Mephistopheles, Metaphors, and the Problem of Meaning in Faust

Sarah Colvin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


One of the most powerful of human impulses is to look for meaning: to narrativize and interpret, to probe mysteries with hermeneutics. In Faust, Mephisto consistently seeks to undermine narrative, meaning, mystery, and the word; in the devil's mouth language is functionalized as a manipulative tool or rhetorical game, and truth and lies are not merely complex but irrelevant categories. I am not the first person to suggest that another significant element in Mephisto's project is the masculinization of Faust. Particularly in Part 2 we follow the process of Faust's seduction into achievement- and acquisition-driven activity. In that constant uproar of activity, Faust loses the feminine capacity for care: Sorge. I argue that Sorge is a redemptive force in the drama, and has more to do with Faust's mysterious salvation than is generally assumed. Personified Care enables his return to narrative and the associated engagement with meaning; in the end it is the word, not deed, that lifts Faust out of the devil's realm and sets the stage for his redemption.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-171
Number of pages13
JournalPublications of the English Goethe Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2010


  • Goethe's Faust
  • hermeneutics
  • Goethe's Mephisto
  • narrative
  • masculinity
  • meaning


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