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Good and Evil in Faust
In Faust Goethe shows many of his opinions about good, evil, and religion. Goethe uses characters like The Lord and Gretchen in the early part of the play to set examples of goodness. Goethe uses characters like Mephistopheles to stand for evil. Throughout the play Goethe also uses examples of the church to show how he feels the church works.
The concept of good for Goethe is that everyone has the ability to be good and that errors in judgment are what make people bad but if a person keeps striving these mistakes will bring them closer to righteousness. As long as a person continues to keep moving and doing things they will most likely achieve righteousness. This is shown in the bet between Faust and Mephistopheles. Faust says that if at any time he says, "Linger a while! Thou art so fair!" that will be when Faust dies and serves Mephistopheles. This shows that if Faust were to stop wanting to do anything it would be a horrible sin. The Lord which many perceive to stand for God stands for the perfection that Faust is trying to accomplish with his life. Gretchen in the early part of the play stands for perfection because she is inexperienced and knows nothing else until Faust starts to seduce her.
The concept of bad for Goethe can be seen most in the character of Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles is believed to stand for the devil. When he first introduces himself he describes himself as "a part of that Power which always wills evil, always procures good.....the Spirit which always denies." Mephistopheles actions such as talking Faust into taking advantage of Gretchen and then telling him to leave her are seen as evil actions. The fact that Mephistopheles spends time with witches which most people see as evil shows that he is also evil. Goethe believes that all people sin sometimes and God forgives us. This is shown when Gretchen is in prison and after all the sin she has done a voice from heaven grants her salvation. Even though she did sin, most of her sin was because of inexperience and she was not purposely sinning.
Goethe feels that the church and religion are both useless. When Faust leaves Gretchen the first jewels, her mother takes them to the church. The church takes them saying that they are trying to help, but this can be seen as the church just trying to get money out of them.
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The Church has an excellent appetite
She has swallowed whole countries and the question
Has never risen of indigestion
Only the Church can take
Ill-gotten goods without stomach-ache!
When Gretchen is in the church and being taunted by the Evil Spirit and faints shows more of Goethe's feelings. Religion is supposed to help you through your problems and make you feel better. In Gretchen's case religion is actually hurting her more because she feels so bad that she went against her beliefs and she didn't know anything else. The church is also supposed to be forgiving but Gretchen and other girls like her are looked down on by others in the community. In effect both the church and religion are supposed to help but neither do. Goethe's opinions are present in many scenes throughout Faust. Goethe gives many examples of good and evil for us to compare. Mephistopheles, Gretchen, and the witches all stand for Goethe's opinions on different subjects. He also shows that he doesn't trust the church or religion. Throughout the play he also shows that you have to know some evil in order to know good.