Goethe in Faust and Shelley in Frankenstein: Still the Wretched Fools They Were

Jeremy Burlingame

Goethe in Faust and Shelley in Frankenstein, wrap their stories around
two men whose mental and physical actions parallel one another. Both stories
deal with characters, who strive to be the übermensch in their world. In Faust,
the striving fellow, Faust, seeks physical and mental wholeness in knowledge
and disaster in lust. In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein struggles for
control over one aspect of nature and disastrously, through the monster, nature
controls him to a much greater degree. Many powers are much too mighty for
mortal souls, a lesson that Frankenstein and Faust learn by the end of their
tales. While voluntarily excommunicating themselves from society, both
characters accomplish a portion of their goal and yet they remain unhappy
because they never control the "perfect" life they have built for themselves.
In Faust, the intelligent gentleman Faust, seeks spiritual wholeness in
knowledge. Through years of hard study, Faust becomes knowledgeable in math,
sciences and religion and yet he becomes inept and incapable of having any
romantic or physical relationships with the outside world. As Faust strives to
become the "over man" through knowledge, he realizes that books will not
satisfy his curiosity and that maybe sensual pleasures will. Therefore, in
the process of creating his new life, Faust, becomes distant and unconcerned
with all reality and humanity around him.

Do not fancy anything right, do not fancy that I could
teach or assert what would better mankind or what might
convert. I also have neither money nor treasures, nor
worldly honors or earthly pleasures; no dog would want
to live this way!(p. 95)

Obviously, Faust has fallen into a inhumane state of living, through the
pursuit of the unattainable. He becomes greedy, desperate and feels justified
in whatever it takes to achieve a position of the over man. At that time,
Christians and society in general considered his pursuit for lust immoral,
unjust and irresponsible. When Faust sets his sights on an object, whether
knowledge or women, he demands nothing less of himself than that which will get
it. In many situations dedication to an act is reputable; education, sports,
career. It seems then, that to become the übermensch and pursue excellence,
one must stay dedicated to one's goal and dismiss the world around him.
In the process of creating his monster, Victor Frankenstein ignores the
outside world;

The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart
and soul, in one pursuit. It was a most beautiful season;
never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest, or the
vines yield a more luxuriant vintage: but my eyes were
insensible to the charms of nature. And the same feelings which
made me neglect the scenes around me caused also to forget
those friends who were so many miles absent...(p.53)

Frankenstein becomes so wrapped up in his curiosity of creation, that he
utterly ignores the outside world. Therefore, Faust and Frankenstein's desire
to create, lead them to withdraw themselves from society. Faust desires to
create love and possess a woman, so that he can feel all that the world has to
offer. Frankenstein, desires to create life and become a motherly figure
which supersedes any other emotion or need. Although, the characters have
different desires their actions and thoughts are closely identical. Even after
the successfulness of creating what they anted for themselves, Faust and
Frankenstein remain unhappy.
This unhappiness causes Faust and Frankenstein to commit acts far more
evil than ever before. In this unhappiness, Faust's emotions become irrational
and immoral towards Gretchen and Frankenstein ignores his "beautiful" creation.
When Victor's creation transforms itself from idea to reality,
Frankenstein immediately looses control over it and himself.

...but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream
vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my
heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I
had created, I rushed out of the room, and continued a
long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my
mind to sleep.(p.56)

This example communicates not only the lack of maturity which
Frankenstein contains but also the thoughtlessness that he has toward his
creation. Frankenstein reveals, through his running, fainting and the coma
that he had not thought of the ramifications and responsibilities that his
creation entailed.
Before they created, Faust and Frankenstein thought that the mere
creation and use of a magic-like powers would imediately bring joy to their
lives. However, when their magical creations became reality and brought them
more pain they removed themselves from the situation. It can be seen then