Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition
Summary of Steppenwolf
It's not just a famous theater in Chicago. Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf is, along with Siddhartha, one of Hesse's most celebrated works. It explores how we build our identities, how we relate to our culture and society, and how we find our place in the world.
But what exactly happens in Steppenwolf that leads to these interpretations?
The narrative is presented as part of a writing by Harry Haller. Harry, a disenchanted man, goes through life feeling out of place in current society. One day, however, he comes upon a brightly-lit, strange theater, and meets a man who gives him a writing called Treatise of the Steppenwolf.
When Harry reads the book, he finds it addressed to him! The book talks to Harry directly and describes him as someone torn between serious philosophical urges (the man) and playful and fantastic spiritual and physical urges (the wolf on the steppes). Later on, Harry meets the man again to ask for passage to the theatre, but the man gives him an address to a dance hall instead.
After reading the treatise, Harry feels as though he can't reconcile these two different sides of himself. He plans to commit suicide, which the book indicated that he would. He further cements those plans after he has a bad experience with a friend and his wife, which confirms to him that he is alone in the world and cut off from society. However, rather than going home and killing himself, he goes to the dance hall that he learned of and meets a woman named Hermine who connects with Harry. Harry is happy to have a connection with someone, and Hermine gets Harry to follow her commands, helping him to indulge in the more pleasurable life of the wolf. She even requests that Harry kill her at a point in time that will become clear later.
Harry continues to become more and more involved in having a fun and pleasurable life, though he's still got some reservations about losing his serious and high-thinking side. One night, however, Hermine takes him to a party where, after hours of revelry, the host of the party (named Marco) invites him to a special theatre.
At the theatre, Harry is able to enter doors that show fantasies of pleasure and of seriousness. He is able to re-imagine his life, act out upon his violent fantasies, and have sexual encounters with past loves. However, Harry enters a door and tries to kill Hermine as she requested he do earlier, but this shows a seriousness that is against the playful and ethereal nature of the palace. The composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart then shows up and chastises Harry for being so serious, telling him that he must face life with levity and laughter rather than being so depressed and grim, and confirming to Harry that indulging the wolf is the best way to approach life.
Herman Hesse was born in 1877 in Germany and spent his youth in Germany and Switzerland. His writing focuses on spiritual, metaphysical, and ethereal themes. Metaphysical themes deal with the nature of the mind itself and what the mind is; ethereal themes explore elements of the world that are so beautiful as to seem elevated beyond our physical existence.
Hesse's interest in these themes likely spring from three things: First, his education, in which he studied philosophy closely. Second, his experiences in World War I, where he served as a caretaker of injured soldiers and was so affected, that he claimed that Germany was too focused on nationalistic, patriotic war support and not enough on love. Third, his wife's mental illness and father's death, both of which caused him to undergo psychotherapy. These events left him nearly obsessed with the nature of the mind, and he continued to write about ideas related to this subject throughout his life.
Hesse's most famous novels are Steppenwolf, which explores the way in which an experience focused on emotional and physical pleasure and an appreciation of the ethereal can be positive, and Siddhartha, in which a young Hindu follower attempts to find spiritual enlightenment. These novels highlight Hesse's concern with spiritual and psychological fulfillment.
To quickly recap, Herman Hesse's novel Steppenwolf is one of his most famous novels along with the likes of Siddhartha. Like much of his work, Steppenwolf deals with the metaphysical and ethereal nature of existence and how important love and laughter can be through its main character, Harry Haller's journey to and through a magical theater.
This story was informed by Hesse's own experiences in his education in philosophy, along with caring for his mentally ill wife and dealing with the death of his father. Hesse's worldview was, like many other writers from his generation, also informed by the horrors of World War I and his belief in the importance of love as opposed to patriotic nationalism.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack