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Goethe’s Faust – A Man of Un-heroic Proportions

Faust: A Man of Un-heroic Proportions

In Faust, Goethe builds a dramatic poem around the strengths and weaknesses of a man who under a personalized definition of a hero fails miserably. A hero is someone that humanity models themselves and their actions after, someone who can be revered by the masses as an individual of great morality and strength, a man or woman that never sacrifices his beliefs under adversity. Therefore, through his immoral actions and his unwillingness to respect others rights and privileges, Faust is determined to be a man of un-heroic proportions.

It is seen early in the poem, that Faust has very strong beliefs and a tight moral code that is deeply rooted in his quest for knowledge. Sitting in his den, Faust describes his areas of instruction, “I have, alas, studied philosophy, jurisprudence and medicine, too, and, worst of all, theology with keen endeavor, through and through…” It is obvious that through his studies he has valued deep and critical thinking, however with the help of Mephisto, he would disregard his values and pursue the pleasures of the flesh. Faust’s impending downward spiral reveals the greed that both Mephisto and Faust share. Mephisto’s greed is evident in the hope that he will overcome Faust’s morality and thus be victorious in his wager with God; also because he is the devil and that is what he does. For Faust, greed emerges because of his desire to attain physical pleasures and therefore become whole in mind, body and spirit.

Faust’s goal to become the Überminche is an understandable desire, however, the means at which he strives for those ends are irresponsible and unjust. It is through this greed that Faust with the help of Mephisto exploit others in the pursuit…

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… dishonest and greedy to such a wondrous and magical location only because he admits that what he did was wrong.

Attaining passage into heaven is the only accomplishment that Faust makes in order to attain hero status. Even this final accomplishment is questionable, because God would not allow a man so unworthy to accompany people who have such a high moral standard and irrefutable grace. Faust then, neither falls under the classical definition of a hero except that he was, “…favored by the gods” and he does not fit into my personal definition of a hero. For Faust is not someone whose actions should be followed, he sacrificed his beliefs under adversity and most importantly; he destroyed anyone’s life if it conflicted to any aspect of his plan for superiority. Faust then, may be considered the greatest un hero to have ever attain passage into heaven.

The Significance of Villains in Beowulf

The Significance of Villains in Beowulf

Ancient, timeless, and very, very hard to read, Beowulf has plagued well-meaning college students for centuries with its cryptic passages and vague metaphors. Yet at the root it resonates with a sort of clear allegorical criticism aimed at Scandinavian warrior society. In the story of Beowulf, the unnatural fiends in the poem were each symbols for the political strife in the system. They formed the basic constructs in an allegory against the flawed nature of the warrior society at the time.

Grendel, the first monster, makes his appearance directly after the poet references the men in their mead-hall. Yet he is not simply referred to in a natural segue between themes: he is actually introduced directly after speaking of future strife among the family in that hall. Note in the following passage where the poet breaks off what began as a paragraph about the merry-making which went on in the hall known as Heorot.

The hall stood tall, high and wide-gabled: it would wait for the fierce flames of vengeful fire; the time was not yet at hand for sword-hate between son-in-law and father-in-law to awaken after murderous rage.

Then the fierce spirit painfully endured hardship for a time, he who dwelt in the darkness….

The form it takes can essentially be described as “They celebrated, but all was not well in the future of the hall. Also, Grendel waited outside….” The close proximity of the description of familial betrayal and Grendel’s introduction leads to the conclusion that the two are related.

As I interpret it, the demon Grendel is a symbol for the terrible problem of succession that the Danes suffered time and again. The unstable nature of the court and th…

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…m. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Shippey, Thomas A.. “Structure and Unity.” In A Beowulf Handbook, edited by Robert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Sisam, Kenneth. “The Structure of Beowulf.” In Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975.

Tharaud, Barry. “Anglo-Saxon Language and Traditions in Beowulf.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.

Tolkien, J.R.R.. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.


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