheles actually changes form throughout the play. After all, it is known that he first appeared to Faust as a poodle.

From the beginning of the play Mephistopheles' attitude is haughty and disdainful. He dislikes God's creation, especially humans who he says offers him little challenge. Mephistopheles readily accepts the Lord's offer to try to lead Faust away from his belief in the Lord. He believes Faust will offer him no difficulty and will be easy to lead away from his belief in God.

Margareta (Gretchen)

Faust first sees Gretchen in a mirror in a witch's kitchen. From this point on, he is determined to get the girl as his own. Gretchen is described as being beautiful, but young and innocent. According to the play she is only about fourteen years old. When Faust meets the girl on the street she has just made her confession the priest. Because of her great faith, Mephistopheles has no power over her. With the help of a not so faithful neighbor, Mephistopheles is able to convince the girl to see Faust. Gretchen falls in love with Faust and soon is willing to do anything for him. She gives her mother a sleeping potion so that she and Faust can spend the night together. Apparently she gives too much of the potion, however, because her mother dies. Gretchen also becomes pregnant through her relationship with Faust. Gretchen is put in prison for her sins and becomes insane. This mental instability causes her to drown her baby when it is born. Despite her sins, a voice from heaven declares that Gretchen is redeemed at the conclusion of the play.

Wagner

Wagner is a young man who has chosen to learn from Faust. He is a type of servant whose job is to learn what he can from the doctor and teacher. Wagner's young, fresh pursuit of knowledge contrasts with Faust's hopeless position where he believes himself no better off for all of his learning. Wagner is a serious man and does not care for the folly or discussion of common people. He sees their socialization as mere frivolity. Wagner is also awed by the respect people show toward Faust. Wagner hopes that one day he will warrant this same respect.

Valentine

Valentine is Gretchen's brother. He is a soldier. When he learns about Gretchen's condition he comes home to defend her honor. He is killed in the street outside Gretchen's house as he fights with Faust and Mephistopheles.

Martha

Martha is Gretchen's neighbor. It is through Martha's help that Mephistopheles is able to set up meetings between Gretchen and Faust. Although Martha is a believer, her faith is not as strong as that of Gretchen's mother. Martha senses there is something strange about the jewelry that Gretchen is given but does not readily sense it has come from an evil source. Martha also unknowingly courts Mephistopheles.

The Witch

The witch is referred to as an understudy of Mephistopheles. She makes most of his potions for him because Mephistopheles lacks the patience to mix the brews. In the one scene in which she appears in the play, she does not recognize Mephistopheles and is cursed for her lack of recognition. It is this witch's potion that makes Faust young so that he can woo Gretchen. While she is away the witch's kitchen is attended by a pair of baboons and their children.

Margareta's Mother

Gretchen's mother never has a speaking part in the play but she is an important character as she makes Gretchen give the first set of jewels to the priest. Gretchen keeps the second set of jewels at Martha's house to keep her mother from giving them away also. Mephistopheles says Gretchen's mother has an uncanny ability to identify sinful things simply by their smell. Gretchen's mother is killed when Gretchen gives her a sleeping potion so that Faust can visit Gretchen in her home.

Barbara

Barbara is a friend of Gretchen who becomes pregnant out of wedlock. As Gretchen and her friend Lieschen talk about Barbara's situation Gretchen realizes how little tolerance she used to have for people who found themselves in this situation. Now that Gretchen is in the same situation, however, she finds herself feeling differently about Barbara.

The Lord

The only scene in which the Lord appears is in the third scene of the play. However, He plays a very important part in the play as He gives Mephistopheles permission to try to entice Faust from following the Lord. The Lord admits Faust is a believer, but that he is still serving in confusion. The Lord sets up the trial as a way to bring Faust to a clearer understanding of the Lord and His ways.

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