Hesse, Herman. (2002, 1927). Steppenwolf. Picador; United Kingdom.
My first exposure to the work of Herman Hesse was in his most well-known book, Siddhartha. While Siddhartha relies heavily on the stories and principles of Eastern mysticism to engage with a series of (very distinct) self-discovery experiences, Steppenwolf is set in European culture and addresses the protagonist’s struggle with his dual nature as both a spiritual human and low, base wolf (Cox, February 2013; Wikipedia article). The protagonist’s name is Harry Haller, and the story unfolds as if it were his manuscript (a technique probably used by Herman because of the tale’s strongly autobiographical elements) (Wikipedia article).
I enjoyed Siddhartha as a mental exercise, but Steppenwolf had an emotional impact on me. Harry expresses in his manuscript the human condition to feel torn between two essential natures, and the feelings of isolation from society that can occur when a person acknowledges and focuses on these irreconcilable aspects of human desire (Wikipedia article). The female character in the novel, Hermine, draws out the multifauceted aspects of Harry’s psyche and introduces him to the bourgeois lifestyle (including a significant amount of sex and drugs); she also listens to him and chastises him for his self-pity (Wikipedia article). Hermine marks for Harry the return from despair and the blossoming of new life (Cox, February 2013).
The book was not well-received upon its initial publication, but later became caught up in the counter-culture movement of the 1960s – this was mostly due to the descriptions of Harry’s rebellion, despair, and use of drugs (Cox, February 2013; Wikipedia article). Herman bemoaned this popularization of the novel because it ignored his original intent to describe a character arc from depression to a more positive life outlook (Cox, February 2013; Wikipedia article).
Personally, I’m glad that I read the book without any prior knowledge of the story line and was able to interpret for myself a lot of the arcane and mysterious allusions made throughout (e.g. Pablo’s Magic Theatre, the Treatise on the Steppenwolf). As with many of Herman’s other works, this novel attempts to find out the methods through which people can achieve contentment in themselves and their lives (Wikipedia article). It is deep, autobiographical, psychoanalytical, and absolutely a must-read for the introspective and critical student of life.