Outside the city, Zarathustra encounters a hermit, who insists on feeding both him and the corpse. After that, Zarathustra goes to sleep. He reawakens with the conviction that he must give up preaching to the masses, and seek out like- minded companions to join him. Rather than be a shepherd, who leads the herd, he must lure people away from the herd. The good and the just, and the believers in the true faith will hate him even more for this, for he will appear to be a lawbreaker and a breaker of the table of values. However, Zarathustra believes this breaking of laws and values will be a glorious act of creation.
This prologue contains the two moments in Nietzsche's writings that loom largest in popular consciousness: the declaration of the death of God and the declaration of the overman. Nietzsche first wrote "God is dead" in section 108 of The Gay Science, the book immediately preceding Zarathustra. People often mistake this phrase for the metaphysical assertion that God does not exist. In fact, Nietzsche is making the cultural observation that our idea of God is no longer strong enough to serve as the foundation for truth and morality. He is not saying that God does not exist, but that God is no longer universally accepted as giving meaning to our lives. If God was what previously gave meaning to our lives, a world without God is meaningless. Nietzsche believes his age is characterized by nihilism, lacking strong, positive goals.
The portrait of the "last man" is meant to give us the ultimate result of nihilism. Lacking any positive beliefs or needs, people will aim for comfort and to struggle as little as possible. Soon we will all become the same—all mediocre, and all perfectly content. We will "invent happiness" by eliminating every source of worry and strife from our lives.
The overman is meant to be the solution to nihilism, the meaning we should give to our lives. The German word Ubermensch is often translated as "superman," but Kaufmann's choice of "overman" is more accurate, as it brings out the way that this word evokes "overcoming" and "going under." The overman faces a world without God, and rather than finding it meaningless, gives it his own meaning. In so doing, he upsets the "good and just" and the "believers in the true faith" who have not yet come to recognize the bankruptcy of the idea of God. Essentially, the difference between regular humans and the overman is that we need to put our faith in something—be it God or science or truth—while the overman puts all his faith in himself and relies on nothing else.
Zarathustra suggests that humans are great only as a bridge between animal and overman. Humans are not the be all and end all of existence, as the "last men" would see themselves. We are still largely governed by our animal instincts, which lead us to prejudice, superficiality, and to easy reliance upon faith. In order to refine our being, we must turn our instinct for cruelty upon ourselves, and carve away at our prejudices, superficiality, and faith, creating something deeper. Zarathustra speaks of the triumphant moment where we look with contempt upon all the human qualities that we once valued. This would signify our triumph over our shallow, human nature, and our progress toward the overman.
This image of humanity as a bridge is illustrated in the story of the tightrope walker. The tightrope walker is making the slow and dangerous progress between animal and overman. The jester bears some resemblance to Zarathustra: he can move lightly (lightness and dancing are praised a great deal later in the book) and he can easily leap over those who are slower—in other words, he can cross the rope toward the overman. In urging the tightrope walker to hurry up, the jester upsets him and ruins him; similarly, Zarathustra's preaching of the overman may upset and ruin the many people who are unable to deal with this news.