The profoundly psychological world of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf
A psychological study of an individual rather than a large group of people, so that it’s more private and intimate. That is what makes Steppenwolf so deeply provocative. It is a strange book. It’s philosophical and psychological and very jarring.
It follows Harry Haller who leads an isolated existence. And since this book holds very little dialogue between him and other people, the narration is introspective and symbolic. It is consciousness-driven which, through Hesse’s imposing and existential narrative of human meaning and purpose, is packed with desperation.
It is narrating Harry Haller’s contemplation of his own existence. So it’s filled with inner monologues, the continuous use of the present tense to illuminate past thoughts. It’s tense and oftentimes incoherent, muddled, and complex.
The way Harry Haller thinks can also be characterized as misanthropic; a middle-aged man whose intelligence and acute awareness of the hypocrisy of the world puts him into this half-human and half-wolf demeanor. It’s one of the best portraits of any fictional character I’ve read. Hesse tackles so many ideas in a single work of literature. About masculinity and femininity.
It comes very close to the philosophical groundwork of Goethe’s Faust which is also another book that defines literature in a unique manner. Steppenwolf is about suppressed emotions, spiritual alienation, and grappling with an unending intellectual appetite in a finite and discontent world.
Reading Steppenwolf, I realized the self-critical lens of literature. How it can really suffocate its own narrative with a deeply troubled and anguished character against a dry and intense setting.
Literature as fiction is provocative enough.
But it is books like Steppenwolf that blur the boundaries between the ideal world of fiction and reality. It allows the reader to discover his or her own rhythm and presence of mind in the story, through the consciousness and self-indulgence of Harry Haller.