Steppenwolf Hermann Hesse Thesis

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Steppenwolf

Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf is an excellent book, indeed a book within a book; and more than that it is a highly praised and timeless novel. It is not necessarily a "masterpiece" in that genre, but nonetheless a respected timeless novel for several reasons. It will read as well fifty years from now as it does today, and as it did when it was published. For one, the novel reflects the highs and the lows of human existence; the high is the spiritual nature of a man; the low is the animalistic part of the human experience (the "wolf of the steppes...").

It also brilliantly explores the aches and pains - and psychological changes - of getting on in years. Everyone old enough to understand and contemplate this novel also knows someone who is old or getting old and letting everyone know about the trials and tribulations of the aging process. Everyone who reads for understanding as well as for entertainment can appreciate an author who spends so much time in a book making sure the scene is set, making certain that the characters are fully described and can be understood (or related to), and making sure the emotions and tone of the book reach into the mind and heart of the reader.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Thesis on Steppenwolf Hermann Hesse Assignment

The author has made sure that readers are touched in ways that may not be comfortable, but then the narrator is not comfortable so why should anyone else be? Life has turned into a sense of bitterness for the narrator; he is filled with "irrepressible hatred and nausea" and remembers those "wicked" headaches that were not only "rooted behind the eyeballs" but they actually cast a "spell on every nerve of eye and ear with a fiendish delight in torture, or soul-destroying, evil days of inward vacancy and despair..." (Hesse, p. 26). If there are readers who have not experienced a headache that intense and brutal, they now know, thanks to Hesse, how bad it can be. Moreover, in his 132-word sentence / paragraph on page 26, Hesse rages brilliantly about not only getting old and experiencing the physical and psychological pain of advancing age, his pain is about the screwed-up world. To the narrator, the world is one huge headache. There are, in this diatribe, many things to dislike: the "vampires of finance" have "sucked" the earth "dry" and the "Fair" is not a beautiful place to play but rather it is a "vulgar, brazen" attempt at "glamour." And worse yet, those who have known such days ("of hell") may find contentment in waking up on days where no new war has been announced, "no new dictatorship has been set up" and the world is not too bad. But wait; on page 27, just when a reader is beginning to think that all that terrible stuff is past, the narrator is filled with contempt for contentment. The "good and tolerable days" are in fact making him feel so awful he smashes his "moldering lye of thanksgiving in the face of the slumbering god of contentment" (Hesse, 27).

After working through the misery of Hesse's narrative at about the time the protagonist meets Haller, one must muse, "Tell us how you really feel, Hermann!" Seriously, pain can be transmitted through the written word especially when it is conveyed with such realism and creativity as Hesse employs.

A second reason this is a timeless novel is that descriptive, illustrative prose never goes out of style. It could be from four hundred years ago, and if it describes people and places and scenes with language that draws readers into the story, it is in style. Indeed, Hesse's narrative is descriptive and excellent to the point of actually being like a series of photos and videos in the mind's eye. Alert readers following closely along with Steppenwolf and not being distracted by events near to their reading spot will feel as though they too are in the lecture room with the author when the "dapper," "conceited" lecturer took the stage on page 9 of the novel. No matter how famous the man who stepped to the microphone, no matter the "expectant attitude" of the audience, when Steppenwolf flashed that look that went "deeper" and well below the "faults, defects and hopelessness of our time, our intellect, our culture alone." That look of disgust that was the initial reaction to the pious speaker went "right to the heart of all humanity" (Hesse, 9). Here he is talking about how painful it is to witness pretensions cloaked in fine clothes and an impressive resume - a "shallow, opinionated intellectuality" - that brings out the "vanity" and "whole superficial play" witnessed by an audience and because of the quality of writing, also witness by the reader.

A third reason this novel is timeless is because it uses images and situations that could be the same issues are facing today, in 2008. The "vampires of finance" could just as easily be the greedy Wall Street financiers and the loan sharks working in lending institutions who loaned out all those home mortgages that should not have been issues ("predatory lending"). Another day has come to the U.S., one could easily imagine; and on this day no "war [has] broken out." That sounds very familiar in 2008, with terrorists mowing down innocent people every week and the executive branch of the U.S. government bogged down in two wars and threatening another possible war in Iran. Also, Hesse's character has this "mad impulse" to "smash something... [or] commit outrages, to pull off the wigs of a few revered idols" (Hesse, 27). Right now during this crisis, every American citizen who has lost his or her 401K, and is about to foreclose on his or her home because of being out of work and unable to meet credit card obligations and the mortgage must feel like smashing something and grabbing a hold of persons of high visibility and pulling at their hair. Hence, given the realities that many are facing in these troubled times in America, this is a timeless novel.

Still, through it all, and into the book Harry winds through many phases of life (including thinking about suicide) and meets people that add to his interest in staying alive, like Hermine, for example. Webster University professor Bob Corbett writes that when Harry meets Hermine that new friendship erases his thoughts of suicide and he learns "there is much more to life than the very limited sphere of 'higher' things" (Corbett, 2001). But all of the events that transpire (who is to know which are real and which are imagined?) it is the journey through them, Corbett insists, that helps a reader relate to the story and the stories within stories. As for himself, Corbett finds similarities between himself (at the age of 62) and the character Harry.

Hesse challenges me to face myself more honestly," Corbett writes. Hesse also challenges Corbett to "recognize the distortions in my reality created by my own inexpert understanding and the uncontrollable factors of the world" (Corbett, 2001). Also Hesse challenges the college professor to not take himself "too seriously" and to learn that laughter is a good thing - because it brings Corbett "into a closer reality" to the world. But, a reader of Corbett's essay must wonder, which world? The world of Hesse in this novel is given to a dual reality - fantasy, imagination, illusions, madness and also the human patterns of pain and joy.

Seymour L. Flaxman has an interesting perspective on the novel. He writes in Modern Language Quarterly that so much of the life of Harry Haller mirrors the life and times of Hesse, Steppenwolf is in fact a "self-portrait" (Flaxman, 1954, p. 349). A reader may have wondered as to whether or not this was the case, and Flaxman explains it more fully. Hesse and Haller were both around 50 years old at the time the novel was written; Haller relates how his wife lost her mind, which is eerily similar to how Hesse's first marriage; Haller is a freelance writer who criticizes WWI, and Hesse also was a writer and wrote damningly about WWI. Haller is in anguish over the lack of civility and spirituality in his world - and biographies of Hesse point out in many instances how impatient Hesse was with the way the world was evolving (or failing to evolve as Hesse believed it should). And moreover, both Hesse's character Haller and Hesse himself had great admiration for Goethe, Jean Paul, Holderlin and Dostoevsky. "Haller is disgusted and repelled by the hypocrisy of the middle class," Flaxman writes, and so was Hesse. Knowing the author basically used his character to express his own feelings gives the reader some additional interest in the plot that revolves around Haller.

Another article in Modern Language Quarterly, this one written by Theodore Ziolkowski, sheds some interesting light on Steppenwolf. The reception to Hesse's novel when it came out in 1927 was "so hostile" that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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