Sunday, May 3, 2009

11. Steppenwolf - Herman Hesse.

11. Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse.
History: Originally published in Germany in 1927, it combined autobiographical and fantastic elements. The novel was named after the lonesome wolf of the steppes. The story in large part reflects a profound crisis in Hesse's spiritual world in the 1920s. He had just separated from his wife, and was dealing with feelings of separatism and isolationism. The novel became an international success, although Hesse would later claim that the book was largely misunderstood. Hesse felt that his readers focused only on the suffering and despair that are depicted in Harry Haller's life, thereby missing the possibility of transcendence and healing
Plot: Philosophical and surrealistic, a middle-aged man named Harry Haller is confronting the two natures of himself: one high, the spiritual nature of man; while the other is low, animalistic; a "wolf of the steppes". This man is entangled in an irresolvable struggle, never content with either nature because he cannot see beyond this self-made concept. He plans on committing suicide but goes out one night and visits with friends – talks about philosophical concepts which leaves him feeling more alienated. Harry walks aimlessly around the town for most of the night and then meets a woman in a dance hall, Hermione, who also talks with him and helps him see things in a new way. Hermione provides Harry with a reason to learn to live, and he eagerly embraces her instruction. Over the next few weeks Hermione introduces Harry to the indulgences of what he calls the "bourgeois": she teaches Harry to dance, introduces him to the casual use of drugs, finds him a lover (Maria), and more importantly, forces him to accept these as legitimate and worthy aspects of a full life.
Review: I read this in college, a popular book for college kids. Although much of the imagery is fantastic in the extreme and I couldn’t relate to it, I did feel that the early parts of the book especially were worth reading for their exploration of the struggles that Harry Haller has. I appreciate the philosophical importance of Hesse’s writings, and the mastery of blurring the distinction between reality and fantasy, but seem to be written for philosophy’s sake only. Haller seems to feel that he is the man people refer to when they say there’s always someone worse off than themselves.
Opening Line: This book contains the records left us by a man whom we called the Steppenwolf, an expression he often used himself.
Closing Line: Pablo was waiting for me, and Mozart too.
Quotes: "I, the homeless Steppenwolf, the solitary, the hater of life's petty conventions."
rubbish poor mediocre okay good very good superb

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