Steppenwolf By Hermann Hesse Summary and Analysis Harry Haller's Records: Fancy Dress Ball

Summary

Steppenwolf wakes up and gets dressed for the ball. He does not have a partner, so he chooses not to disguise himself and to arrive late. He visits a tavern called the Steel Helmet and observes the other inhabitants. Steppenwolf experiences a sense of farewell and "bourgeois sentimentality." He leaves the tavern and stops in at a local cinema that's playing The Ten Commandments. He is surprised that people can remain unmoved while watching a movie that supports the idea that God exists, as well as another level of being.

Steppenwolf arrives at the ball and immediately feels overwhelmed. The crowd and the noise are oppressive; they only remind him that he is too old to participate in such festivities. He wanders from room to room looking for Hermine and the others, but he cannot find anyone he knows. He decides to leave and discovers that his coat ticket has disappeared. A person dressed as a devil hands him another ticket with the following scrawled on it: "TONIGHT AT THE MAGIC THEATER. FOR MADMEN ONLY. PRICE OF ADMITTANCE YOUR MIND. NOT FOR EVERYBODY. HERMINE IS IN HELL."

Steppenwolf bids farewell to Maria on his way to the Hell room. Once there, he sees his old friend Herman sitting at the bar. It is Hermine in disguise. Steppenwolf recognizes her immediately. They cannot dance together because she is dressed as a male, so they begin dancing with other women. Steppenwolf falls in love with Hermine during the mad dancing that goes on. He is overwhelmed by the experience of dancing with a mass of people and "the mystic union of joy" that results. Hermine disappears and returns dressed as a dancer. She and Steppenwolf dance until they hear a strange laugh. At that moment, it is time to enter the Magic Theater.

Analysis

This section of the text serves as a transition. Steppenwolf knows that he will be transformed during the ball. He does not know how this will happen, but he believes Hermine will be responsible for his transformation and that death will be the final outcome. The scene at the tavern, as well as Steppenwolf's visit to the movie theater, signal the end of his former life. Steppenwolf is elated by his sense of kinship with the people in the tavern, not because he wants to connect with them, but because he feels he will finally be separated from them, "whose brother[s] I had been for so long." He wants to savor bourgeois society one last time before he transcends it.

The gap between Steppenwolf and bourgeois society widens when he enters the theater. For the bourgeoisie, The Ten Commandments is simply a form of entertainment, something to pass the time while eating snacks. For Steppenwolf, the movie is a spiritual experience because it demonstrates the supernatural at work among humanity. It is not just about Moses and the Israelites escaping from Egypt; instead, it's proof that divinity exists and that humans can connect with it. Steppenwolf desires that connection, but he's convinced that it can only happen by dying. It is impossible for him to achieve eternity so long as he is trapped in a society that cannot even recognize the divine in a movie that addresses the topic.

Hesse once again draws on Spinoza's theory during the scene in the movie theater. Spinoza argues that the individual cannot exist without a causal agent or being responsible for the individual's existence. Steppenwolf embraces this theory, and his conviction that God exists compels him to pursue the higher plane, or alternative state, where God exists and where Steppenwolf can exist without internal division. The fact that individuals can sit and eat popcorn while watching a movie documenting the existence of the deity is stupefying to Steppenwolf. Such behavior simply underscores the complacency of the bourgeoisie and his own contempt of them.

Steppenwolf's distaste for the ball is ironic. He has just congratulated himself on his impending separation from the bourgeoisie, yet he finds everything about the ball — the noise, the garish costumes, the inferior music, the crazed dancing — offensive because he is too old and respectable, basically too bourgeois, to participate. Once again he's the outsider. The ticket to the Magic Theater serves as his pass into the festivities and out of himself.

Hermine's first costume is symbolic. Dressed as Herman, she represents Steppenwolf's childhood and the innocence that has been lost. As such, she is intoxicating to him because she creates "the spell of a hermaphrodite." On one level, Steppenwolf is able to bond with her as Herman, a male; therefore, Steppenwolf can discard the need for artifice. On another level, he is able to bond with her as Hermine, his soon-to-be female lover; therefore, he can anticipate sexual pleasure. This is a wondrous experience for Steppenwolf, a true awakening of one of his thousand souls.

The foreplay that follows is comical. Steppenwolf and Hermine engage in a game of seduction with other dancers. Both dance with women in an attempt to entice the other. "And yet it was all only a carnival, only a game between the two of us that caught us more closely together in our own passion. It was all a fairy tale." Periodically, Steppenwolf and Hermine meet and discuss their conquests, but most of the time they are dancing. In actuality, they are preparing for the Magic Theater. Steppenwolf does not realize that he will be given a mind-altering drug prior to entering the theater. Even so, the crazed dancing, the fevered music, and the "mysterious merging of the personality in the mass" that occurs during the orgy sweep Steppenwolf's inhibitions away, thus initiating his departure from reality.

Glossary

opiate anything tending to quiet, soothe, or deaden.

hostel an inn.

limpid perfectly clear; transparent; not cloudy or turbid.

sentimentality the quality or condition of having or showing tender, gentle, or delicate feelings, as in aesthetic expression.

nominally in name only, not in fact.

roisterous to be lively and noisy; revel boisterously.

writ something written; writing; document.

repressions ideas, impulses, and so on that are kept down or held back; restrained.

accosted to approach and speak to; greet first, before being greeted, especially in an intrusive way.

tumult noisy commotion, as of a crowd; uproar.

adherent a supporter or follower (of a person, cause, and so on).

grotesquely characterized by distortions or striking incongruities in appearance, shape, or manner; fantastic; bizarre.

marionette a puppet or little jointed figure made to look like a person or animal and moved by strings or wires from above, often on a miniature stage.

cursory hastily, often superficially, done; performed rapidly with little attention to detail.

iridescent having or showing shifting changes in color or an interplay of rainbow like colors, as when seen from different angles.

ardor emotional warmth; passion.

panegyric high or hyperbolic praise; laudation.

crescendo any gradual increase in force, intensity, and so on.

allurement that which serves to tempt with something desirable; or to attract, entice, or fascinate.

nuptial of or having to do with mating.

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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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