Gretchen and a girl named Lieschen are at the well with their pitchers. Lieschen gossips about a stuck-up girl named Barbara who was scandalously impregnated out of wedlock by a man who ran off. Gretchen pities Barbara, but Lieschen thinks the girl got what she deserved for not keeping busy and for violating social convention. She’ll learn to conform and do penance in her sinner’s smock, Lieschen says, and if she follows after the boy and marries him the village boys and girls will taunt and harass her.
Between this scene and the last, Gretchen and Faust have sex—suggested by the image of filling jugs with water. Gretchen’s fate then parallels Barbara’s. Lieschen represents the petty cruelty of society, the ordinary people who are so spiritually deficient that they can’t understand or experience true love like Gretchen’s for Faust. They think that love is merely lust, and punish lovers accordingly.
After Lieschen exits, Gretchen walks home. She says that once she would have criticized a girl for doing wrong like Barbara. She would have worked herself up about the sins of others and declaimed them with sharp words. But now she’s prey to sin herself—and yet what brought her to sin was so good and so sweet!
Love has opened Gretchen’s mind—she is less judgmental of other lovers—but sex has taken her innocence, at least in society’s opinion. This scene (what is so “good and sweet”) is the first hint we get that Gretchen is pregnant with Faust’s child.