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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust and Fyodor Doestoevsky's Notes from Underground
“Faust” is based on a classic German legend, in which the protagonist makes a deal with the devil in exchange for knowledge. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's work is only one of many versions, which have included many other literary variations, including that of Christopher Marlowe. (Goethe 87) In the early books, it was inevitable that Faust was to see his own downfall because he chose human or worldly knowledge over divine knowledge. When Goethe produced his story, Faust was turned into an unfulfilled man who yearns for more than worldly pleasures.
Goethe's “Faust” is his best known work, and is recognized as one of the best in German literature. This closet drama expands on the simple moral of the original tale, showing Faust knowing the limits of man's powers and capacity to learn, and looking for the essence of life. It is also the only version which includes Gretchen as a character (Goethe 86). Consequently, among its principal characters are her family and her neighbor
Mephistopheles the Devil strikes a deal with him: He will serve Faust until he reaches the peak of human happiness. Believing it is not possible at all, Faust accepts. In an effort to ensure that happiness is obtained, Mephistopheles puts him through circumstances that lead Faust into having a relationship with an innocent woman named Gretchen - a relationship which ultimately turns out to be injurious. Faust's desires, aided by the deceptions of Mephistopheles, devastate Gretchen and her family. Gretchen is saved, and Faust is left in disgrace.
Where the first part is centered on Faust's soul and its sale to the devil, the second one is involved with such fields as history, politics, and psychology. The romance in the first part is set aside in the second part, which has five acts that correspond to various themes. In the end, Faust goes to heaven because he lost only half the bet (Goethe 188).
Faust is a parable on religion and science, passion and independence, within the context of morality and metaphysics. Faust the character is compelled to deal with good and evil, and mortality through the deal made with Mephistopheles.
Gretchen and her suffering can be noted as an example of one way to being holy and pure. Faust demonstrates how man can will himself to live, and then have the will repudiate this because of adversity. A person knows that the whole world suffers, and too much pain can be felt by that person himself. There are many works of literature that show the protagonist, or a major character, coming to the point where they accept this fact, but Faust effectively illustrates how one moves from one point to another. In the end, “Margaret falls a martyr, but not only is she saved, but is even ultimately the means of Faust's salvation” (Koller 7).
There is a scene in which Gretchen asks Faust if he is, in fact, religious (Goethe 149). This had spawned the word “Gretchenfrage” in the German language, which came to mean a question that hits the heart of the problem, thus constraining the person asked to confess or to make a tough choice. Additionally, the word “Faustian”, in English, has come to depict an unhealthy pact or deal; a destructive bargaining with the devil; or an insatiable desire for knowledge.
“Notes from Underground” is a short novel written by Fyodor Doestoevsky. This novel is supposedly the memoirs of an embittered narrator with no name, although he is referred to as the Underground Man in general. The Underground Man is a civil servant living in retirement in St. Petersburg (Dostoevsky 583).
The novel is written in two parts. The first part has an introduction, a body comprised of three main sections, and a conclusion. The introduction has some riddles in it, and the second, third and fourth chapters are concerned with suffering. The fifth and sixth chapters deal with intellectual and moral indecision and inaction. The seventh, eighth, and ninth chapters involve logic and reason.
“Notes from Underground” is said to be the first existentialist novel in the world. There is uniqueness of individuals experience in hostile or unsympathetic universe, regards existence as unexplainable, but stresses choice and responsibility for the consequences. What man does - and what he aims for - shapes history. The narrator's seeming wish to suffer can be gleaned from liver pain and toothache. The Underground Man believes that man whines about his suffering only because he is cruel and he wants others to be infected and be in pain themselves.
The Underground Man has essentially arrived at tedium and apathy. He knows that he has problems, and he knows what they are. He wants to exact revenge, although he knows it is not righteous. He knows revenge should not be resorted to as a means to attain justice. This makes him have ill will towards himself. However, he does not find ways to solve his problems. At a certain point, he acknowledges that he prefers to do nothing because he is lazy.
The first part criticizes efforts to form actions and behaviors through logic. Despite man's struggle to fashion utopia, it is a fact that at any point, somebody will choose to do something that is not good- if not to rebel against conformity, then they will do so to substantiate their freedom to choose, their humanity, their existence. What the Underground Man jeers at are egoism and selfishness. His rebellion is typical of adolescents who want to be unique and independent.
“Notes from Underground” grapples with the ideas behind free will and touches on existentialism and human crisis. In meeting Liza, Doestoevsky goes into “the clash of romantic ideals with real others and the struggle of the humiliated self to survive and live” (Breger 192).
He encounters Liza, a prostitute, at a brothel. The underground man talks to Liza about her future, and then she recognizes that she will later become worthless- so hopelessly worthless that nobody will want her anymore. She becomes conscious of where she stands and mesmerized at how the Underground Man has such comprehension of what ails society.
Later he flies into a rage, admitting his self-loathing and his earlier cruelty to her. He tears up while confessing that he actually wanted to show her that he is above her. He says he wants to take it all back, and Liza sees how pathetic he is.
Before she leaves his apartment, he hands her money, which she then throws onto a table. She leaves and he never hears from her again (Doestoevsky 646). The novel rebuffs a philosophy called socialist utopianism, espoused by those who wish to create a perfect society. This novel depicts men as unreasonable and unmanageable, and maintains that man can never be contented even with developments offered by technology. (Doestoevsky 583). Liza's purpose is to be the Underground Man's newest fantasy- to feed his need to exert power over somebody else. She plays the jaded prostitute rescued by the hero, and he is the knight in shining armor.
Later, though, she turns more complex. She is somewhat innocent from the beginning, with idealized notions of love and respect. Later it is evident, from the scene with the Underground Man's confession and the note of affection from a medical student, that Liza may be even more naïve than previously thought. She likes the idea of being a heroine touched by romance, instead of being a prostitute (Doestoevsky 636)
However, Liza takes to his offensive speech with kindheartedness and understanding, so she comes across as a real heroine. She is sensitive enough to see his nastiness, and compassionate enough to comfort him. When she grasps that he knows only disgrace and ridicule, she rejects his money and leaves him. She has chosen to stop being a prostitute.
When Liza appears in “Notes from Underground”, her function in the novel is being the object of the Underground Man's fantasy object almost the same as we first see Gretchen as the object of happiness. Later in the novels the characters become more complex. When we first meet each of them, they match the stereotypes of being bored, jaded, and somewhat naïve females. When Liza is genuinely moved by the Underground Man's speech, however, we realize that she may be even more innocent than expected. Just the same as when Gretchen is being sought after by Faust when he is secretly giving her gifts. Both young girls are driven into like situations, Liza into prostitution by an uncaring family and Gretchen, into a forbidden relationship by her neighbor. However they both idealize romantic love and long for respect and affection from suitors. They are also similar in that they are both saved in the end: Gretchen through saving Faust from his demise with Devil and Liza through ending her life as a prostitute.
Breger, Louis. Dostoevsky: The author as psychoanalyst. Piscataway: Transaction Publishers, 2008. Print.
Brown, Jane K. The persistence of allegory: drama and neoclassicism from Shakespeare to Wagner. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Print.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. “Notes from Underground.” trans. Ralph E. Metlaw. The Longman Anthology of World Literature. 2nd Ed. Eds David Damrosch, David L. Pike. Vol. E. New York: Pearson. Longman. 2009. 580-648. Print.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. “Faust.” trans. David Luke. The Longman Anthology of World Literature. 2nd Ed. Eds David Damrosch, David L. Pike. Vol. E. New York: Pearson. Longman. 2009. 84-192. Print.
Koller, W. H. Faust papers: containing critical and historical remarks on Faust and its translations, with some observations upon Goethe. Oxford: Black, Young, and Young, 1835. Print.