Essay on The Importance of Childhood in Steppenwolf

Essay on The Importance of Childhood in Steppenwolf

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The Importance of Childhood in Steppenwolf  

    Upon reading Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf, one cannot help noticing its large number of references to childhood. Youth, or a "childlike" state, is mentioned in the Treatise, in connection with Dionysian pleasures, in reference to Hermine, and in multiple other contexts. The ubiquity of this motif can be explained by the deep symbolic importance of childhood to Steppenwolf's protagonist, Harry Haller. Although his own young life appears to have been rather joyless, Harry holds up in his mind an ideal childhood to which he seeks, in various ways, to return. "Childhood," to Haller, embodies certain qualities he presently lacks: escape from the seriousness of the world, the treatment of life with eagerness and joyful abandon, and indiscriminate love. Thinking of Harry's wish for a "return to innocence" helps readers of Steppenwolf better understand some of the protagonist's motivations and his reactions to the people around him. It helps explain, among other things, his gravitation toward the "All girls are yours" door in the magic theater, his growing eagerness for Dionysian pleasures, and his attraction to Hermine (and similarly, to Maria and Pablo.) Through all of these venues, Harry finds the temporary respite he is looking for; therefore, to him, issues of love and pleasure (in many instances, sexual pleasure) are inexorably entangled with the idea of childhood.


The presence of the "All girls are yours" scene is perhaps the most direct manifestation of Harry Haller's mental connection between love and youth. It is interesting to note how many other scenes could have stood in place of this one. Even if he had limited himself to tableaux of "young Harry," Haller could...

... middle of paper ...

...into a complete picture of his soul. Thus, readers may certainly approach Harry's psyche from the "child" angle when trying to rationalize his thoughts and actions; they must simply realize, when considering this side of Harry, that there are other facets to his personality, and think of this interpretation as just one step toward understanding him as a whole.





Flaxman, Seymour L. "Der Steppenwolf: Hesse's Portrait of the Intellectual."

Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon Gunton. Vol. 17. Detroit:

Gale Research Company, 1981. 196-7.


Hesse, Hermann. Steppenwolf. Trans. Joseph Mileck. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1929.


Ziolkowski, Theodore. from The Novels of Herman Hesse. Contemporary

Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research

Company, 1973. 145-6.

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