Tuesday, 15 July 2008


Der Steppenwolf is the tenth novel by Hermann Hesse, combining autobiographical and fantastic elements. Released in 1927 and named after the lonesome wolf of the steppes, or coyote, the book in large part reflects a profound crisis in Hesse's spiritual world in the 1920s.


The book is presented as a manuscript by its protagonist, a middle-aged man named Harry Haller (who has the same initials as Hesse himself, a recurring device in his books), who leaves it to a chance acquaintance, the nephew of his landlady. The acquaintance adds a short preface of his own and then has the manuscript published. The title of this "real" book-in-the-book is Harry Haller's Records (For Madmen Only).
As it begins, the hero is beset with reflections on his being ill-suited for the world of "everybody", the regular people. In his aimless wanderings about the city he encounters a person carrying an advertisement for a "magic theater", who gives him a small book, Treatise on the Steppenwolf. This treatise is cited in full in the novel's text (another level of self-reference) as Harry reads it. The pamphlet addresses Harry by name and seems to describe him perfectly, as a man who believes himself to be of two natures: one "high", spiritual and "human"; while the other is "low", animal-like, a "wolf of the Steppes". This man is entangled in an irresolvable struggle, never content with either nature because he cannot see beyond this self made construct. The pamphlet gives an explanation of the multifaceted and indefinable nature of every man's soul, which Harry is either unable or unwilling to recognize.
The next day Harry meets a former academic friend who invites Harry to his home. While there Harry both becomes disgusted by the nationalistic mentality of his friend, and offends the man by criticizing his wife's picture of Goethe (a figure Harry later dreams about), thus cementing his belief that he is not fit for the society of other men. Trying to postpone returning home where he plans to commit suicide, Harry chances upon a young woman in a dance hall, Hermine, who recognizes his desperate condition very quickly.

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