Steppenwolf By Hermann Hesse Summary and Analysis Harry Haller's Records: First Date with Hermine

Summary

Steppenwolf returns home the next morning and encounters the aunt. She invites him to tea, and they discuss her nephew's wireless set.

Steppenwolf anticipates his date with Hermine. He guesses her name, and she asks if he has learned to dance since their last encounter. Hermine reminds Steppenwolf that he has agreed to obey her commands. She tells him that she will make him fall in love with her, and ultimately she will command him to kill her.

Steppenwolf tells Hermine about the treatise, and he discovers that she has read it already. The next day, Hermine points out a newspaper article about him. They discuss the article, as well as the idea that another war will take place.

They shop for a gramophone, and Hermine teaches Steppenwolf the fox trot. They continue his dance lessons at a hotel where he dances with a lovely girl named Maria and meets Hermine's friend Pablo, who is a musician. Hermine reveals that she feels the same desperation and emptiness that Steppenwolf feels. She also informs him that he needs to sleep with a young attractive woman.

Analysis

The peculiar nature of Steppenwolf's relationship to Hermine is intensified during this section. Their initial meeting was strange, especially since Hermine guessed Steppenwolf's suicidal thoughts as well as the reasons behind them. Steppenwolf is surprised and pleased by Hermine's awareness and seeming knowledge. In fact, he considers her miraculous: "The miracle had happened. I had found a human being once more and a new interest in life."

Hermine continues to command Steppenwolf, and she takes it upon herself to teach and/or expose him to various physical sensations and pleasures, such as eating, sleeping, and sex. It is important to note that all are types of sensual gratification. The old Steppenwolf — pre-Hermine — would have considered these primal, in fact bestial or wolf-like. The new Steppenwolf allows himself to partake in these pleasures even though he experiences some mortification at first. To his surprise, his shame dissipates, and he actually enjoys dancing, relishes eating, appreciates sleeping, rejoices in love, and revels in sex. Hermine states, "Either a man goes and hangs himself, and then he hangs sure enough, and he'll have his reasons for it, or else he goes on living and then he has only living to bother himself with. Simple enough." She lives for the moment.

Steppenwolf's fascination with and attraction to Hermine result from his unquestioning acceptance of her. He believes what she says because of her uncanny knowledge of him. "Yet though she played at being a child she had seen through me completely, and though she made me her pupil there and then in the game of living for each fleeting moment, she seemed to know more of life than is known to the wisest of the wise. It might be the highest wisdom or the merest artlessness."

Ironically, Steppenwolf fails to recognize Hermine's own suicidal nature until it is pointed out to him. Even after Hermine tells him that he will kill her on command, he chooses to dismiss the idea as implausible, and at the most uncomfortable. He understands only when she states, "[I]t's the same for me as for you, because I am alone exactly as you are, because I'm as little fond of life and men and myself as you are and can put up with them as little. There are always a few such people who demand the utmost of life and yet cannot come to terms with its stupidity and crudeness."

Even though she reveals an intolerance of life and despair akin to Steppenwolf's, he fails to recognize the significance of her statement. She doesn't just share Steppenwolf's view of society; she is a Steppenwolf. In addition, just as Steppenwolf cannot bring himself to commit suicide because the thought of self-mutilation is too horrible and self-annihilation too terrifying, so Hermine cannot kill herself. She must have someone else do it for her. In this manner, Steppenwolf has not only found his female counterpart, but he's become a pawn in another individual's death wish.

Glossary

peccadilloes minor or petty sins; slight faults.

ignominy loss of one's reputation; shame and dishonor; infamy.

impetus anything that stimulates activity; driving force or motive; incentive; impulse.

hermaphrodite a person or animal with the sexual organs of both the male and the female.

ineffectuality something that does not produce or is not able to produce the desired effect.

prodigal exceedingly or recklessly wasteful.

decrepit broken down or worn out by old age, illness, or long use.

incited to urge to action; stir up; rouse.

holocaust great or total destruction of life.

quixotic extravagantly chivalrous or foolishly idealistic; visionary; impractical or impracticable.

repugnant distasteful; offensive; disagreeable.

obdurate not giving in readily; stubborn; obstinate; inflexible.

conscientiously showing care and precision; painstaking.

caballero a Spanish gentleman, cavalier, or knight.

demigod a godlike person.

buoyantly demonstrating the ability or tendency to float or rise in liquid or air.

aspiration strong desire or ambition, as for advancement, honor.

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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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