Steppenwolf By Hermann Hesse Summary and Analysis Harry Haller's Records: For Madmen Only""

Summary

From this point on, Haller will be referred to as Steppenwolf. Steppenwolf's personal records and entries compose the rest of the text. Although the book does not contain formal chapter divisions, it can be divided into three parts: the initial records, "Treatise on the Steppenwolf," and the final records. With the exception of the middle section — "Treatise on the Steppenwolf" — all the text is told in first-person point of view with Steppenwolf serving as narrator.

Steppenwolf begins by describing a typical day for himself. He has spent his day working, reading books and the mail, and exercising. He describes his disgust of middle-class, or bourgeois, society; yet, he also admits that he chooses to live among the middle class, even to the point of lodging in one of their houses. He admires and reviles a vestibule in his building because it embodies all the "cleanliness and respectable domesticity" that he associates with the middle class.

While out walking, Steppenwolf comes across an electric sign: "MAGIC THEATER. ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY. FOR MADMEN ONLY!" The door to the theater is locked, so Steppenwolf visits an old tavern. While there, he questions his own existence and thinks about Mozart and Handel. On the way home, Steppenwolf visits the old wall again and encounters a man with a sign: "ANARCHIST EVENING ENTERTAINMENT. MAGIC THEATER. ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY." The man gives Steppenwolf a pamphlet entitled, "Treatise on the Steppenwolf. Not for Everybody."

Analysis

The first section of Harry Haller's Records introduces the main themes and conflicts within the text, namely loneliness, division, elitism versus mediocrity, self-mutilation, and suicide.

Steppenwolf's description of a typical day cues the reader that he is suicidal. He argues that it isn't a particularly memorable or happy day, nor is it a bad one; instead, he describes it as simply "moderately pleasant, the wholly bearable and tolerable, lukewarm [day] of a discontented middle-aged man." He goes on to say that days such as this make him seriously consider committing suicide. Perhaps he should "follow the example of Adalbert Stifter and have an accident while shaving."

Steppenwolf's suicidal tendencies are evident from the beginning, but it's particularly important to discuss his motives. He is not simply an individual who is experiencing depression. Instead, his suicidal state can be traced back to his fixation with and aversion to bourgeois society. Steppenwolf admits this when he states: "For what I always hated and detested and cursed above all things was this contentment, this healthiness and comfort, this carefully preserved optimism of the middle classes, this fat and prosperous brood of mediocrity."

Steppenwolf's main conflict is his inability to separate himself from the bourgeoisie. He chooses to live among them, renting a room from the aunt. He mingles, albeit unwillingly and grudgingly, with them — visiting the old tavern. And, he immerses himself in their culture by reading newspapers and books, conversing with the aunt and nephew, and observing those around him. Steppenwolf is fascinated by the bourgeoisie because they produce an aura of contentment. This is why he regards the vestibule as a "temple" since it symbolizes the middle class; their love of order, cleanliness, and respectability; and their pleasure in securing such things. He states, "I like the contrast between my lonely, loveless, hunted, and thoroughly disorderly existence and this middle-class family life. I like to breathe in on the stairs this odor of quiet and order, of cleanliness and respectable domesticity. There is something in it that touches me in spite of my hatred for all it stands for."

At the same time, he is captivated by the bourgeoisie, he is repulsed by it. He can only look upon their contentment with admiration by separating himself from them. Steppenwolf considers himself superior because he values enlightenment. When reading or writing poetry, or listening to Handel or Mozart, Steppenwolf has occasionally stumbled on "the track of the divine," and it is this that gives him pleasure. The problem is that these moments of divine truth are rare and fleeting. Instead, Steppenwolf spends most of his days engaging in bourgeois activities such as reading, opening mail, walking, and so forth. This is intolerable for him.

It is important to note the influence of philosophy on the novel, and it first becomes evident in this section of the text. The bourgeoisie dedication to respectability, responsibility, and morality are a direct reflection of Confucianism. Hesse studied Chinese philosophy in great detail, and its influence cannot be overemphasized here. The Confucian golden rule, "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself," is the founding premise of the bourgeois society. It is this benign attitude that bothers Steppenwolf because he feels it leads to complacency. It would be a mistake to say he wishes ill on other individuals, and it would be inaccurate to say he is a bad person. Steppenwolf simply maintains a different set of values than everyone else. The extent of his divided nature will be revealed when he reads the treatise. In the meantime, it is simply apparent that he chooses not to participate in bourgeois society because he considers everything about it to be inferior.

In a moment of self-reflection, Steppenwolf summarizes his existence: "I am in truth the Steppenwolf that I often call myself; that beast astray who finds neither home nor joy nor nourishment in a world that is strange and incomprehensible to him." This revelation results in hours of aimless wandering, and this wandering leads him to the Magic Theater and the "Treatise on the Steppenwolf."

Glossary

gout a hereditary form of arthritis resulting from a disturbance of uric acid metabolism, characterized by an excess of uric acid in the blood and deposits of uric acid salts, usually in the joints of the feet and hands, especially in the big toe.

housewifery housekeeping.

desecration take away the sacredness of; treat as not sacred; profane.

humdrum lacking variety; dull; monotonous; boring.

chiropodist someone specializing in the treatment of hand and foot diseases.

Philistines people regarded as smugly narrow and conventional in views and tastes, lacking in and indifferent to cultural and aesthetic values.

roguish dishonest; unscrupulous; playfully mischievous.

neurosis any of various mental functional disorders characterized by anxiety, compulsions, phobias, depression, dissociations, and so on.

deride to laugh at in contempt or scorn; make fun of; ridicule.

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