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Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.
A Faustian bargain is deal with the devil, a pact with Satan, an agreement that allows you to have anything you've ever wanted. And in exchange for extreme wealth or power, all you have to do is hand your soul over to the devil for eternity. The popular theme of the Faustian bargain started in folktales, but its stories are still told in popular films, music, comic strips, books, and television programs today.
The legend started in a German folktale hundreds of years ago. The tale was about a guy named Faust. The story was originally told to warn Christians that God has set human limits, and a righteous man must respect those limits or suffer through eternal damnation.
There are many different versions of the story, but the main framework remains more or less the same. Faust was an intelligent and successful scholar, but he wanted more out of the life; he was bored with the limited nature of human knowledge. So he decided that it would be a good idea to call the devil and ask him for supreme knowledge and power so he could enjoy all the pleasures that the world had to offer.
In response to his request, the devil sends his right-hand man Mephistopheles, who offers Faust a deal. He can have supreme knowledge and power for 24 years, but in exchange, the devil wants Faust's soul where it will then spend eternity in Hell. Faust accepts the bargain and signs his fate with blood.
Faust goes about enjoying his newfound knowledge and power. He seduces women, he becomes a young man, he travels the world, he summons spirits, and with every step he gains more knowledge and more power. His experiences are limitless; he enjoys everything that the world can possibly give him.
At the end of the term, Faust waits for the devil; he knows his time is up. The devil carries his spirit off to Hell and the story is over. However, it should be noted that in some tales, Faust outsmarts the devil or develops a plan to get out of the deal.
The idea of selling your soul to the devil has become a metaphor for getting something you want in exchange for sacrificing something great. Often times it's something intangible, like your morals or self-esteem. So let's say that you really wanted to get an A on a final exam. The grade would make you valedictorian of your class and ensure your acceptance into Harvard University. It's all you've ever wanted in life. And let's also say that you found out that you could somehow obtain a copy of the exam ahead of time.
Yes, if you did see the exam beforehand, you would get an A and all your dreams would come true. But the Faustian bargain would be that you would become a cheater. It would mean that you didn't earn the rewards yourself. In turn, you would sacrifice your morals and ethics, and you would never be able to turn back. You would always be a cheater.
The motif (a recurring idea or theme) of the Faustian bargain remains one of the most popular narratives in storytelling. Here are a couple of examples of literature, films, and music.
The Godfather was written by Mario Puzo and published in 1969. It was later adapted for the screen in 1972 and went on to become one of the most celebrated films in cinema history. The film and the novel both begin on the day of Connie Corleone's wedding.
The Godfather, a high-ranking mob boss, can't refuse a favor on the day of his daughter's wedding. An undertaker named Amerigo Bonasera asks the Godfather, Don Vito, for vengeance against the men who beat his daughter nearly to death. They get away with the crime because they come from prestigious families. Don Vito is upset with the undertaker because he never comes around to visit, even though Don Vito's wife is godmother to his daughter. He knows that the undertaker doesn't respect him.
However, the Godfather still grants the undertaker's request, on one condition. 'Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. Until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter's wedding day.'
Of course, the undertaker is nervous. He has no idea what this ruthless violent man is going to ask of him in the future. But he takes the deal; he accepts the Faustian bargain in exchange for justice for his daughter.
We also hear about the Faustian bargain in music. The song 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia' was written by the Charlie Daniels Band in 1979. It's a bit of a twist on the traditional structure of the Faustian bargain. In the song, the devil offers a young man named Johnny the opportunity to win a golden fiddle if he can beat him in a fiddle-playing contest. But if Johnny loses, the devil will take his soul:
I bet you didn't know it, but I'm a fiddle player, too.
And if you'd care to take a dare I'll make a bet with you.
Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give the devil his due.
I'll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul 'cause I think I'm better than you.
Johnny is wary of the devil but accepts the bet. He tells the devil why, 'cause I'm the best that's ever been.' So the devil and Johnny battle it out and in the end, the young boy defeats the devil and is given claim to the golden fiddle. Johnny gets to keep his soul and the fiddle. The song is a bit different from most Faustian bargains because Johnny is actually better off after he makes a deal with the devil. His soul was still on the line, but Johnny was so confident that he was the best that it was a gamble he was willing to take.
It all started hundreds of years ago with a story about a guy named Faust. His tale of selling his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power was written to warn Christians that God has limited the power of humans. The motif of the Faustian bargain has been retold in every genre of storytelling and is still popular today.
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Back To CourseACT Prep: Tutoring Solution
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