The Benefits and Tragedy of Pride within an Individual

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The characteristic of pride is a quality that can lead someone to great benefits but also, hinder their success and evoke their downfall. We see this characteristic in many characters throughout literature. Mainly, two characters who greatly absorb all aspects of pride in their experiences are Dr. Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus and Eve in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Both Dr. Faustus and Eve have similar mindsets; they both have a thirst and lust for endless knowledge, curiosities, and the belief that they are entitled to more knowledge. All of these ideas that they have are a part of the pride within themselves that makes them great, but also leads to their fall; making the concept of pride both a benefit and a tragedy.

Marlowe portrays Dr. Faustus as a character who seeks knowledge and fulfillment. His pride fuels the majority of his wants such as, a wife, intelligence, and powers. However, Dr. Faustus learns that pride leads to limitations and his wants have boundaries. For example, when Faustus asks for a wife, Mephastophilis cannot give one to him rather, he creates an illusion for Faustus.

Additionally, Faustus wants to utilize powers in order to make people immortal or bring them back from death. He quickly realizes that he cannot fulfill this want or use these powers. This shows how Faustus throughout the play lets his pride guide his decisions and wants. Even from the beginning where his own body is telling him not to sign his soul away to the devil, but he still chooses to do it because his pride provokes the decision.

For example, when Mephastophilis appears and explains that Faustus will have to sign his soul away to guarantee that he craves the devil’s service, Faustus is a little wary until Mephastophilis sates, “As great as have the human souls of men. But tell me Faustus, shall I have thy soul? And I will be thy slave and wait on thee, and give thee more than thou hast wit to ask” (ll. 44-47). This is the turning point where Faustus decides he is willing to sign his life away with no questions asked. It is interesting to see that when Mephastophilis says he will serve him and give him more than he could ever ask for, is the temptation that calls upon Faustus’ pride in which allows him to decide to sign away his soul in blood.

Furthermore, Faustus disobeys when his body physically clots his blood so he, “can write no more” (l. 62). It is because his pride and want of magical powers and the idea of accumulating more knowledge is more important and beneficial to him and his ego then his life and health itself. Also, Faustus is depicted as currently living a good, full life and he is idealized to already be very intelligent. Although, his pride leads his mind to believe that this life is not sufficient enough and he needs more.

While, Faustus’ pride fuels his wants and actions throughout the play, eventually leading to his tragic downfall, it also is what allows him to be so successful in life thus far and have the capacity to want such large aspirations for himself. For example, his ego drives him to gain the intelligence he already has prior to signing his life away to the devil. This is what makes him the many great things he is and tries out like, an impressive professor, physician, lawyer, philosopher, and theologian. Additionally, his pride also benefits him in another way for instance, being that he has been successful with many forms of intelligence already, he has the drive and determination to further that intelligence.

For example, Faustus iterates how once all books are read, one cannot attain more knowledge and has reached the end. But, he continues to say that if this were true, he should have reached the end, but he goes out to find more knowledge and information; “a greater subject fitteth Faustus’ wit (intellect)” (ll. 10-18). This shows his drive to fulfill his ideas which could be seen as beneficial, while the tragedy of his pride here is that it assists and almost encourages his future fall.

Like Dr. Faustus, the character of Eve in Paradise Lost also shows excessive pride. We see this characteristic in her in the very beginning, when we are mainly introduced to her character with her creation account. She wanders around the Garden of Eden and finds herself staring into a lake with her own reflection gazing back at her.

“Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks of sympathy and love; there I had fixed mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire” (4. 464- 466). This describes how essentially, Eve falls in love with herself; exhibiting arguably, the highest level of pride in oneself that she could display. Likewise, she is created and placed in the garden to fulfill a mission; to find Adam. She is more obsessed with her own reflection then the sole purpose of her creation and life’s mission.

Furthermore, when Adam and Eve finally meet for the first time, Adam believes that Eve is just trying to stay modest and pure, while she plays hard to get however is still interested in him. This is very untrue for Eve at this point. In fact, she could not care less about Adam, she does not want him in any way, and he follows her around the garden when realistically, she just wants to do what she wants and render her curiosities. It states, “so absolute (independent) she seems, and in herself complete, so well to know her own, that what she wills do or say” (8. 546-548).

This exemplifies how she likes to be in control of herself. Her pride leads her to believe that Adam is not worth her attention right now and she would rather spend her time catering to what she wants to do or wander to find out more information from the garden. In the dream that Eve has in book 5, her hubris is also exposed when Satan tells her if she eats the forbidden fruit, she will become a goddess. “Taste this, and be henceforth among the gods, thyself a goddess, not to earth confined” (5. 76-77). This emphasizes her ego and pride and Satan plays with that and understands that it is a huge part of who she is in which he can try to manipulate.

After Eve falls, her pride continues and becomes much more egotistical in terms of wanting Adam to fall too. In a sense, she believes that if she cannot have Adam, then no one else will or should (9. 965-975). This is because her fallen mind of excessive pride ultimately leads to jealousy and a larger ego. Although, while Eve’s pride leads to many tragic things, it is beneficial because her pride is what helps her to not be a passive character in the story. She knows that she wants to be her own self because of her pride, not just Adam’s servant or appendage. Her pride also benefits her by giving her drive like Faustus and the determination to gain more knowledge and fill her curiosities.

Each text utilizes pride within the characters and as a theme for the work entirely. This is because every individual goes through a power struggle within themselves when debating the benefits and tragedies of a quality such as pride. This characteristic is one that can either make or break an individual; as we see clearly that it does both in Paradise Lost and Doctor Faustus. However, pride is the characteristic that holds the ability to teach each character a lesson they needed to learn. Without the concept of pride in Faustus, he would have never signed his soul away to the devil, therefore, never learning that there are limitations to knowledge that he just has to accept.

Additionally, without Eve’s pride, she would have never eaten the forbidden fruit or been exiled from the Garden of Eden. In which, the whole point of her downfall eventually leads to Jesus Christ and mankind. Both characters in both stories have the representational idea that their wishes and wants should be fulfilled and they should be able to live in their own utopian world in a way. This is not true, and this is why their pride needed to lead to their downfall. Their pride humanizes them, this is a benefit because it allows for them to have wants and dreams and curiosities.

However, their pride grounds them and leads them to their tragic fall so they understand that they are still human and not divine. They cannot be all or attain all which is an important lesson they need to literally fall to grasp. Without pride, both characters would never understand that they cannot fly too close to the sun like the Greek mythological story of Icarus.

Moreover, I agree with the lessons and use of pride that these stories entail. It is essential for the characters in each story to have a quality that can benefit but also destroy them so they learn boundaries and self-control. Subsequently, it is interesting to notice how both characters lose a sense of their pride in the very last lines of each story. Faustus loses some of his pride right before his soul is taken by Lucifer and he dies.

He cries out, “Adders and Serpents, let me breathe awhile! Ugly hell gape not! Come not, Lucifer! I’ll burn my books—ah, Mephastophilis!” (ll. 111-113). This shows his desperation or blame on Mephastophilis. It also shows how his pride diminished for his thirst of power, authority, and knowledge, because in that moment of despair, he states that he will burn his books. In addition, Eve loses a sense of her pride in the very final lines of Paradise Lost when it says, “their place of rest, and Providence their guide: They hand in hand with wand’ring steps and slow, through Eden took their solitary way” (12. 647-649).

This illustrates how Eve leaves with Adam, someone who she wants nothing to do with when she is first created. They also are led by “Providence” or God’s concept of the future. So now, Eve is led by a higher power rather than idealizing the thought that she could be that higher power or in general, lead herself. This is important because in their final moments or the last point of each story, both characters let go of their pride a little to create a more realistic picture. Whether they learned their intended lesson or not, as readers we see them humanized greatly in these two final moments that their experiences with pride led to.

In summation, both Dr. Faustus and Eve think similarly in terms of pride. They both want to know everything and their pride acts as both of their tragic flaws. While the concept of pride does hold benefits for each character, it mainly inhibits them in the end and encourages their tragic downfall. Their hubris involves the idea that they both want to be in control completely; Faustus wants total control of nature and people while Eve wants control of herself.

Also, essentially Faustus wants to be God and Eve wants to be a goddess like Satan tempted her that she could be. They do not like the idea of and cannot grasp the concept of limits, mainly because their pride and ego does not allow for that boundary of knowledge. Pride causes both of their downfall because they cannot learn that they are not divine and that is something they can never reach.

Additionally, their sense of pride almost causes them ironically to be obscenely naïve when in fact they are searching for so much knowledge and their curiosities to be answered. Each character needs the quality of pride because while it does hinder their potential of reaching what they want, it does so for a reason. The reason is the lesson that each character needs to learn at the end of both stories. Without pride benefitting but also destroying them, they would never understand that in the end, they are human.

Works Cited

  1. Marlowe, Christopher. ‘Doctor Fuastus.’ The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Major Authors. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013, pp. 502-535.
  2. Milton, John. ‘Paradise Lost.’ The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Major Authors. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013, pp. 801-929.

Cite this paper

The Benefits and Tragedy of Pride within an Individual. (2021, Mar 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-benefits-and-tragedy-of-pride-within-an-individual/

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