The Romantic Hero in Goethe's Faust Essay

The Romantic Hero in Goethe's Faust Essay

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The Romantic Hero in Goethe's Faust
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Long hailed as the watershed of Romantic literature, Goethe’s Faust
uses the misadventures of its hero to parallel the challenges that
pervaded European society in the dynamic years of the late eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries. Faust is the prototypical Romantic
hero because the transformation of his attitudes mirrors the larger
transformation that was occurring in the society in which Goethe
conceived the play. Faust’s odyssey transports him from adherence to
the cold rationale of the Enlightenment to a passion for the pleasures
that came to define the Romantic spirit. Faust not only expresses the
moral contradictions and spiritual yearnings of a man in search of
fulfillment, but also portrays the broader mindset of a society that
was groping for meaning in a world where reason no longer sufficed as
a catalyst for human cultural life.

The period of German Romanticism in which Goethe wrote Faust was
plagued with the same intrinsic turmoil that Faust himself felt prior
to making his deal with Mephisto. The destruction that the French
Revolution had exacted on the European consciousness was evident in
the attitudes of the people most touched by the tumult of the era –
people who came to realize that absolution was no longer a pertinent
intellectual goal. The cold rationale of the Enlightenment was no
longer adequate to explain the significance of life in a society where
everything had so recently been turned upside down. Romanticism was
the expression of this society’s craving for answers and fulfillment.
Everywhere, people embraced life passionately and lived as...


... middle of paper ...


...emption, despite her sins,
because “all her crime was love” (line 4501).

Goethe’s Faust is a work in which a new type of hero emerges to
satisfy the needs of a changing society. With Faust, Goethe succeeded
in representing a microcosm of the tensions that accompanied the shift
from rationalism to Romanticism. Complex and dynamic, Faust, like the
great men of his era, is a hero whose most notable achievement is his
transformation of the lives of others as well as his own. In this
respect, the lesson of the Romantic hero is comprised less of romance
than of utility. Following the trends of the Goethe’s contemporary
evolving society, the means by which Faust succeeds in accomplishing
his goals are largely selfish, brutal, and unethical. This is perhaps
Goethe’s single greatest reflection on the modern nature of heroism.

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