148 of 150 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2005
"Steppenwolf" is in part an autobiographical novel exploring the mid-life crisis of Hermann Hesse. Readers should be aware that German nationalists up to this point had criticised Hesse for his pacifist writings and activities during WWI. He like so many of his generation had helplessly watched the socio-economic turmoil and transition of Germany during the Weimar Republic, although he had long ago immigrated to Switzerland. He witnessed the deterioration of his first wife's mental health, which subsequently lead to their divorce. And he was afflicted with gout and other physical ailments, some of which are mentioned in the novel. With these tragic events weighing heavily on Hesse, he suffered a nervous break down, whereupon he underwent Jungian psychoanalysis and was inspired by it to put his accounts to paper.
The result was "Steppenwolf", a poetic tale about a middle-aged man who is spiritually, emotionally and physically sick. Any doubt to its subject matter can be easily dispelled in the book of poetry entitled "Crisis" or Crisis Pages From a Diary (Noonday), which Hesse published in 1927 at the same time as "Steppenwolf". It contains two poems found in "Steppenwolf" and a number of confessional poems describing his despair and personal loss.
Despite the abundance of reviews and narratives written on "Steppenwolf" and Hesse's philosophical position it was, he confided in the preface of editions printed after 1961, his most "violently misunderstood" work. Hippies in the late sixties embraced the book's references to drug use, anti-war activity, provocative music and sexual promiscuity. Even counter-culture guru and psychiatrist Dr. Timothy Leary speculated in his book The Politics of Ecstasy (Leary, Timothy) what types of medication Hesse had been prescribed, based on his dream and surrealistic images in the novel.
In truth, Hesse's intention was to paint the picture of Steppenwolf's (or Harry Haller's) state of mind. To portray this personality, Hesse resorted to Jungian psychology, particularly the principals of `ego', `animus/anima' and `self'. Harry Haller is his `ego'. Hermine is his `anima' (animus in women). Pablo and Maria are his `self'. Harry Haller (whose initials H.H. are the same as Hermann Hesse's), however, is unable to integrate the opposite and multiple pieces in his psychological make up. Unity of the personality is attainable by emulating the immortals' (Mozart, Goethe, Nietzsche, Novalis) sense of humour or adaptability whenever confronted with rigid conformity and resistance to change.
When Hesse introduces the reader to Hermine, he is referring to the `anima' in himself; Hermine is the feminine name for Hermann. In Jungian psychology, this is the feminine principal present in the male consciousness or the inner personality in communication with the subconscious. Hermine is in effect the inner voice of Harry Haller (Hermann Hesse) helping him to unify his `ego' and `self'. She encourages the intellectual and serious side of Harry - the `ego' - to recognise and accept the sensual and animal (Steppenwolf) side of his personality - the `self' - which jazz musician Pablo and escort Maria are only too willing to nurture. Hermine is the unifying force of the `ego' and `self', leading to the realm of the immortals in The Magic Theatre where multiple aspects of his personality are synthesised and made whole.
In this respect, The Magic Theatre becomes a metaphorical extension of Harry Haller's mind. All that Harry loathes about the mediocrity of the bourgeois, all that he loves about Mozart, Goethe, Novalis and Nietzsche, all the passion he feels for past loves and Hermine -- in essence, all that comprises Harry -- is distilled and fused as one. For instance, the music of his revered Mozart is played through the radio he so despises; the ugliness of war he dislikes, he embraces with a theologian friend in a war against the automobile (or machine); and when he figuratively kills Hermine, expecting the jury of immortals to sentence him to the gallows, he is heartily laughed down by them.
As for the structure of the novel, one literary critic has compared it to a sonata. "Steppenwolf" is comprised of three movements. In the first movement the narrator introduces us to Harry Haller and his peculiarities; the second movement elaborates on the "Treatise Of The Steppenwolf" to explain his personality and behaviour; and the third movement resolves the psychological conflict in The Magic Theatre. It is a plausible premise, considering Hesse's knowledge of classical music and his allusions to classical musicians in this novel.
Despite the complexities of "Steppenwolf", it is a fascinating novel to read. Every word and passage is heartfelt and meaningful. Hesse pours out his soul, probing his psyche, confessing his insecurities and beliefs, his sorrows and joys, his sensuality and intellect, analysing his (the individual's) role in society and offering some form of spiritual solace. He speaks to us all, regardless of age, sex, race or culture. For we have all at some point in life experienced the bittersweet condition of the Steppenwolf.
As a companion piece to the novel, I would recommend the 1974 movie, Steppenwolf. Max von Sydow (Harry Haller), Dominique Sanda (Hermine), Pierre Clementi (Pablo) and Carla Romanelli (Maria) deliver credible performances, faithful to their respective characters. Storyline is true to the book as well. The editing is hurried and choppy in the first half of the film, making it difficult to connect emotionally with the Steppenwolf's plight, whereas the surrealistic scenes in The Magic Theatre are superbly executed (pardon the pun). Nevertheless, it's a movie not to be overlooked if you love this amazing book by one of the 20th century's great writers.
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Ageing intellectual Harry Haller checks out of his attic rooms in a post-WWI German city leaving behind his "records" which constitute the bulk of this novel. They begin as the musings of a divided man: Harry struggles to reconcile the wild primeval "wolf" inside him and the rational, well-mannered, civilized self he presents to the world. He despises the banality of bourgeois life and yet nonetheless longs for its numbing comforts. Each side of his divided nature loathes the other, leaving him hovering between them in spiritual and social paralysis. He can do little more than wander the streets at night, too afraid to go home because he might take the razor to his throat. But everything changes when he meets the mysterious Hermine who wants to teach him to dance... As Hesse points out in a note to this Picador edition, his best loved work is also his most commonly misunderstood one. It isn't so much the book of a man despairing, as of a man believing. Through his relationships with Hermine, Maria and the handsome musician Pablo - and a climactic visitation to the Magic Theatre which has all the depraved beauty, nightmare logic and existential resonance of a David Lynch film - Harry comes to understand and accept the multiplicity of the personality as being ultimately inconsequential. There is a second, higher, indestructible world beyond the Steppenwolf and his problematic life. Ultimately, this novel is a call to connect with the positive, serene, super-personal and timeless reality behind the ridiculous play of life's daily round. It's there all the time, just as we can still hear the genius of Mozart though his music be channelled through a phonograph. Genius survives the transmission, and so it is with the human spirit.
47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2004
Steppenwolf is the depiction of a man, in a time, where the pain and anguish of living his life provides the courage necessary to seek change. Harry Haller, a.k.a., Steppenwolf (the wolf of the Steppes) spends his time "with his thoughts and his books, and pursues no practical calling." He is intelligent, educated, cultured, and lonely. Harry is a regular guy, an average man, a man we know, a man we are.
Harry is in pain - spiritual pain, emotional pain, social pain, political pain; deep and suffocating pain. Drinking alcohol doesn't cure Harry's pain, and his health is poor too. Kind landlords provide no relief, and the kindness of old colleagues bestowing social niceties only serve to prove to Harry how wretched he is, because Harry is a "genius of suffering, with a frightful capacity for pain...rooted in self-contempt." Harry is also authentically himself and without pretenses, though he is rejecting of himself. He escapes the pretenses of the world, yet he lives according to the rules of the world. He is accepting and honest with everyone he meets, yet is filled with deep contempt, for himself, and the "bourgeois" world. Conformity to the norm of the day is not the way of the wolf, and Harry Haller is a wolf; a wolf, "living a journey through hell...a soul dwelling in darkness." What Harry wants and needs is relief. Yet he is afraid. Afraid of others, the past, the present, the future, and so with despair for the life he lives, Harry wants to die. Harry also wants to be connected, to be present, and to live. He yearns for it; he even, "regrets the present day and the countless lost hours and days in mere passivity." Yet in Harry's darkest moments, he still has an ability to transcend the darkness and connect to nature as he "contemplates the araucaria." There is also relief for Harry in music, because in music, Harry "drops all defenses and was afraid of nothing in the world." Harry is a regular guy, an average man, a man we know, a man we are. Harry is shadow. Harry is ego.
Hitting bottom, seeing relief only in death, Harry struggles with darkness (shadow), and encounters the Magic Theater. Prior to Harry's Magic Theater journey he is given a "Treatise of the Steppenwolf" (a diagnosis). The Magic Theater is "not for everybody." But, Harry is not everybody. Harry is courageous. He enters The Magic Theater (psycho-therapy) and encounters everyone and everything, dark and light and neutral; all of it. Upon entering The Magic Theater, Harry meets a woman who is pure light (ego) to his darkness (shadow). She is friendly, smiling, comforting, soothing, and nurturing. She is alive! And she is exactly the relief Harry needs. She is "his opposite, and all that Harry lacked." Because she is the part of Harry that he long ago cast off, thrown away and rejected. She is Harry's anima. She is Hermine. She is Harry.
In The Magic Theatre, Hermine (like a nurturing mother) introduces Harry to himself (her), and she shows Harry that he's been brooding like a child in a lifetime tantrum. And, like the child that he is, Harry submits to his Hermine (mother/anima/self) and learns the ways to laughter, humor, acceptance and love. Harry's journey is not without struggle, as he deals with his old self (shadow), learns from his new self (ego), and learns to live. Harry learns that darkness (shadow) is only part of life, and that acceptance, love and laughter are other parts of the game and dance of life, parts he had discarded long, long ago.
On Harry's journey in The Magic Theater, he meets many teachers and guides, including his beloved Goethe, Mozart, the neutral, non-judgmental and compassionate Herr Pablo, and the chess player: psycho-therapists all. With their encouragement and instruction, Harry engages with others, struggles with self and others, dances with others, and faces himself in others - and Harry integrates it all. Every experience in The Magic Theater is an awakening of love, acceptance, relief and life for Harry -past, present and future, and through the journey, Harry learns self-control and self-acceptance.
Before Harry paid the price of admission into The Magic Theater (his mind), Harry was a regular guy, an average man, a man we know, a man we are. The difference between Harry and the average though, is that Harry had the courage to pay the price to "live and not die"
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2006
I have an odd melange of feelings for this book, which is my automatic response to the question, "What is your favorite book?"
First, I have to say that I love Hermann Hesse's writing style. It's simple and unpretentious, yet it has a beautiful rhythm to it. I am aware that some people don't consider him to be the best writer, and I can even understand that. Perhaps it's because I have only read English translations of his book, but I must admit that there is a certain awkwardness to his writing. Nevertheless - just what I said.
I can't really assess Steppenwolf in a conventional sense, as in whether it was an easy read or a difficult read, whether it held my attention, etc. I've had the book since I was in elementary school, I first flipped through it in 6th grade, and I read it all the way through in my early years of high school. I can't even remember why I like it so much until I pull it out of my bookshelf and read a few words. Then I have to stop whatever I'm doing and finish the paragraph, then the page, then the chapter.
Someone once posted a thread on a messageboard with the title, "I am the Steppenwolf." I felt very sorry for whoever posted that, but his thread made me think.
Harry Haller, the Steppenwolf, is not a happy man. Hesse does an admirable job in portraying the dilemma of the person who finds himself in a rut, having to act a certain way while completely disapproving of that way of life. The Steppenwolf has withdrawn from other people, and he immerses himself in books and alcohol most of the time. He understands the absurdity of his situation, mostly because he is aware of the opposing forces that push and pull at his life. He agrees to have dinner with a professor he once knew in better days, hoping to be drawn out of his unhappy situation. He smiles and laughs and lies as a human does, pretending that he has been in the area for only a few days when he has actually been living there for months, etc. At the same time, however, the wolfish part of him laughs at this posing. He detests the way that he fawns over this professor, grateful that someone is paying attention to him. This side of his mind knows why he withdrew from society - he detests the deception and blindness that color any interaction with another human being.
I write about this with such ease because I often find myself being pulled apart by these same forces. I am aware, then, that my love for Steppenwolf is colored by narcissism and self-indulgence.
There are some aspects of Steppenwolf that are difficult to like. In a few paragraphs Harry lords over the "bourgeoisie," imagining himself to be "more developed" than these mediocre members of the middle class. Yet, in other paragraphs, he reveals his respect and love for his middle class origins. Harry is a complete human, with contradictions built in. I for one think that it would be difficult not to love him.
I'm not sure if someone who doesn't understand Harry's struggle would enjoy this book. As for me, this book has been so much a part of my life that I can't even tell if I like it or not. All I can say is that this one book influenced me more than all the other books I have read combined.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
_Here I am, like the Steppenwolf, approaching the age of 50. I understand him now for I have lived his life. His deepest thoughts are mine- indeed, they read exactly like my own journals. No wonder I am told that Hesse is my soul mate. It is true.
_I lived Steppenwolf's solitary life. I knew his crisis. I share his rejection of bourgeois society because it grates the fundamental essence of my soul. And I know what he means by the strength derived from knowing that you can leave this world any time. I know the conviction to never sell yourself into wage slavery for mere money. I know his night wanderings, his books, his music, his rooms, his cigars, and his wine. I know.
_But I also know his central crisis. For when we are ready then a door really does open to a higher perspective. I literally walked through that door in the wall for "madmen only." Like the wulf I had always sensed the golden moments that form the golden path to that door. I was eventually shown it. I had always suspected that man was more than a half rational animal, that he was a child of the Gods and destined to immortality. When you are ready, when you are sick enough of the petty ego, you will be shown the kingdom on the other side of time and appearances. It is just necessary to stumble through your share of dirt and humbug before you reach Home.
_Time and the world, money and power belong to the small and shallow people. To the rest, the real men, belongs nothing. Nothing but death- and eternity- and the kingdom.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2004
Outstanding. One of the best books I have ever read. An interesting examination of existentisal philosophy ( more specifically nietzsche), that really creates a sence of the isolation and alienation that is a fact of life in the modern world.
So back in the 27' Tyler Durden would have been named Hermine, the story is just as compelling and indicates that the difficulties that face those who can't just be cogs in the machine are not something new to our generation. ( Perhaps when Yam child has become Yam woman she will realize this, too ).
This story is not exciting, there is little action, it can be dull. Rather, it is a meditation on the world, the problems it creates for one who wants to maintain his individuality in the face of modernity, and the problems furthur raised by any atempt to circumvent those conditions.
This is not a book to give you answers to your journey to selfhood. It is a book to show you A way, and to give you hope that such a journey is possible. Enjoy
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2005
Coming from a philosophy background, with a predominant interest in Nietzsche, I find it hard to ignore the numerous aspects of Nietzsche in "Steppenwolf". Viewing the self as a multiplicity, favoring humor over seriousness, recognition of life's suffering while striving to overcome it, anti-nationalism-- are all major themes of Nietzsche and each of these views is voiced in the novel. As every true pupil of Nietzsche's is instructed Hesse takes Nietzschean themes as a ground and develops them in his own way and without any strict adherence to Nietzsche's philosophy. As a novel of ideas Hesse's Steppenwolf demonstrates a philosophy of life that cannot be captured within the confines of a stereotypical philosophical treatise. This novel is a breath of fresh air for anyone searching for meaning or anyone who is not content to be told how to feel or what to believe. This is the first Herman Hesse novel I have read and will surely not be the last.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2003
Hermann Hesse was in bad shape at this point in his life. Death of a beloved child; a turbulant marriage to a mentally deteriorating woman ending in a painful separation; his devout humanitarianism and pacifism causing him to be scorned and ostracized by a population increasingly obsessed with a very jingoistic form of German nationalism. His ensuing severe depression compell him to undergo analysis by a Jungian and to open a dialogue with Carl himself. They recommend he use his incredible narrative talents, in the framework of Jung's theory of personality, to purge himself of his demons. Steppenwolf is the result. Since narrative flow and reader accessibility were not a top priority for Hesse in this attempt at self-therapy, one has to understand Jungs ideas of the evolution of self-discovery (the road to the Immortals)and the mechanics of ego, anima, self through which this evolution takes place. Hesse, true to form, takes these psychological abstractions and breathes life into them, as Harry (ego), Hermine (anima) and Pablo/Mozart (self) compete, instruct and eventually synthesize to allow Harry (Hesse) to look past his own self-imposed limitations of father, husband, respected citizen and yes, even steppenwolf, to the rarified air of the Immortals where life's foibles produce one cosmic belly-laugh after another and give us the ability to see that "our past was not a shattering of ruins, but fragments of the divine and that our life turned not on trifles, but on stars".
One of the most powerful blueprints of the human experience ever written; mainly because it's a true story, written by one with the courage to go down this road and the skill to put what he finds on paper.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2007
This book was amazing. It is the first book that I encountered by Hermann Hesse and the best! I am a teenager and although at the beginning of the book, there was a warning for different opinions based on age, I feel as though I know EXACTLY what Hesse was trying to portray through Harry Haller. The book was amazing-confusing I will admit at times. But, I am going to read it again, maybe after twenty years, and compare my ideas about it. I still believe that Steppenwolf is one of the best books that I have ever read. I have also read Siddhartha Guatama and The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi)-but this book is still my favorite!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2006
Wonderful, insightful, melancholy, meaningful, truthful, artistic, exploritory, philisophical, magical, and chalked full of beautiful madness to drink deeply from.
Read this novel if you are even remotely interested in Hesse, the inner life, poetic writing, life and/or yourself as a real, feeling human being.