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MonkeyNotes-Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
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PART III: Treatise on the Steppenwolf

Section 1: Harry's Predicament

Summary

("There was once a man........he would smile at this Steppenwolf")

There is a man who calls himself Steppenwolf. He was probably wild, disorderly, and disobedient as a child. His parents and teachers tried unsuccessfully to kill the beast in him. As an adult, he has two natures: one is wolfish and the other is human. Steppenwolf has trouble living harmoniously with these two different personalities. When he has some good thought, he is criticized by the wolfish part in him; when he behaves in a wolfish manner, the human aspect of him is critical. When people first meet Steppenwolf, they judge him to be clever, refined, and interesting; therefore, most of them are horrified when they encounter the wolf in him. There are others, however, who like the strong, dangerous, savage, and untamable aspects of Steppenwolf. They are disappointed when they find that he also has human qualities. Steppenwolf just wants to be valued as a whole person, not in parts.

It is obvious that Steppenwolf is really Harry Haller, the man who has written the manuscript. He views himself as an artist; like most artists, he feels his life is chaotic, meaningless, dismal, lonely, and painful. He has even considered suicide, but was unable to carry through with his plan. He thinks maybe he will kill himself when he is about fifty years old. He believes, however, that out of great personal sufferings come great masterpieces.

Steppenwolf sees life as a division between the spiritual/saintly and the worldly. He believes that most middle class, bourgeois people seek a mid-path between the two, following the rules and norms of society like a herd of sheep. Steppenwolf wants to be different; he thinks about devoting himself entirely to the pleasures of the flesh. He prowls at night in search of the sensual and emotional.


Most people try to view themselves as one unity, but Harry thinks that such singularity is an illusion. Yet when he sees himself split between human and wolf characteristics, it is a mythological simplification. A person does not consist of only two or three selves; instead, he has many selves or personalities, oscillating between them; he moves from one extreme to the next, from saintliness to worldliness, from one pole to the other. Between the extremes, there are innumerable poles.

Steppenwolf admits that he does not fully understand man. He believes that the inner destiny of a person is to be driven towards God; but the outer longings drive the person to live by the senses. Steppenwolf suffers from the dichotomy; he longs to be either wholly man or wholly beast. He does not understand that the road to happiness is to take the whole world into his soul, as Buddha has taught. Only when everything is embraced is there a true expansion of the soul. The author gives the reader the analogy of the gardener; he would destroy many flowers and trees if he were to divide the garden into edible and inedible plants.

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