Steppenwolf By Hermann Hesse Summary and Analysis Harry Haller's Records: Affair with Maria

Summary

Hermine applauds Steppenwolf's newly acquired dancing skills and his newfound appreciation of jazz. She also dismisses his protest that he is too old to learn about love and sex.

Steppenwolf realizes that the treatise was right about the presence of thousands of souls. He believes his friendship with Hermine is awakening those other souls while simultaneously fragmenting his old self. In addition, Steppenwolf realizes that he is a member of the bourgeoisie despite his lifelong attempts to separate himself from them and claim superiority over them.

He discusses music with Pablo, and chastises him for not responding to previous attempts at conversation. Pablo informs him that he did not respond because he "never talk[s] about music." Steppenwolf questions Pablo on the difference between sensual and spiritual music, but Pablo responds that both can be traced back to the musician who initiates the musical experience. Steppenwolf is disappointed by his reply.

Steppenwolf attends a recital, and the old church music reminds him of his former aesthetic lifestyle. Suddenly his friendship with Hermine and her efforts to transform him appear petty and false. He blames Hermine for subduing him in a "strange, dazzling, dizzying, world of hers where [he] would always remain a stranger and where [his] real self pined and wasted away."

He returns to his room and discovers Maria waiting for him in his bed. His anger toward Hermine disappears and is replaced by overwhelming gratitude for "her gift." He has sex with Maria, and they talk at length about her life, Hermine, Pablo, and others who "lived half for art and half for pleasure." Steppenwolf drifts off to sleep but is awakened by old memories.

Steppenwolf and Maria carry on their relationship during the three weeks leading up to the Fancy Dress Ball. Steppenwolf is disappointed that he is not Maria's only lover, but he is grateful for their affair. During that time, Hermine continues teaching Steppenwolf how to dance in preparation for the ball.

Pablo invites Steppenwolf and Maria to participate in an orgy, but Steppenwolf quickly refuses. He is disappointed by Maria's excitement over the offer. Later, Pablo asks Steppenwolf for twenty francs to help a friend, Agostino, who is sick. In return, Pablo offers to give up his night with Maria. Steppenwolf gives him the money but refuses his offer. He goes with Pablo to visit Agostino.

Hermine and Steppenwolf discuss Maria and her kissing techniques. Steppenwolf is surprised to hear that Maria and Hermine discuss their sexual experiences and lovers with one another. Hermine tells Steppenwolf that she did not reveal everything about his character to Maria because she would not have understood. Hermine asserts that no one understands Steppenwolf better than she does, and she reminds him that they will be lovers at a later date.

Analysis

Hermine becomes a much more realistic character in this section. She is still strange, but Steppenwolf discovers that Hermine has a past. She still devotes herself to Steppenwolf's transformation: "All I have to worry about is that you should learn to know a little more of the little arts and lighter sides of life. In this sphere, I am your teacher. . . ." Hermine arranges for Maria to be Steppenwolf's mistress as a means of teaching Steppenwolf about physical pleasure and sexual gratification, and as a means of learning about him through Maria. Steppenwolf even suspects that Hermine and Maria are lovers, and this possibility underscores the notion of "the thousand souls of the Steppenwolf treatise."

Hermine's purpose is tied to the fulfillment of the treatise. She is determined to prove to Steppenwolf that multiple souls do exist and that such a state is normal and desirable. Hermine explains that part of Steppenwolf's previous unhappiness is due to his inability to recognize the multiple souls within himself. Hermine praises Steppenwolf's newfound appreciation of dance and jazz and tells him that "there's no need to take it seriously." This statement coincides with Goethe's statement during the dream sequence. Both Goethe and Hermine argue that Steppenwolf's despair is the result of his narrow views, which subsequently are the views of just one of his souls. Her tie to the Goethe dream and the treatise serve to validate her statements.

Steppenwolf experiences a change as a result of Hermine's teachings. After he accepts the notion that he consists of multiple souls, he witnesses the destruction of his former self. This is a painful, yet necessary, process because it reveals the falsity of his former values and belief system. Steppenwolf realizes that he is bourgeoisie even though he has always considered himself separate and superior. His decision to lodge at the aunt's house is not borne out of a fascination and/or a desire to observe, but the desire of like to reside with like. In fact, Steppenwolf even goes so far as to revile Hermine and her lifestyle because of the extravagance, waste, and lack of respectability: "At bottom, however, he was a bourgeois who took exception to a life like Hermine's and was much annoyed over the nights thrown away in a restaurant and the money squandered there, and had them on his conscience."

Admitting that he is bourgeois is just as painful as watching himself consider inferior art, such as jazz, on the same level as Mozart's The Magic Flute. Even though Steppenwolf accepts Hermine's lessons and the treatise, he is still an unwilling student at times. When Steppenwolf is reminded of his former aesthetic lifestyle during the church music recital, he is overwhelmed by "sadness and longing of despair for life and reality and sense and all that was irretrievably lost." At this point, Steppenwolf is ready to reject the treatise and Hermine in favor of his former self, even though it means he will be embracing a life of despair once more. It is only Hermine's intervention and subsequent introduction of Maria as a mistress that prevents Steppenwolf from returning to his former state.

Ironically, Steppenwolf realizes that Hermine has arranged the affair with Maria, but he still chooses to view his first night with Maria as a "worthy fulfillment" of the Immortals' music. He chooses to ignore the fact that Hermine's purpose is to expose him to pure sexual gratification — a primal notion. Instead, he views the experience as a blending of pure beauty and art — complete spiritual fulfillment made manifest in the body. Steppenwolf maintains this view of Maria despite the knowledge that she and Hermine live lives of "singular innocence and singular corruption." In fact, Steppenwolf is intrigued by their ability to live completely in the moment. Steppenwolf realizes that Maria's reaction to Pablo's performance of the American song is more moving than the typical audience reaction to one of the Immortals. The fact that such "childish emotion" can affect Steppenwolf so deeply reveals that one of the thousand souls is functioning here. The former Steppenwolf would have considered such a reaction ludicrous.

Glossary

esthetic sensitive to art and beauty; showing good taste; artistic.

encumbrance?hindrance; obstruction; burden.

ignoble not noble in character or quality; dishonorable; base; mean.

barbarity cruel or brutal behavior; inhumanity.

nonentity a person or thing of little or no importance.

quay a wharf, usually of concrete or stone, for use in loading and unloading ships.

equanimity the quality of remaining calm and undisturbed; evenness of mind or temper; composure.

hegemony leadership or dominance, especially that of one state or nation over others.

superfluous not needed; unnecessary; irrelevant.

lucrative producing wealth or profit; profitable; remunerative.

assiduous diligent; persevering.

enthuse to express enthusiasm.

bulwark an earthwork or defensive wall; fortified rampart.

litany a repetitive recitation, listing, or specification.

inexorable someone who cannot be moved or influenced by persuasion or entreaty; unrelenting.

degradation a condition lower in rank or status, as in punishment or demotion.

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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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