Literature Week 6 Essay

Prompt: “Why has this theme remained popular since 1587?”

The theme in question is the idea of selling ones soul to Satan in order to obtain worldly benefits. The ideas of receiving things like power, riches, knowledge, sex, or happiness are ideas at the forefront of human want; and there are many people that would travel any length to fulfill that want. This is where demonic temptations can begin to look alluring. The story of Dr Faustus is one of the first documents on this topic. It tells the tale of a man rebelling against his Christian upbringing, and calling on the Devil to make a contract. In exchange for his soul, Faustus would receive 24 years of knowledge and luxury. He spoke with a demon named Mephistopheles. The demon deceived him, giving him misleading comforts and making him think hell wouldn’t be as bad as he previously thought. Of course these were lies, and at the end of the 24 years Faustus’s friends discovered his gory remains littering his home.

This idea of sacrificing your soul to gain of life of luxury has captivated people for millennia, and even today the concept has a grip on our culture. The reason people are still fascinated is because it tugs on our most basic desires. It appeals to our greed, our lust, our envy. Our most animalistic impulses, and the driving point: our sloth. Humans don’t want to put in the work to get what they want. We want to find the easy way out, so many of us cheat and lie and steal to get it. Ironically this is also what the Devil does. In the story of Faustus, Lucifer wasn’t using his dark magic to summon up the wealth. But instead he was simply stealing it from others. Like a common thief, no better than a rat. But Faustus wanted this. He would much rather Satan do his dirty work than put the effort in and do it himself.

This is why the topic has remained so popular over the centuries, its because sin is just as potent in man today as its always been. And so, by proxy, so is the Devil. Temptation and illusion, greed and sloth, these are what keep the wheels of evil turning. And until we collectively find the strength and willpower to face down these snares of seduction I imagine the topic will stay just as popular.

But that’s all these illusions are: snares. Because if you get down to the bottom line of it, Faustus was not living a life of luxury. In fact he was living just the opposite. Sure, he has all the wine and wealth he could ask for, but he also had all the depression and despair. He had to carry the weight of his fate every moment of those 24 years. He had to know that he would never find salvation, that he would spend eternity filled with anguish. He was bitterly afraid. The night before his sentence he called his friends to a meal, and he told them of his contract. Their advice was to plea for Gods mercy, to pray the night away and hold onto hope that his prayers would be answered. But when Faustus sat down to do just this he found that the guilt was far too much. He has promised himself to Satan, so much so that he couldn’t bring himself to ask God for salvation. His body parts were found flung around his house the next morning.

The moral of the story is that illusion is not the way to find happiness. Greed and sloth will not get you where you want to be, but will instead drag you down to despair. The only way to find happiness in this world is through hard work, dedication, and love for your fellow man. These are the only ways we can reach prosperity and satisfaction.

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