Saturday, February 12, 2005


There is no doubt in my mind that Hermann Hesse is writing about himself when he is writing about the Steppenwolf. The main character, Harry Haller, even shares the same initials. Hesse describes an individual who insists upon stripping down the why and how of his life to two diametric opposites. Assuming it is a given that Hesse can recognize that the life of a man consists of so many more aspects than just bourgeois man and lone wolf of the steppes, why can he not transcend the limited scope of awareness that is obviously the basis for his own world view? He has recognized this dual nature in himself, and Steppenwolf is a testament to this recognition. Hermann Hesse was no happier in his life than was Harry Haller. In fact, biographical information indicates a man of extreme sickly and unhappy circumstance, having spent much of it in a sanatorium in Switzerland.

Can knowing one's true nature lead to the much coveted and elusive state of happiness that humans strive toward? If one is to take Hesse's situation as an example, this is clearly not the case.

I come away from the experience of reading Steppenwolf wholly dissatisfied. I am not sure whether it is because I find the portrayal of H.H. as an essentially shallow being so disappointing, or alternately, because I know that such a portrayal is quite representative of most beings in this life, which illustrates how hopeless it seems to even consider transcending ordinary life, when what makes it most ordinary takes up all available time. What I take away from it most of all is the realization that a being's nature is truly multiplex. Some aspects of one's personality are old, toughened, wizened. Others are so fresh as though to have recently emerged from the womb. It is all of these separate components that make up the whole of the individual, and according to the chess player in the latter part of the story, this individual can be infinitely re-combined or re-arranged to result in different circumstances. It has everything to do with the choices one makes, given the options available. That's the oversimplified bottom line.

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