Satan Before God
Faust as a Tragic Hero. In the story of Faust, written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust is whirled into an adventure of sin and deceit. The further Faust follows the devil the closer he comes to his own demise, taking down with him the innocent Gretchen. As Faust goes on he embodies the characteristics of a tragic hero in a sense that he is borderline good and evil, constantly battling his conscience.
Despite the complicated plot and the numerous philosophical and literary digressions, a single main theme is evident throughout both parts of Faust and provides a unifying structure for the entire work. This is Faust’s dissatisfaction with the finite limits on man’s potential — the driving force that motivates him in all his adventures as he strives to find a way to pass beyond the boundaries set on human experience and perception.
Closely related to this theme is another one that is first established in the conversation between the Lord and Mephistopheles in the “Prologue in Heaven,” and which is indirectly referred to at other points in the poem. The Lord acknowledges to Mephisto that it is natural for man to fall into error, but asserts that despite this he remains able to make moral distinctions. Thus the issue at stake in the wager made by God and the devil is whether Faust, as a representative of all mankind, will continue to be able to perceive the difference between good and evil, regardless of temptation and personal sinfulness. In the Lord’s view of human nature, it is admitted that man is imperfect and that his ability is limited, but it is also assumed that human imperfection is not absolute and that man’s potential for good can be cultivated. In this sense Faust’s dissatisfaction and striving may be interpreted as an unconscious manifestation of man’s potential to improve himself, even though Faust is frequently misguided by his obsessive efforts to rise beyond man’s natural sphere. It is because Faust does retain his sense of right and wrong, and because his eyes are constantly focused on a vision of something higher than himself, which is ultimately the cause of his frustrated despair, that he is finally rewarded by entrance into Heaven.