Steppenwolf By Hermann Hesse Character Analysis Harry Haller

Harry Haller, or Steppenwolf, is a man divided against society and himself. He despises bourgeois society and everything it represents: empty values, petty pleasures, intellectual stagnation. However, he is incapable of separating himself completely from the bourgeoisie. Instead, he rents rooms from the aunt, thereby immersing himself within a middle-class environment. He also engages in bourgeois activities, such as mindless reading, checking the mail, and at one point prior to the beginning of the text, even working at a job. Steppenwolf's contempt of society, plus his recurring realization that everyday will be just like the one before, prompts him to contemplate suicide.

Steppenwolf experiences two turning points within the text — his discovery of the Treatise on the Steppenwolf and his visit to the Magic Theater. Both experiences lead to self-discovery and enlightenment. Up until the moment Steppenwolf reads the treatise, he feels like a divided individual. He even describes himself as an individual whose nature consists of a man and a wolf. He rarely feels at peace because these two natures are competing for control. When Steppenwolf reads the treatise, he is overwhelmed by a variety of emotions. The treatise states,

In him the man and the wolf did not go the same way together, but were in continual and deadly enmity. One existed simply and solely to harm the other, and when there are two in one blood and in one soul who are at deadly enmity, then life fares ill.

This statement describes Steppenwolf's situation perfectly, so he is immediately convinced that he was right all along about his divided nature. The treatise goes on to state that "Harry consists of a hundred or a thousand selves, not of two," and as a result, Steppenwolf feels relief and liberation because every individual has a fractured nature, and this is normal. Finally, the treatise acknowledges that "his freedom was a death and that he stood alone. . . . For now it was his wish no longer, nor his aim, to be alone and independent, but rather his lot and his sentence." Steppenwolf feels justification for his suicidal tendencies because the treatise establishes his inevitable loneliness and isolation.

Steppenwolf's obsession with suicide is just as problematic as his contempt for bourgeois society. He is incapable of separating himself from the middle class, especially after the treatise argues that the bourgeoisie exists and flourishes as a result of Steppenwolf and others like him. Furthermore, the idea that the human and wolf are only two of a myriad of souls that comprise him, implies that one, two, or perhaps a hundred of the other souls are bourgeois. This contradiction carries over and directly impacts Steppenwolf's plan to commit suicide. He can no more kill himself than he can separate himself from the bourgeoisie. He is afraid of death, and the idea of mutilating his body is abhorrent to him. These are bourgeois concerns. If Steppenwolf were truly superior to the bourgeoisie, then he would not hesitate to permanently separate himself from them in order to exist in the realm of the Immortals.

Steppenwolf's visit to the Magic Theater is the culminating moment of his life. Up until this point in the text, he has had many encounters and experiences that have revealed aspects of his true nature and prepared him for his participation in the theater. The treatise convinces Steppenwolf that his ideology is correct and that suicide is inevitable. Maria teaches him that he is capable of experiencing physical fulfillment and sexual pleasure, even though he has always considered these to be primal states. Hermine instructs Steppenwolf about temporal gratification, the importance of friendship, and excitement that comes from finding one's soul mate. In the Magic Theater, Steppenwolf is forced to confront his multiple souls, his past, and his future through a series of bizarre, somewhat disturbing, hallucinogenic burlesques of his life. After everything he has gone through, Steppenwolf is told that he simply takes life too seriously; that is his fault and downfall. Whether he has really learned anything at all is for the reader to decide.

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Identify the source of the following quote: “You should not take old people who are already dead seriously. It does them injustice. We immortals do not like things to be taken seriously. We like joking. Seriousness, young man, is an accident of time.”




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