Many literary novels are page turners, filled with a compelling, straightforward storyline and lots of action think of Our Mutual Friend and Crime and Punishment, think of Heart of Darkness and No Country for Old Men, or novels like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Hermann Hesse s novel Steppenwolf is a work of a completely different cast a reader might find the story gripping, even riveting, but for much different reasons, for the action takes place not in a major city or obscure outpost but primarily in the mind.
Our first introduction to main character Harry Haller is through the eyes of the thirty something middle class nephew of Haller s landlady The nephew observes how Haller lives a lonely, unsocial life and refers to himself as an old Steppenwolf The nephew s curiosity prompts him to enter Harry s room, where he discovers stacks of books by authors such as Goethe, Jean Paul, and Dostoevsky a statue of the Buddha a photo of Gandhi empty brandy bottles and half smoked cigars In a word, living quarters bespeaking a chaotic, artistic lifestyle.
The nephew explains how Harry suddenly vanishes from the apartment, leaving a manuscript entitled HARRY HALLER S RECORDS that warns potential readers that what follows is FOR MADMEN ONLY It is this record that comprises the remainder of the novel Harry records how he has two natures in conflict one as a reflective, refined, cultivated gentleman, and the other a wild wolf of the steppes As such, he is a Steppenwolf, a despiser and destroyer of the middle class who is at the same time supported and comforted by the middle class Harry s conflict causes him to become so depressed that he sets his fiftieth birthday as the date for taking his own life.
But life has other plans for Harry the Steppenwolf We read how Harry encounters a dreamlike inscription over a door in the old section of town Then the fun begins Harry s identity and view of reality are challenged by a series of happenings, most notably meeting the beautiful young Hermine, who can be considered in a number of ways as Harry s double, his doppelg nger as a reflection of Harry s inner, spiritual self or as a Jungian archetypal, female part of his psyche his anima Hesse wrote Steppenwolf fresh from his own Jungian psychoanalytic experience Indeed, Hesse plays with the idea of doubles, mirrors, and archetypes throughout this novel Harry s world is further jazzed up with the entr e of jazz saxophonist shape shifter sensualist Pablo and the beautiful and voluptuous Maria Jazz, dancing, drugs, and sex all contribute to the death of the formerly old and depressed Harry, transforming him into a revitalized man poised for a full range of experiences at the much anticipated masked ball.
The masked ball is the final section of the novel In one of the inner rooms Harry encounters the Magic Theater, which enlarges any previous notions he might have held of both magic and theater Harry is informed that there is a definite admission price to this theater PRICE OF ADMISSION YOUR MIND Pablo explains to Harry how the theater has as many doors and boxes as one pleases, ten or a hundred or a thousand, and how behind each door exactly what you seek awaits you Wild And as we enter and move through the Magic Theater, things become progressively wilder Recall how Timothy Leary encouraged users of LSD to consult this part of Hesse s novel as a manual to negotiate their hallucinogen induced trips Hesse would probably have objected to Leary s statement He wrote in 1961, it seems to me that of all of my books Steppenwolf is the one that wasoften andviolently misunderstood than any other, and frequently it is actually the affirmative and enthusiastic readers, rather than those who rejected the book, who have reacted to it oddly On this point I agree with Hesse you need not take LSD to enter The Magic Theater what you really need is openness and imagination, along with the willingness to courageously peer into the subconscious and unconscious areas of your own psyche If you have a few decades of adult experience, as Hesse evidently hopes, so much the better.
Der Steppenwolf Ist Die Geschichte Von Harry Haller, Der Sich Im Zustand V Lliger Entfremdung Von Seiner B Rgerlichen Welt Eine Geniale, Eine Unbegrenzte Furchtbare Leidensf Higkeit Herangebildet Hat Die Innere Zerrissenheit Hallers Spiegelt Die Erscheinungen Der Modernen Massen Und Industriegesellschaft Wider Und Reflektiert Kultur Und Zivilisationskritische Str Mungen DesJahrhunderts This novel 1 Initially reminded me very much of my own mental imbalances.
2 Started to make me feel like I d been had, and that it was, in fact, just pretentious, overly self aware me me me wackoff shite.
3 Redeemed itself AND THE NARRATOR in the end with its exploration of drug induced Jungian dreamscapes and subconscious mental states.
4 Successfully summoned that strange emotion that I like to call happysad 5 Did not change my life forever, but did act like aloe on a sunburn for my general mood and mindset at the time that I was reading it.
6 Has garnered 4 stars, and would be one that I would recommend to a friend, especially in place of anything by Richard Bach or Carlos Castaneda.
view spoilerhide spoiler There are always a few such people who demand the utmost of life and yet cannot come to terms with its stupidity and crudenessHermann Hesse, Steppenwolf There is this bourgeoisie period in every man s life A midpoint between birth and death where man is trapped alone Unable to exist in the hot or cold of the absolutes he tries to find his way between the extremes in the comfortable center Fearing life and death, he just exists barely This is not a novel for the young Just like it is better to save King Lear for late r in one s life, it is better to save Steppenwolf for those crisis years of the midlife.
Hesse s novels seem to flirt between the edge of memoir, scripture, prose poem and Eastern philosophy tract This isn t a book you want to read in a hot bath with scotch in one hand and a razor blade in the other You will either spill your drink or spill your blood or lose every printed word the hot water erasing pages and pickling your fingers, toes and time.
Rereading is tricky business And if the author s name is Hermann Hesse, rereading is a hit or miss experience, all depending on whether you happen to be in that time space continuum where Hesse makes sense or not I devoured his works in my twenties, only to drop them like hot potatoes in my thirties, anachronistically blaming Hesse for being out of touch with the modern perception of the world as I knew it right then So, now in my early forties, I seem to have swung back on that eternally moving pendulum of my literary taste, and I again devoured the Steppenwolf with wo o lfish appetite, greedy for each page.
And unsurprisingly, what struck me as of no interest a decade ago now seems to be a reality to suffer through again When Harry Haller finds himself quoting Goethe s Faust and his two souls , only to be told off by his modern female Mephisto Hermine that there are thousands of layers to each personality, and that Faust made an excusable oversimplification, I find myself nodding and smiling.
Or at least one of the many souls in my body finds comfort in that dilemma, while some other souls inside me cringe at the stupidity of being human in general The dystopian dream landscapes of Pablo s theatre make a lotsense to me now as well, as I see parallel lines in our confused lives part virtual, part real that we dedicate our time to nowadays, following links on the internet not unlike the prompts that lead Heller to different parts of the theatre, finally leading to a mock killing and a mock execution, that could of course also be real Who knows IRL or VR Then there is the political misery of 1927, with people partying away in jazz clubs and dance halls while the clownish machos in power prepare another war by appealing to the one dimensional patriotism that seems to be a placebo for people who are afraid of the wolfish intellectual soul duality multiplicity and are looking for clarity in the labyrinth called human experience What do you say to the novel written in 1927 Good luck You might have been too pessimistic Hardly We all know what happened next, and that is where the relatability itself of Steppenwolf gets scary.
Very scary indeed
Um What the What What the hell did I just read First third, BRILLIANT one of the most interesting bits of philosophical fiction I ve ever read Seriously I was completely enthralled Second third hard to believe that two people would ever actually have conversations such as these, but still engaging Third third what the F CK No, really, what the f ck It was some sort of crazy funhouse reality blurring, whacked out Kubrick film I don t know if I liked it or I hated it My brain is still in knots So uh while I try to disentangle my axons I ll leave you with a song TheI allow this to sink in, theI like it I think I need to consider seriously revising my review At any rate, I m giving it an extra star.
Hermann Hesse s words are timeless Here they represent an entire disaffected generation, a generation who is on the cusp of radical change but still partly exists in the old world They are out of space and out of time they are lost within themselves However, such things can aptly be applied to a number of individuals across the ages And, for me, this is what made the novel so great Through these pages Hesse evokes a character I have seen many times before across literature, but never before with such clarity Harry Haller is one such man His intellect is, undoubtedly, worthy of genius, though such a thing is wasted because he has no proper channel for such intellect He has lost his faith in humanity and has completely withdrawn from the world, so he makes his own world he has created his own ideal environment within his thoughts His loneliness is that extreme, he has written an idealised account of his life that never happened He wants hope, so he creates it himself in the form of a counterpart, a soul mate Hermione She gives him back everything he has lost, his confidence, his hope and his sexual energy He has passion or life onceAnd this is why the novel is so terribly sad None of this is actually happening it is the desperate ramblings of a mind trying to heal itself in a world where it can find no sense of belonging or purpose This imagined woman becomes a lifeline, a beacon in the middle of the dark shores of modernisation Like Andre Bretton s Nadja the idealised female becomes a means of escape for the lost modern man As per the surrealist mode, reality is warped in an attempt to find some higher truth Her presence is the only thing preventing Harry from killing himself and surrendering to the endless sleep.
For Harry is a man split in two he is the SteppenwolfThere is no reality except the one contained within us That is why so many people live such an unreal life They take the images outside of them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself He believes himself to be half man and half wolf He has all the sensibilities of a normal man, but overshadowing his character is the romantic longings of a wild creature In such a modern world his desires and natural drives are unfulfilled they are repressed and controlled resulting in severe depression and low mood He cannot be who he was meant to be because the space he exists in does not allow it The time, the age, does not allow it So he is trapped, and he so desperately needs a root out That much so he makes one up for himself out of words The switch between reality and imagination is extremely hard to notice within the narrative It happens very early on, and there are many different layers of storytelling The story we are hearing is actually a journal penned by Steppenwolf and read by the hotel manager Although the narrative does raise questions, many really, it is not until the end of the novel that the ripples of doubt are confirmed as delusional confirmations Perception is everything here, perception of the self and of the world Although such complex imagining may sound detrimental to mental health, they take on the form of a coping strategy for such a lost individual Although Steppenwolf is a middle aged misanthrope, I don t hesitate to say that this book will resonate within the bosom of many a reader Particularly the young and the dispossessed will relate to his tale I know I do in part It is easy to become lost in life, and it is easy to feel alone in a world that you don t relate to But unlike Hesse s Siddhartha this novel does not attempt to evoke an inner sense of peace and tranquillity as an effort to solve such problems that life throws at us A resolution would have been unnecessary here because that is not what Hesse is trying to show us Instead with Steppenwolf we receive a vision of a man who has wasted his life in self pity and self induced isolation Is this a projection of the author s feelings I don t think we can actually say for sure, but one thing remains absolutely certainSteppenwolf is a life lesson for those who do not want to receive the same fate.
Like many readers, I first encountered Hesse as a young person, for me it was when I was in high school Hesse s illustration of isolation and being misunderstood spoke to me as a youth, as I imagine it has for many young people.
Hesse said, Of all my books Steppenwolf is the one that wasoften andviolently misunderstood than any other Of course, the book was written about a man as he turns 50, not a youth.
But I think I can understand why this also speaks to young readers What Hesse describes, and his use of the lone wolf of the steppe as a symbol is brilliant, is about a time when an individual finds himself alone and in transition as in a mature man who approaches old age, or as a young person leaving behind the securities of childhood for the uncertainties of adult life.
Similar to Hesse s earlier novel Siddhartha 1922 in Steppenwolf 1927 the protagonist experiences a dynamic journey through self discovery and spiritual exploration Also reminiscent of the earlier work, Steppenwolf reveals a cathartic summation after a romantic interlude.
Hesse also demonstrates how man isthan a single entity,even than theobvious duality as suggested by Haller s belief that he is half man and half wolf but the combination of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of souls This confirmation of Eastern thought is ubiquitous in Hesse s work and shows a kinship to Jung.
Complicated, multi faceted and sometimes difficult to follow, Hesse presents an important contribution to 20th century literature.