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Satan has many names in literature, beginning with the Bible, and they are not limited to the image that people have come to associate with his person. For example, Lucifer means "Angel of Light" (apparently the station from which he fell), but he has also been called "The Prince of the Power of the Air," "The Devil," "The Prince of Demons," and, more in line with the needs of this story, "Mephistopheles." He, or a character very like him, is seen as the central opposite of good in many legends, stories, religious writings and artistic depictions throughout history. It seems every culture has to believe in the dichotomous good and evil, so there has to be a primarily "good" character, and a primarily "bad" character. The two stories selected for this comparison contrast paper, Mark Twain's "The Mysterious Stranger" and Goethe's "Faust," use Satan as a central theme, but they explore that theme in very different story lines. This paper summarizes the two stories, evaluates the contents with regard to a comparison, and then contrasts how the two stories have depicted their "Satan" character.
Mark Twain is known as a writer of satirical pieces that may sometimes approach metaphysics and the occult, but his stories never quite devolve from their humorous undertones to take on more serious matters directly. Of course, it could be that Twain (nee Clemens) never though that the other world that other people believed in was all that serious in and of itself to be neglected in his satirical views of the world as a whole. Like others were beginning to believe at the time, he could have believed that intellectualism trumped (or trumps) spiritualism since one deals with the tangible and the other very intangible, therefore unreal, matters. Whatever his thoughts about the worlds of gods and demons, he included them both in many of his stories.
The last novel, or it could be said to be a collection of short stories, Twain ever wrote was about a boy who can do wondrous things and called himself Satan; not the Satan of the Bible, but his nephew (Twain 14). The book is appropriately entitled "The Mysterious Stranger." Twain had long been trying to reason with people regarding the true nature of God and the devils, but he was not able to get across to people what he believed was the actual personality of the devil. In this story, it can be seen that "Satan" is a demon who is subservient to the real Devil because he mentions the relationship that they have. The fact that he is not the real Devil and that he does some things that seem good, at least at the time, puts the main characters in the book at ease.
The interesting point, at least for the purposes of this paper, regarding Satan is what type of character he exhibits. Many times during the narrative he tries to put his little friends at ease and make them believe that he just wants to play with them. But, from the first he demonstrates powers that are beyond the ken of the youth. One of his first acts upon meeting the three at play is to create a small village out of mud which has tiny living people. He acts toward these creations as a god, and eventually destroys them (much to the chagrin of his playmates), but he seems to have no compassion toward them (Twain 18). The angel tells them that he can do no wrong and then explains why creating a tiny world and destroying it is a kindness rather than something that seemed like murder to the boys. He explained his reasoning to them by telling them that the difference between an immortal and a mortal made this a kindness (Twain 28).
The tale to contrast this one was written by Johann Goethe and is called "Faust." It is a famous tale and has been reworked into many another book, movie and television episode. One of the most famous of these is a short story by Stephen Binet called "The Devil and Daniel Webster." In it, like all of the other creative copies, a man sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for a few years good luck. When the Devil, Mr. Scratch, comes to collect in this instance the man hires Daniel Webster as his lawyer. Faust has no such luck.
Goethe begins the tale much as the biblical book Job begins. The court of God is gathered and Satan, here with one of his many names Mephistopheles, enters to confer with his maker. God asks him what he sees on the Earth, and Mephistopheles answers that "I find things, as ever, in a sad plight" (Goethe 9). God asks him if he has considered His servant Faust. Mephistopheles makes the same bargain with God that he had previously made for Job. Mephistopheles is given leave to pursue Faust, but not to harm him physically (Goethe 11). But this time he takes a completely different approach than he did with Job.
Faust enters the story in a lamenting the world and the fact that he must be in it wandering. He is not happy with his life, or with the lives of humans in general, and he goes through the story of his life while talking to his friend Wagner (Goethe 25). Apparently, Mephistopheles is privy to this conversation (he shows up as a black poodle who goes home with Faust), and reveals himself after Faust has been home and talking to him for a while. After Mephistopheles reveals that he cannot leave the abode unless allowed to do so by Faust, the human gets the Devil to agree to let him have some measure of comfort for a price (Goethe 48). Faust signs away his soul to the Devil so that he can live in comfort for the rest of his days, but Mephistopheles tells Faust that he will be back to collect at a certain time.
The primary comparison between the two stories is that they tell relate something of the Devil and try to interest the reader in the tale. Twain seeks to humanize the devil and make him a sympathetic character. Although Goethe does humanize the Devil to some extent, he does not make any attempts to make the reader sympathetic. The character in each of these books does have powers that are beyond anything that a normal human being would have, which identifies them as definitely supernatural, but it does not necessarily cement their identity. Although Faust believes that Mephistopheles is Satan (though he cannot get him to say his name (Goethe 45), he divines it from what Mephistopheles says to him.
The two books also present the supernatural being as having the powers of life and death. Although Goethe never shows that Mephistopheles has this power, he does show the conversation that God has with him and God, temporarily, gives Mephistopheles that advantage. But both of the characters have the power of death. It may actually be more accurate to say that they both have the power to know when death will occur.
In "Faust," Mephistopheles tells Faust when he is going to die, and Satan shows this same power several times to the main character in Twain's tale, Theodor. In "The Mysterious Stranger," Satan allows Theodor to see what is going to happen to people so that he too can know the futility of existence as humans have it. He shows Theodor and one of his two friends, Seppi, how a little girl will die along with their friend Nikolaus. The power that Satan has is to allow the death to happen because of the other path they would follow if that person had lived.
This is where the Satan characters of Twain and Goethe separate. Twain's story begs a moral question with regard to when and how people die. He basically asks the reader, is it cruel that a person dies at a certain time and in a certain manner, or would it be more cruel for the individual to live out their life? Satan shows Theodor and Seppi that their friend will die trying to save a little girl from drowning. He will fail in his attempt and they will both die (Twain 91). The two boys try to get Satan to change what is to happen because they believe it is more compassionate to allow them to live. Satan counters this by showing the boys what the lives of the two will look like if they do live (Twain 93). Goethe shows Mephistopheles as a devil who is only out for his own personal gain, and is also interested in proving to God that his creation is as worthless as Satan (in Twain's story) also believes it is.
It seems that two authors are asking many of the same questions even if their characters are slightly different. Both Goethe and Twain try to…[continue]
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