Summary and Analysis
Harry Haller's Records: Steppenwolf and Hermine discuss death
Hermine and Steppenwolf discuss death. Steppenwolf reveals that he is happier than he has ever been due to Maria, their affair, and Hermine's friendship; however, he believes that his happiness is temporary. Death awaits him. Hermine agrees and confides that she is waiting for death and eternity as well.
Steppenwolf waits for Maria in a restaurant and writes a poem entitled "The Immortals" before she arrives. They have dinner and make love. Maria is more loving and tender than before, so Steppenwolf senses that it is their last night together. Maria tells Steppenwolf that their affair could end at any time, depending upon Hermine. In fact, Maria hints that Hermine will claim Steppenwolf as her lover after the ball. Steppenwolf looks forward to the next day with anticipation.
This is one of the shorter sections in the text; however, it is one of the most important sections. Hermine explains her view of life and death, thereby establishing an unmistakable connection to Steppenwolf.
Both have experienced a life that fell short of expectation. Hermine desired "material and moral" greatness. According to her, she should have been "the wife of a king," "the beloved of a revolutionary," "the sister of a genius," or "the mother of a martyr"; however, that is not what destiny had in store for her. Fate decreed that she should live her life as a courtesan. Steppenwolf, on the other hand, desired spiritual fulfillment. He was meant to perform heroic deeds, to suffer for great causes, and ultimately to sacrifice himself in the name of humanity. The problem is that Steppenwolf was not required, or even asked, to do any of these things. Instead, he has lived the life of an observer, always watching, but never getting involved.
Hermine argues that "It was life and reality that were wrong." The fact that her dreams have been denied and Steppenwolf's faith destroyed can only be explained by the idea that a higher plane exists. Eternity is the only place where Hermine and Steppenwolf can truly achieve happiness, and that is why they crave death. Hermine goes on to say that their behavior, despair, unhappiness, and desire for death are not unnatural, but the result of their desire to obtain eternity: "Whoever wants to live and enjoy his life today must not be like you and me. Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours — ."
Steppenwolf experiences fulfillment and anticipation as a result of his discussion with Hermine. Just as the treatise validates Steppenwolf's theory that he is a man divided against himself and society, so Hermine authenticates Steppenwolf's notion that suicide is the only option. Even though he previously admitted that he is bourgeois in at least one of his thousand souls, Hermine reaffirms his initial belief that he is separate from bourgeois society and incapable of residing in it. He reverts back to his old Steppenwolf view that the bourgeois idea of a "comfortable room where people are quite content with eating and drinking, coffee and knitting, cards and wireless" is nothing but a shallow illusion. He looks forward to his impending death.
Steppenwolf's poem can be traced back to Hesse's fascination with the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. In sharp contrast to Nietzsche, Spinoza argues that God must exist since everything else does. According to Spinoza's theory, it would be impossible for something — an animal, a person, a world — to occur without the presence of its creator. Spinoza goes on to state that individuals do not exist as "substance"; instead, they are simply modes of existence. It is only through reunification with God that individuals can transform to a substantive state. The Immortals exist beyond the purely physical world of Steppenwolf. They are removed and, therefore, have achieved unity with God, the universe, and the soul. Steppenwolf describes the Immortals as follows:
But we above you ever more residing
In the ether's star translumined ice
Know not day nor night nor time's dividing,
Wear nor age nor sex for our device.
All your sins and anguish self-affrighting,
Your murders and lascivious delighting
Are to us but as a show
Like the suns that circling go,
Changing not our day for night;
On your frenzied life we spy,
And refresh ourselves thereafter
With the stars in order fleeing;
Our breath is winter; in our sight
Fawns the dragon of the sky;
Cool and unchanging is our eternal being,
Cool and star bright is our eternal laughter.
felicity happiness; bliss.
gist the essence or main point, as of an article or argument.
cavalier a gallant or courteous gentleman, especially one serving as a lady's escort.
satiates to satisfy to the full; gratify completely.
courtesan a prostitute.
inconsolable disconsolate; brokenhearted.
drudge a person who does hard, menial, or tedious work.
recourse a turning or seeking for aid, safety, and so on.
despondence to lose courage or hope; become disheartened; be depressed.
antics playful, silly, or ludicrous acts, tricks; pranks; capers.
pious having or showing religious devotion; zealous in the performance of religious obligations.
martyrdom severe, long-continued suffering; torment; torture.
posterity all of a person's descendants.
clairvoyant having great insight; keenly perceptive.
wiseacre a person who makes annoyingly conceited claims to knowledge.
lucidity that which is clear to the mind or readily understood.
dearth any scarcity or lack.
usurer a person who lends money at interest, especially at a rate of interest that is excessive or unlawfully high.
foetid having a bad smell, as of decay; putrid.
weltering to tumble and toss about, as the sea.
lascivious characterized by or expressing lust or lewdness; wanton.
abyss a deep fissure in the earth; bottomless gulf; chasm.
consummation completion; fulfillment.