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The Romantic Hero in Goethe's Faust

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Ashley Williams November 4, 2005 HIST 218 - Ramsey The Romantic Hero in Goethe's Faust 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. ...read more.


He rejects the popular deism of the Enlightenment with the attitude that "feeling is everything" (line 3521). Happiness, God, and the heart form a mysterious single entity that flows through the universe. Faust's choice to venture into the occult parallels the trend towards mysticism seen in Romantic culture. He summons the power of the supernatural through declaring himself a God. This act embodies the Romantic attitudes that glorified the primacy of the individual. Faust supports the idea of individual primacy when he tells Wagner that the self is the place from where everything originates (line 590). The context of Faust's statement that he is "the one made in the very image of God" conveys the Emersonian notion that because God is invested in every man, a man rules his own moral universe (line 635). Faust's rejection of Enlightenment principles is evident in throughout the play. The contrast he makes between the rational world and the world of imagination (line 660) is a typical Romantic complaint about the rationalist period from which he was emerging. Like Goethe's Romantic contemporaries, Faust glorifies the culture of past eras, where art expressed a mode of life driven by imagination - a far cry from the formulaic restraint of the Enlightenment. ...read more.


He feels remarkably guilty about what he has done to Gretchen and blames his lust on her downfall, exclaiming, "I wish I had never been born!" (line 4688). The tragic irony of the situation is that Faust only becomes capable of true love after it is too late to save Gretchen from her fate. The lesson of Gretchen's heavenly salvation espouses the quintessentially Romantic notion of the spirituality of true love. This attitude allows for her redemption, 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. ?? ?? ?? ?? 5 ...read more.

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