Toward the end of Scene II: Faust and Wagner are strolling outside the gate of the city when Faust catches sight of a curious-looking black dog. It is running around in circles, coming nearer and nearer to them. Perhaps intuitively, Faust senses some malevolent purpose in the dog’s presence:
He’s drawing a magic coil–it seems to me–
For future bondage round our feet.
He seems to be quite alarmed when it draws even closer:
The ring grows smaller . . . he is almost near!
Then Faust says something quite strange. He calls for the dog to “come here to us!” Furthermore, he now decides that it is “just a well-trained dog, that’s all.”
Initially, Faust has some sort of intuitive experience. The dog, I think, may represent the imminent encounter with unconscious forces, which Faust is soon to face in his pact with Mephistopheles. He viscerally senses the danger in the dark circle about to envelop him, but, when he allows Wagner to sway him towards “a more reasonable explanation,” Faust disregards the vision. He even allows the dog to follow him home.
The circle being drawn by the dog is very significant. As a symbol, the circle is of great importance. According to J.E. Cirlot, author of A Dictionary of Symbols,
Enclosing beings, objects, or figures within a circumference has a double-meaning: from within it implies limitation and definition; from without, it is seen to represent the defense of the physical and psychic contents themselves against the perils of the soul threatening it from without, these dangers being, in a way, tantamount to chaos, but more particularly to illimitation and disintegration.
At the moment, Faust is outside the dog’s circle. But soon, it will overtake him. Perhaps his vision of the dog running in circles is a projection of his mind, trying to defend itself from unconscious contents which have the ability to destroy him.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, Faust seems to be beckoning the dark forces to come to him. As was discussed earlier, he greatly despairs because of his inability to fathom the secrets of being in the universe. He has an insatiable desire to know; he will ultimately attempt to sate that desire by delving into the world of darkness, i.e., the unconscious.
Faust enters his study with the dog trailing behind. An air of optimism fills his mind, demonstrating, once again, that “two souls within my breast abide:”
The love of man revives in me,
The love of God is stirred again.
But, as Faust is musing on love and goodness, the black dog is snarling and sniffing about the study. This is just another example of the polaric play of opposites. Faust begins talking about reason and hope, while the animal is there beside him, reminding him that, beside reason, love, and hope exists a snarling, and very unlovely, bestial nature. Faust says,
Stop snarling, dog! Your noise is out of key!
The barking is a cacophonous clamor compared to the splendid thoughts running through his mind. Will he ever realize that he cannot escape the contrary nature existing alongside what he deems good and beautiful within himself?
Apparently so, for in the next few words, Faust is hurled back into reality:
Contentment flows no longer from my breast.
Why must the stream so soon be dried,
Leaving me to thirst once more?
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