Steppenwolf

“Steppenwolf” is a novel by Hermann Hesse, a German author, which was published in 1927. The author writes about a lonely, dissatisfied intellectual Harry Haller and he described his mental state through a battle between his human and wolf side.

The novel wasn’t accepted in the beginning and was even banned in the USA because of detail descriptions of drug usage and obscene situations. Hesse wrote the novel while he was going through depression and felt lonely and alienated from the world. He wasn’t satisfied with the society and he even thought about suicide. The novel became famous during the 60’s and the 70’s in the hippy movement.

The plot begins with a foreword from the publisher that leads to reading notes written by Harry Haller who he had met when he was 50. He had rented a room in his aunt’s house.

The center of the novel is the author’s critic of the society. The main character constantly questions himself about life and his conscious plays an important role. He went to a Magical Theatre and there he found something hidden deep inside of him.

The novel has a high intellectual meaning because it contains important parts of literature, music, philosophy, politics and psychoanalysis.

Book Summary

The main character is Harry Haller; a man approaching his 50’s who lives a lonely life moving from one rent control apartment to another. He is famous for being gifted but also for being unsocial. In the beginning of the novel, the reader can learn a lot about him from the perspective of the landlord’s nephew who knew him as a calm and quiet tenant.

When he moved into the room he had a case of books and two suitcases and even though he was described as calm and introverted, a great suffering could be felt inside of him. He called himself Steppenwolf and loneliness was a reflection of life’s emptiness. One day, after paying his bills, he just disappeared leaving behind his notes that were later on published by the landlord’s nephew.

The notes are a life work of a man entering old age, which enjoyed classical music and never felt happy. He rarely felt like himself because he was aware that the man inside of him was in constant danger because of the Steppenwolf who existed inside of him and represented his instinctive side.

Harry began describing endless walks through town, books reading and his time spent in bars. During a walk he saw a commercial about a door that said “Magic Theatre – only crazy can enter”. He wanted to enter but couldn’t so he went to the bar where he enjoyed observing other people.

After a few nights, he started thinking about the theatre and then a man appeared in front of him that carried a sign about the theatre. Harry stopped him to ask about the theatre but, since the man had no time, he only left him a worn out the book about Steppenwolf. Then the reader can find out that Harry feels like a multiple personalities – like a civilized man and a wolf. As the mentioned thought becomes stronger so does the thought of suicide. His sufferings alienated him from people because he belonged to the species of intellectuals and artists.

After reading the book, the story of his life continues. He lost his material possessions, his mentally ill wife chased him out of the house and then the feeling of loneliness came back. While he was strolling down the city he found himself at a funeral and saw the man who gave him something interesting to read. He asked him where he could have a good time and he recommended a bar.

While he was coming back to his apartment he met an university professor with whom he led a discussion about Indian mythology a few years ago. Even though he wanted to, he couldn’t avoid having dinner with him. The dinner went the wrong way. Harry couldn’t keep his opinion about Goethe’s picture to himself and the hostess didn’t approve of it. He was also repulsed by some comments on the articles written by some Haller, because they were actually his articles.

The end of the unpleasant dinner Harry resolved by stating that Goethe looks like the symbol of the city’s emptiness and that he was the author of the articles. He enjoyed the shocked facial expressions around him and then he went to a bar where a pale girl with a big flower in her hair caught his attention. A close relationship flourished between them and he listened to everything she would say. She told him to eat something and get some rest.

In the meantime, she was dancing and when Harry arranged a dinner with her she left with another man. Harry couldn’t wait to have dinner with her. Her name was Hermine and she reminded him of his childhood friend Herman. She asked him to be just friends and to kill her when she asks him the previously mentioned. He agreed to have a friendship with her but not to kill her.

A new phase of his life began as he spent his days listening to jazz. He had some new friends such as the saxophone player Pablo and Maria who becomes his lover. Hermina introduced him to a new circle of friends and got him prepared for the masquerade ball. He had spent one last night with Maria because he knew it would be the last since he was supposed to be Hermina’s lover. He shared some interests with Hermina and she understood the arriving failure of Steppenwolf because both of them shared a passion – death.

He had to arrive a bit later to the dance and when he arrived he was bored because there was no one he knew there. The party took places in several rooms and Pablo played in the main one. Just when he was about to leave he got a message from Hermine saying she is in the lowest room, called Hell, and that at four o’clock in the morning The Magical Theatre opens.

Hermina was dressed like a boy so Harry barely recognized her. The party was obscene, unlike others he had attended. As time passed by the rooms emptied and Pablo invited them to come to the theatre. Pablo explained that the theatre has as many lounges as he wants as long as he frees himself from his personality and has a good laugh at the entrance.

He started to look at himself in the mirror and laughed so hard that he killed Steppenwolf. After laughing and losing his personality he found himself in front of several lounges with different signs. He entered a world where a battle between people and machines was taking places and he saw his friend Gustav, who he hadn’t seen since he was a child. During the war he found himself in the hallway and the next lounge he entered was about building personalities.

A man, similar to Pablo, explained to him that human’s personality is made out of many others and that his actions depend on the combination of all his personalities. They could be arranged as chess board figures to make sense.

In the next lounge, the theme was the dressage of the Steppenwolf in which a man, a lot like Harry, showed how his wolf can do anything people can. After that the wolf made the man do everything that animals do.

The next lounge was for Harry to get any girl he wants. His first pick was a girl he used to be in love. In the next lounge, he found himself in the last act of the opera “Don Juan” with Mozart. Mozart disappeared all of the sudden and he found himself in front of Hermina and Pablo. Hermina had a bite under her left breast and Harry placed a knife on that spot and granted her wish to kill her.

Mozart appeared again in front of Harry and told him he couldn’t handle listening to Handle’s compositions because the sound was awful. Harry thought he should be punished for what he had done so the execution was his next lounge. All of the sudden Hermina’s corps turned into a figure and Mozart into Pablo. The novel ends with hopes of him learning to laugh one day.

Place: Germany

Main Cahracters: Harry Haller, Hermina, Pablo

Character analysis

Harry Haller – he told he was the Steppenwolf and his surroundings started believing it. The story of the Steppenwolf emerged from his hard life. He had a specific personality, lived a lonesome life. His only dedication were books. He was a big expert in art, philosophy, music and poetry. Even though he lived in the city, Harry never quite got along with anyone so he lived alone with a restless soul trying to find home. He considered his life to be empty and he wasn’t satisfied with it. He lived on the verge between human’s and wolf’s life. He even planned his suicide on his 50th birthday. Harry found a small ray of light when he was visited by a woman whose picture he guarded. Then he goes away and leaves his notes behind with a note to the published to do whatever he wants with them.

Herman Hesse Biography

Hermann Hesse was a German-born Swiss novelist and poet. His work was popular with the younger readers after World War II who identified with the main theme of many of his novels: the trails of youth – and especially of creative artists – in search of self.

Hesse was born n July 2nd, 1877 in Calw, Germany. The son of a former missionary, he was enrolled in a seminary but soon left school. Thereafter he educated himself through reading. As a young man, he worked for a bookseller and did freelance journalism, which inspired his first novel ‘Peter Camenzind’ (1904), the story of a dissolute writer.

During World War I, Hesse, who was a pacifist, moved to Montagnola, Switzerland. He became a Swiss citizen in 1923. His despair and disillusion with the war and by a series of personal tragedies caused his writing to become more focused on the spiritual search for new goals and values as seen in his next novels “Demian” (1919), “Siddhartha” (1922) and “Journey to the East” (1923) all of which are deeply symbolic and psychoanalytical in nature.

Hesse’s next novel, “Steppenwolf” (1927) is perhaps the most innovative of all of his works. In the book, the artist and heroes double nature – human and wolf-like – force him into a labyrinth of nightmarish experiences. The work symbolizes the split between individuality and convention.

Hesse viewed the rise of Nazism in Germany with disgust and worked against Hitler’s domination in his own way. He had publicly announced his opposition to Anti-Semitism many times before and married a Jewish woman. However, at no time did he openly speak against the Nazi party as he considered himself mostly detached from politics.

Hesse’s last novel, “Magister Ludi” (1943) set in a utopian future, is in effect a resolution of the author’s concerns. Several volumes of his nostalgic, mournful poetry have also been published.

Hesse won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. In the last few years of his life, he enjoyed writing short stories and painting watercolors.

Hesse died in Switzerland in 1962 at the age of 85 and was buried in San Abbondio cemetery in Montagnola, Switzerland.