Faust, the Devil, and Tom Walker: Character Comparison

May 6, 2021 by Essay Writer

A Lithuanian proverb goes like this, “As one devil goes out, another one comes in.” Faust by Johann Wolfgang Goethe and The Devil and Tom Walker are all famous literary pieces based off of the classical Faust Legend. The main character of both stories lusts for something beyond them, knowledge, in the cast of Faust and wealth, in the case of Tom Walker. They all suffered from serious consequences afterwards.

Goethe’s Faust follows an elderly scholar, who believes he has reached the limits of knowledge, and lusts more. In heaven, Mephistopheles, the Devil, complains about the corruption and insanity of mankind. He bets with God that he could turn one of God’s servants, Faust over to sin and evil. God, however, believes that Faust will remain a loyal follower. Mephistopheles descends to earth, where he temps Faust with visions of transcendence and enlightenment.

Faust, however, accepted this offer, and was tricked by the Devil into loving a mortal girl, Margaret, Gretchen for short. They profess their love for one another one night, and consummate their relationship afterwards. Gretchen was impregnated by Faust, and her brother Valentine, finding out about her licentious behavior, tries to exact revenge on Faust, but was stabbed in the heart by the now scholar-turned-murderer. In the end, Faust discovers that Gretchen has killed their infant son, then falls into insanity.

This version of the story is markedly different than the tale told by Washington Irving. Goethe’s Faust is an epic play taking place in Wurttemberg, while Tom Walker is a short story taking place in Boston, Massachusetts. The two protagonists share similar archetypes, both deciding to sell their soul to the devil for worldly pleasures. The Devil, in both cases, out-witted the two men, and “wrecked their lives.”

Goethe’s version of the Faustian legend and the Irving version of the same legend had some other major differences too. Goethe’s Faust heavily relies on Christianity, while the Irving version had less references to God. Goethe’s play focuses on the drama of humanity striving to receive redemption and salvation through God’s grace. While Faust led Gretchen to her downfall in the mortal world, Gretchen still prays to the Virgin for Faust’s soul. Gretchen embodies the magnanimity of Christian mercy and forgiveness. Thus, the heavens in the final scene of Faust are full of souls ascending toward God.

Goethe spreads the word of the mercifulness and ubiquitous grace of his Almighty, which shows a stark contrast between the imperfect human life and the perfect spiritual life of God. This philosophy is very similar to the philosophy of the Great Awakening in the British colonies 60 years before the publication of Faust, Part One. This idea is not conveyed in Tom Walker, whose only mention of Christianity is when Tom was praying to God for his sins, to no avail.

This showed that, although these two literary works are all derived from one Faustian Legend, many themes occur in the literary works relating to the time period, its environment, and the outside factors.

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