“Solitude is independence. It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it. It was cold. Oh, cold enough! But it was also still, wonderfully still and vast like the cold stillness of space in which the stars revolve.”
— Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
It takes a troubled soul to concoct such a fine cocktail. Infinitely beautiful both in prose and execution, Steppenwolf digs deep within the reader’s minds and bodies to hold us captive by the bones. German author Hermann Hesse has made a name for himself by writing some of the most philosophically-driven fiction that resonates throughout the confines of literature. His creations have been translated in countless languages, spreading his reputation on a global scale over decades and within countless societies. While certainly controversial during his time, Steppenwolf slowly claimed its title of a masterpiece. This novel has gracefully went through the test of time and came out victorious with countless individuals having dissected the very foundation that holds this sublime piece of abstraction together. However, the author himself has said: ‘Of all my books “Steppenwolf” is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other’. What else are we to expect of a story that claws through the mind of a man? Growling viciously at the mundanity that composes the bourgeois life, Steppenwolf unveils the complexity of a man’s own conscience with great poise and a touch of madness.
Steppenwolf is the story of Harry Heller. Close to his 50th anniversary, this middle-age man finds himself indulging a life of contemplating books and classic music, of roaming the streets and taverns, and of isolating himself in the attics of lodges. As he claims to be half-man and half-wolf, his life suddenly puts him on a path to piecing together his own mind. Criticizing the way of the bourgeois, Harry Heller believes that he’s a being that resides on the other end of the spectrum of duality and does not want to comply to their way of living. It’s upon an urge for taking his own life that he finds himself battling his desire to confront Death and his longing to remain alive. But the arrival of a mysterious woman offers Harry Heller the opportunity to discover all the subtleties that life had to offer. It’s within her hands that lies all the answers that Harry Heller will soon learn and apply. However, its understanding these lessons that remains his ultimate test.
The power of this tale is not only in its magnificent prose, but in the magical delivery of the ideas conveyed. While the writing is without a doubt elegant, poetic and stunning, its how these words carry you around on clouds of thoughts and ideas that truly baffles you. Steppenwolf holds you by the hand and presents you the mind of a lonesome man. It has you savouring every little moment of introspection that is inconspicuously dropped on Harry Heller. While it does wonders to our protagonist, its how these very moments of reflections has readers doing them parallely that makes this novel one of the most brilliant pieces of literature. Through the sumptuous words of Hermann Hesse, it is not only the self-conscious journey of Harry Heller that is lived by readers, but also our own journey of self-discovery. Steppenwolf brings readers to enter a madhouse and come out changed and sane. That’s the true beauty of this novel.
Profoundly philosophical, Steppenwolf also emanates a flair for the psychoanalysis. The mind of an individual is definitely something that can’t be simply reduced to a question of matter and this story alone shows you the unreachable depths that it beholds. Harry Heller believes in the duality of his own spirit, and strongly showcases this split-personality right from the get go. As you read this novel, you quickly grasp that a strife with the idea of an abstract mind that goes beyond just two faces is illustrated. Challenging the conception of half-man and half-wolf gave way to a beautiful evolution in the character. These subtle changes, whether they were permanent or not, do manage to affect the reader themselves, especially when they promote this need to look beyond the facts and let your mind go free. In fact, this tale promotes individuals to give their minds so much freedom that it could explore the things that we quickly consider as futile, unnecessary and superficious. The journey of Harry Heller brings us to realize that an ability to laugh at what’s meant to be taken seriously is just a step in the right direction. In the end, we are more than just half-man and half-wolf. We are composed of a billion faces and we just need to need to learn to embrace them all.
As heavy on the psyche it is, Steppenwolf is a current of fresh air. It revitalizes you with its portrayal of a man on the brink of self-destruction. I jumped into this book knowing that it was going to be a journey through the only playground that brings the most insight to a man’s own life: the mind. But Herman Hesse succeeds in delivering a story that covers much more than one could ever have believed. This author dives into so many ideas with such a philosophical touch that his poetical writing prompts you into a deep introspection. Although you see the criticism of the bourgeois life on the outside of this tale, Steppenwolf deploys itself in an exploration of the multi-faceted personality. Challenging the conception of the duality of the mind—half-man, half-wolf—, Hermann Hesse illustrates that men are multidimensional beings who overlook the complexity of their own personalities. Steppenwolf is the story of a man’s self-discovery. It is an adventure that shows Harry Haller that life can also be death unless he decides to do one simple thing.