Steppenwolf By Hermann Hesse Summary and Analysis Harry Haller's Records: Magic Theater, Galleries 5-7 (death of Hermine, Mozart, & Steppenwolf's punishment)

Summary

Steppenwolf leaves the gallery exhausted. He is surprised by the door labeled "HOW ONE KILLS FOR LOVE." Immediately, he recalls his first dinner with Hermine and her statement that she would command him to kill her. Steppenwolf becomes desperate and attempts to rearrange his pieces on the chess board. The pieces in his pocket are gone, and a knife has replaced them. He glances in the mirror and sees the wolf grinning back at him. Hermine and Pablo have disappeared. He looks in the mirror again and the wolf is gone; Harry is there instead. Harry tells him that he is waiting for death; it is coming.

Steppenwolf hears Don Giovanni playing in the background. Mozart walks by and laughs. Steppenwolf follows him into one of the galleries where the last act of Don Giovanni is playing. Steppenwolf argues that Don Giovanni has never been surpassed, but Mozart laughs and claims otherwise. They observe a series of musicians, among them Brahms and Wagner, floating along in space. Mozart informs Steppenwolf that they are paying for their failings as musicians and for their sins. Steppenwolf argues that they are not responsible for "the fault of their time." Mozart responds that the same is true for all men, whether it is their fault or not. Mozart laughs and tells Steppenwolf that he, too, will do penance for all his "superfluous books" and "rotten plagiarisings ill-gotten." Steppenwolf becomes angry and grabs Mozart's pigtail. They fly into space into the realm of the Immortals. Steppenwolf passes out.

He awakens in the hall. Harry is still in the mirror, but he has aged considerably. Steppenwolf remembers everything he has done throughout his life and decides that it is not enough. He destroys the mirror and searches for Hermine. She and Pablo have had sex and are lying on the floor asleep. Steppenwolf stabs her with the knife. Pablo wakes up, partially covers Hermine with the rug, and walks out of the room. Steppenwolf stares at Hermine's body and her cool white skin. He hears music from "the cold that streamed from" her body. It reminds him of the Immortals.

Mozart enters the room and begins to repair a radio. Once finished, Handel's Concerto Grosso in F Major begins to play. Steppenwolf is shocked and begs Mozart to stop. Instead, Mozart chastises Steppenwolf for his lack of vision. Even though the radio mutilates the sound of Handel, one who listens can still hear the divine in his music. According to Mozart, Steppenwolf has never really listened to anything. He has spent his life separating himself from everyone else — the bourgeoisie — and claiming superiority over them. He has taken everything seriously and that is his downfall.

Steppenwolf realizes that Mozart is right and admits it. He attempts to explain that he killed Hermine because of her request, but he suddenly realizes that this idea is false, too. He projected his own death wish onto Hermine and did not really listen to her or to anyone. He desires punishment — HARRY'S EXECUTION — and is immediately convicted of "insult[ing] the majesty of art [by] confound[ing] our beautiful picture gallery with so-called reality." His sentence is temporary banishment from the Magic Theater and life. Mozart and the others laugh him out of court. Steppenwolf recognizes Pablo disguised as Mozart, and the game is over. Pablo picks up the dead Hermine, now a miniature chess piece, puts her in his pocket, and smokes a cigarette.

Analysis

It is only fitting that Steppenwolf must confront death and the Immortals within the final gallery. He has spent so much time pursuing death and celebrating it, that readers must see him confront it in order to determine the sincerity of his actions. Steppenwolf must also prove to himself that he has overcome the fear of death which was so apparent on the night he met Hermine. He is pleased with Harry's news that death is on its way, but he is filled with dread at the memory of Hermine's final command. It is important to note that he feels powerless to resist Hermine's command, so in effect, Steppenwolf forgets what he has previously learned from the chess player, basically that he has power over his own fate. Instead, Steppenwolf reverts back to his old self — the self determined to die no matter what.

It is not surprising that Steppenwolf chooses to look in the mirror before confronting Hermine. He is not sure of his own nature. The wolf will not hesitate to commit murder, for he has no conscience and, therefore, no capacity for remorse. On the other hand, the man is torn between a desire to sever ties with a common world that holds no happiness for him and the desire to pursue happiness with a woman who is truly his soul mate. In the end, Steppenwolf believes that the wolf and the man briefly unite for this "strange marriage" between himself and Hermine. The wolf longs for blood, the hunt, the kill, while the man longs to fulfill the promise made to Hermine. It is his duty. This rationale is problematic, for he commits murder in order to fulfill his duty toward another. This is bourgeois mentality: One must keep one's word in order to gain respectability and to demonstrate responsibility. Of course, the fact that Steppenwolf breaks the law undermines the bourgeois aspect completely.

Steppenwolf considers Mozart to be an infallible authority. This is significant for several reasons. Steppenwolf's conversation with Mozart serves as a turning point for him. Mozart is not only one of the Immortals, but the purest and most respectable of them all. Going back to the Goethe dream sequence, it is important to note that Steppenwolf embraces Mozart completely even though he champions optimism and faith — two concepts that Steppenwolf believes false. Steppenwolf's excuse has always been that Mozart died young, so he did not have the benefit of age and experience to teach him otherwise.

In spite of his commitment to optimism and faith, Mozart resides in the realm beyond the purely physical world of Steppenwolf. Hesse goes back to Spinoza's theory again and describes Mozart and the other Immortals existing in a substantive state in the heavens. Steppenwolf longs to join Mozart and the other Immortals because they abide in a plane where there is no division. Such a place would finally allow him to join the wolf and human natures, as well as his other selves, into a complete composite. Then he could finally achieve unity with God and know peace.

Mozart interrupts Steppenwolf's reverie to point out that Brahms and Wagner are "striving for redemption." Steppenwolf cannot understand this since the two musicians "passed as the most extreme contrasts conceivable." Mozart explains that, often, two things that appear very different are actually very similar. Such a notion is foreign to Steppenwolf, and its implications are frightening. He has spent his life separating himself from others who are content to live an unquestioning life, surrounded by mediocrity, with no higher aspiration than a good cup of coffee and a nice book. According to Mozart's theory, such intentional separation is moot, for in the end, Steppenwolf will be judged just like everyone else, bourgeoisie or not.

In addition, Mozart validates the idea of original sin. Not only is Steppenwolf responsible for his own transgressions, but by virtue of his birth as a human, he is condemned to death and suffering since "Adam ate the apple." Add Steppenwolf's "many superfluous books" to that, and it's not surprising that he feels defeated. Up until this point, he has convinced himself that death is the way out of a hopeless world. Eternity, as Hermine calls it, is Steppenwolf's objective. Here he can dwell among the Immortals and know his true self. But, Mozart distinguishes this hope once and for all when he says every individual is culpable.

Ironically, Steppenwolf despairs over the fact that he must pay for his sins, yet he longs to suffer and die for Hermine's murder. Once again, Steppenwolf contradicts himself. He does not want to suffer for those individuals he has misled through his books, nor does he want to suffer for original sin. Instead, he "long[s] for the sufferings that make me ready and willing to die." Steppenwolf does feel remorse and guilt over Hermine's death, but he does not sincerely wish to pay for her death with his own life. Instead, he is compelled forward by his own wish to die. He's obsessed with the idea of death, but not as a means of punishment, just as a means to forgo an unbearable existence.

Steppenwolf's final thoughts force the reader to question whether he has truly learned anything from his experience. He states,

I understood it all. I understood Pablo. I understood Mozart, and somewhere behind me I hear his ghastly laughter. I knew that all the hundred thousand pieces of life's game were in my pocket. A glimpse of its meaning had stirred my reason and I was determined to begin the game afresh. I would sample its tortures once more and shudder again at its senselessness. I would traverse not once more, but often, the hell of my inner being.

Such a closing statement can only leave the reader to ask, "Is Steppenwolf sincere? Or is he simply contradicting himself all over again?"

Glossary

veneration a feeling of deep respect and reverence.

pomposity ostentation; self-importance.

rhapsodical an instrumental composition of free, irregular form, suggesting improvisation.

trills a rapid alternation of a given musical tone with the tone a diatonic second above it.

plagiarisings to take (ideas, writings) from (another) and pass them off as one's own.

Krishna an important Hindu god, an incarnation of Vishnu, second god of the Hindu trinity.

rents a hole or gap made by rending or tearing, as a torn place in cloth, a fissure in the earth, and so on.

blanched to make white; take color out of.

adroit skillful in a physical or mental way; clever; expert.

ritardando a musical direction to become gradually slower.

pathos the quality in something experienced or observed that arouses feelings of pity, sorrow, sympathy, or compassion.

inane lacking sense or meaning; foolish; silly.

exigencies pressing needs; demands; requirements.

self-extenuation to defend one's own actions and to attempt to lessen or seem to lessen the seriousness of (an offense, guilt, and so on) by giving excuses or serving as an excuse.

opportune happening or done at the right time; seasonable; well-timed; timely.

gallantry nobility of behavior or spirit; heroic courage.

guillotine an instrument for beheading by means of a heavy blade dropped between two grooved uprights.

acquiescent agreeing or consenting without protest.

mortify to punish (one's body) or control (one's physical desires and passions) by self-denial, fasting, and so on, as a means of religious or ascetic discipline.

scourge any means of inflicting severe punishment, suffering, or vengeance.

tragedian an actor of tragedy.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

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.”




Quiz