The Fate of Fausto

Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

“For the fate of Fausto did not matter to them.”

With a direct reference to Goethe’s Faust, Oliver Jeffers’ The Fate of Fausto chronicles the failed ambitions of (a) man to dominate the non-human world. After declaring a flower to be his, Fausto claims ownership over successively large entities: a sheep, a tree, a lake, and a mountain. Much to Fausto’s chagrin, each entity expresses increasing wariness to Fausto’s ownership, until ultimately the sea will not capitulate. Frustrated, Fausto—in an attempt to “show his anger and importance”—tries to stamp his foot on the sea. He drowns, leaving the sea, the mountain, the lake, the tree, and the sheep to “carr[y] on as before… for the fate of Fausto did not matter to them.”

As an allegory, The Fate of Fausto offers numerous openings for considering the ideological underpinnings of the Anthropocene: the human supremacy complex / human expansionism, denial of the Rights of Nature, and human ownership claims over the world. In his hubris, the pursuit of ever-greater power over the world, and inability to care for non-human nature, Fausto embodies the failures of anthropocentrism. He desires to be the “boss,” refusing to listen to the objections and insights from non-human nature. The sea, for example, points out that Fausto doesn’t “even understand” or love it, yet Fausto readily convinces himself that he does—to his disastrous end. Fausto’s conquests embody  the Anthropocene. The narrative begins not with a human living as a natural being, but rather with Fausto already believing “he owned everything” and setting out “to survey what was his.” The narrative also demonstrates a key tenet of the Anthropocene: that exploitation leads to more exploitation, which in turn leads to increasing conflict—that is, Fausto’s anger, violence, and ultimately demise.

 Adults reading this narrative with young people may need to provide additional context on how the devastation of the Anthropocene (in reality) is not the result of actions of a universal “humankind,” but rather of the exploitative, extractivist, and settler-colonialist worldview that created the affluent Global North and informs the neoliberal ideology and practices adopted by national and global elites across the world today. Moreover, adult readers should be ready to discuss what is absent in the narrative: real, widespread inequities and injustices that have risen as a result of the greed of a Faustian few (see global rich). 

©2022 ClimateLit (Nick Kleese)

More:

The Fate of Fausto is featured in the following curriculum guide: 9th Grade Language & Literature Unit: Critical Literacy and Climate Action

Publisher: Philomel Books, 2019

Pages: 96

ISBN: 978-0593115015

Audience: Little People (4-7), Sprouts (0-3)

Format: Picturebooks

Topics: Activism, Anthropocene, Anthropocentrism, Colonization, Extractivism, Global Rich, Global Warming, Human Expansionism, Neoliberalism, Rights of Nature, Ultra-rich

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