A Simple Man Meets Faust:

In this world of juxtaposition and dialectical opposites, there does not seem to be any two individuals who could be further apart than Ricky Van Shelton’s Simple Man and Goethe’s Faust. However, looks and paradigms can often be deceiving.  A Simple Man (since we don’t know his actual name he will remain a “Simple Man”) is a good old country boy.  We presume he is a blue collar worker, never went to college and probably does some hard manual labor.  He loves to hunt, fish and drink with Bubba, Billy Joe and the other guys.  He is everyman’s down to earth guy.  He does not worry about the future but takes one day at a time.  His thoughts are more likely to meander around his next fishing hole than to try to plumb the meaning of the universe.

Faust for all apparent purposes has not a thing in common with a Simple Man.  Faust is complex, morose, introverted, elderly and a true intellectual. No doubt Faust went to Oxford or some high class German Academy.  He ranked not only first in his class but first in every academic endeavor he ever undertook. He went on to become the most esteemed Doctor of Philosophy in German and European history.   He loves to read, write, compose and publish esoteric treatises on the nature of the universe and the meaning of reality.  Faust is first among thinkers and intellectuals.

Well, there you have it. Two diametrically opposed male personalities.  A Simple Man and his mirror image Faust.  But beware!  Appearances can be deceiving. Things may not always be as they seem.  Could it be that Faust and a Simple Man have more in common than you would think?  Follow me as we examine a dialogue between a Simple Man and his wife and a dialogue between Faust and Mephistopheles.  Note similarities.  Note differences.  A Simple Man wants to find peace of mind and his “baby” does not seem to understand his real needs.  Mephistopheles finds Faust also distraught and agitated.  Despite Faust’s soaring intellect, he is unhappy with his life and the success he has achieved.  He responds to Mephistopheles, the devil, who purports to be able to give Faust the happiness he desires.

A Simple Man: (Lyrics and Music by Ricky Van Shelton)

I don’t know why you wanna start with me
I ain’t done nothin’ far as I can see
And I’m worn out from working too hard
Why don’t you give me a break.

Faust:  (Music by Gounod, Lyrics by Goethe)

All to know, all in earth and heaven.

No light illumines the visions, ever

thronging my brain ; no peace is given,

And I linger, thus sad and weary,

Without power to sunder the chain

Binding my soul to life always dreary.

Nought do I see! Nought do I know

  • Both men are worn down and worn out.  Both are feeling hopeless.

 A Simple Man:

I know that lately things ain’t been so good
I’ll make it up just like I told you I would
But I’m tired and I wanna sit down
To ease a sore backache

Faust: 

Again the light of a new day !

O death ! when will thy dusky wings

Above me hover and give me rest?

  • Both men want peace and rest

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me
I don’t believe I’m such a mystery
Baby what you get is what you see
I am a simple man
I wanna a job and a piece of land
Three squares in my frying pan
Don’t seem so hard to me to understand

Faust:

Cursed be all of man’s vile race !

Cursed be the chains which bind him in his place!

Cursed be visions false, deceiving!

Cursed the folly of believing!

Cursed be dreams of love or hate !

Cursed be souls with joy elate.

Cursed be science, prayer, and faith!

Cursed my fate in life and death!

Infernal king, arise!

  •  Science, prayer and faith cannot provide the peace each man requires.  Faust has given up on intellectual solutions while a Simple Man still believes in the joys of work, land and food.

 A Simple Man:

You say you got some things to talk about
A lot of problems that we need to work out
But we just end up fighting
Why don’t you give it a rest
I don’t know what else I can say to you
I’m doing everything I know to do
And I can’t give you anything more
When I’m giving my best

Faust:

I sigh for thy kisses,

Its love I demand!

With ardor unwonted

I long now to burn ;

I sigh for the rapture

Of heart and of sense.

  •  What both Faust and a Simple Man really want is love.

 A Simple Man:

You say you're having trouble figuring me
I don't believe I'm such a mystery
Baby what you get is what you see
I am a simple man
I wanna place I can lay my head
Soft woman and a warm bed
A little time off before I'm dead
I'm just a simple man

 Faust:

But implore in vain.

Let me thy hand take, and clasp it,

And behold but thy face once again,

Illum’d by that pale light,

From yonder moon that shines,

O’er thy beauteous features shedding

Its faint but golden ray.

  •  Faust is more eloquent but a Simple Man hits the nail on the head. I just want a soft woman and a warm bed.

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me
I don’t believe I’m such a mystery
Baby what you get is what you see
I am a simple man

Faust:

Again the light of a new day !

O death ! when will thy dusky wings

Above me hover and give me rest?

  •  Both the opera and the song leave you with the impression that neither Faust nor a Simple Man obtains the life they want to live.  Something is out of kilter that cannot be set right.  Tragic expectations on the part of both a Simple Man and Faust are never fulfilled in the real world.  Neither books nor hunting, nor ideas nor actions enable either man to find what they are looking for. 

A Zen Master happens to be walking by and overhears the laments of both Faust and a Simple Man. He notes the apparent remorse and confusion of their musings.  He is struck by their sadness and attempts to offer some wisdom which he feels might be consoling.

Zen Master: 

Life cannot be lived through others.  The secret of happiness is to let go of your expectations for happiness and to realize that happiness is only obtained through inner wisdom and not through external ideas or things or people.

You Faust thought that ideas and your intellect could bring you happiness. When this mode failed, you gave your soul up for the immediate pleasures of the world.  You failed in both efforts.

You Simple Man thought you could escape responsibility for your happiness.  You thought your wife would provide you the succor and tranquility which your lifestyle necessitated. You thought she would be the warm pillow and soft bed who would take care of your weary bones.  You have also failed to find the peace you desired.

Faust:  I am half a man.

Simple Man:  And I the other half!

Zen Master:  Perhaps two half’s make a whole.

Time for Questions:

What similarities between a Simple Man and Faust did you find?  What differences did you find?  What if anything surprised you about their thoughts and needs?  Do we think focus more on the differences between people than the similarities?  Would it make a difference in how we view the world if we saw more similarities between people?  Do you think you are very different from most people or very similar?  Why?  How have your differences and similarities affected your life?

Life is Just Beginning.

21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jeanine
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 16:07:30

    Being a simple person I like Shelton better….lol..Great blog. It brought to my mind the song Simple Man by Lynyrd Skinner and also by Shinedown, the latter group used for the mother and son dance at Jennifer’s wedding.

    Reply

  2. ggorman10
    Dec 06, 2013 @ 01:20:26

    Hi John, I found no dialectcal issue here. For each of the protagonists, neither would grant themselves the right to be happy with themselves and the activites that they chose to define their lives. Simple Man wants his wife’s approval, while Faust is, in fact, his own devil. Their challenge is the challenge of another medival character, Everyman. Everyman needs to be his own best friend and give himself the support and approval that makes life seem worth living.

    Reply

    • johnpersico
      Dec 06, 2013 @ 02:05:28

      Hmm, you are probably right Greg. However, it sounded impressive when I used it. Could we call the misuse of words “poetic license” or would “bad grammar” be more appropriate? Tell me more about everyman. It sounds interesting. I am not sure I understand how you are using the term. Did you listen to the music? I used to love RVS back in my country days. THat is before I started listening to Blue Grass more. But don’t they both want love and comfort? I found their needs very similar although their solutions different. OF course, Faust sells his soul, but Simple Man just mourns his inability to get the succor he needs. Both are in a sense doomed by their choice of women. One virtuous and one apparently less caring then desired. Everywhere I look in the world, I see similarities more than differences.

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