Literature: Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

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Topic: Literature
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Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse is a psychological novel as it contains a lot of Freudian and Jungian undercurrents in its theme. One finds the hero Harry Haller trying to cope up with the many sides of his personality. In fact, Haller suffers from a dual personality.

Throughout the novel, the protagonist Haller tries to get rid of his animal baser self, which he terms as the Steppenwolf. The title of the novel is significant as ‘Steppenwolf’ refers to the “baser, persecutory part of his nature, in contrast to his intellectual and human aspect.” (Hesse).

The novel can rightly be understood as Haller’s quest for self-knowledge, and its attainment is possible only when Haller becomes capable of knowing both his conscious and unconscious selves.

It was Hesse’s association with Carl Jung that prompted him to bring about a psychoanalytic approach in his novel Steppenwolf. In the very preface of the novel, Hesse makes it clear that Haller is a sick man who suffers from conflicts within his mind.

As the novel progresses, the reader understands the depth of this inner conflict in Haller as he is tormented by the variety of personalities within him.

On Freudian lines, Haller also analyses his dreams and fantasies to learn the truth about the working of his mind as well as his life. A man with a psychic imbalance needs to undergo psychoanalytic treatment under a therapist, and Hesse, in the novel, arranges Haller’s treatment in the Magic Theater.

Thus, the protagonist’s experiences at the Magic Theater are like a “psychoanalytic treatment, in which the patient projects his feeling on the therapist whose duty is to reflect them back in such a way that the patient gains in self-knowledge.” (Hesse, Other Elements). At the end of his psychiatric treatment, Haller comes out from the theater as a new man with more self-knowledge.

Jung believed that the personality of an individual is comprised of elements like the shadow, the anima, the conscious, and the unconscious, and all these psychoanalytical concepts find their expression in the novel. It is propagated by psychoanalysts that a person can have a balanced personality and true health only when all these elements are in harmony.

According to Dr. C. George Boeree, the shadow is “the “dark side” of the ego and the evil that we are capable of,” and so “the shadow becomes something of a garbage can for the parts of ourselves that we can’t quite admit to.” (Boeree). In the novel, the shadow is the Steppenwolf itself, which, for Haller, acts as the negative animalistic side of his personality.

It was Jung who propagated the theory of collective unconsciousness, and for him, there is a female aspect present in the collective unconscious of men named anima, and he termed the male aspect present in the collective unconscious of women as the animus. Thus, Hermine, in the novel, represents “the more feminine side of his nature, including his repressed, intuitive and sensual qualities.” (Hesse, Other Elements).

It is necessary for Haller to deal with anima before he can find peace. The stabbing of Hermine by Haller can only be justified from a psychoanalytical reading of the text.

Haller develops a sort of self-hatred due to the innate conflict between his rational and animalistic self. The suicidal tendency of his self is an outcome of this conflict. It is evident that Haller has to go beyond his animalistic self to acquire greater understanding and self-knowledge: “Steppenwolf, the animal side of Haller, longs to understand humankind; in his search, he is driven to his primitive nature, driven by the senses.

To gain understanding, he tries to take the whole world into his soul, much like Buddha has done.” (Hesse, PLOT (Synopsis)). In the second part of the novel, one finds Haller planning to visit a tavern. On his way to the tavern, he cherishes his happy olden days. His experiences at the tavern provide him with fresh insights into his inner self.

Haller’s relationship with Hermine culminates in the murder of the latter when Haller stabs her to death as he finds her in the arms of Pablo at the end of the novel.

Haller’s relationship with the beautiful courtesan Maria, who is also Hermine’s lover, is libido motivated, and as Freud suggests, he feels more relaxed as she is able to satisfy his basic sexual urges.

After his suicide attempt, the novel ends on an optimistic note as Haller comes to the realization that it is possible for him to balance the various aspect of his personality.

The psychoanalysis school of psychology held that the human self is comprised of both conscious and unconscious elements, and one needs to know the functions of the unconscious strata of the mind to have better self-knowledge.

A close reading of the novel makes it clear that Pablo is the symbol of Haller’s conscious mind, whereas Mozart is the symbol of his own subconsciousness. The novel ends when both Pablo and Mozart fuse into one, “indicating that Haller has progressed in his development and learned to accept and fuse his many personalities.” (Hesse, Other Elements).

The animal imagery and symbolism in the novel add to the psychoanalytical reading of the text. Haller considers himself as a wolf with animal instincts, and his animal self is in constant struggle with his human and artistic side. The mirror image and symbolism in the novel deserve attention as these elements contribute to the theme of the novel.

Haller, in the novel, is a keen observer who looks inwardly and outwardly. Other characters like Hermine, Maria, and Pablo act as mirrors to Haller as “they reflect various aspects of Haller’s own personality and teach him about himself.” (Hesse, Imagery, and Symbolism).

The mirror image assumes greater significance when he sees a multitude of mirrors in the Magic Theater and a myriad of images that he could see convinced him of different aspects of his personality.

Thus, it is evident from the above discussion that Haller’s quest for self-knowledge is the underlying theme of the novel, and for this, he needs to know the different personalities and selves within him. As Hesse suggests, it is possible only when one understands that “every person has a myriad of selves, not merely two.

To live in peace and harmony, a person must admit that he is made up of many elements, both good and evil. It is the duty of the enlightened soul to embrace one’s whole self.” (MonkeyNotes-Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse). As Freud has observed, the individual needs to follow not only the pleasure principle of id, but he/she needs to transcend to the level of ego and superego just as Haller has done, in order to have a better understanding of the self.

Works Cited

Hesse, Hermann. Key Literary Elements. MonkeyNotes-Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. 2007.

Hesse, Hermann. Other Elements. MonkeyNotes-Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. 2007.

Boeree, C. George. Dr. Carl Jung (1875-1961). Personality Theories. 2006.

Hesse, Hermann. PLOT (Synopsis). MonkeyNotes-Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. 2007.

Hesse, Hermann. Imagery and Symbolism. MonkeyNotes-Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. 2007.

MonkeyNotes-Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. 2007.