Among the many themes present in Hermann Hesse's 1927 novel Steppenwolf, two stand out as
basic threads around which the story is constructed: the isolated nature of the artist and the duality of
existence (Benét 471). Harry Haller, the protagonist of the novel, is portrayed as an outsider to society and
to modern life; he must struggle with his own outmoded ideals and bestiality to embrace humanity and
reality. His Zerrissenheit, or disintegration (literally translated, "the state of being torn apart" [Benét
1142]), culminates in the Magic Theater at the finish of the novel. Here, he finds himself a changed man,
with a clearer understanding of human and social relations. Harry Haller's progress to this point can be
traced through his changing perception of music and the role it plays in his life: as he becomes increasingly
disenchanted with his former lifestyle and actively interested in his new one, his understanding and
acceptance of new and old music undergoes a significant change.
The preface to the novel establishes Harry Haller as a great lover of music. In it, Haller's landlord
remarks on his habits and characteristics. One of the most striking encounters he has with Haller takes
place at a symphony one night:
First some Handel was played, noble and lovely music. But the Steppenwolf sat absorbed in his
own thoughts...After the Handel came a little symphony of Friedemann Bach, and I saw with surprise
how after a few bars my stranger began to smile and abandon himself to the music...for about ten
minutes [he was] so happily lost and rapt in pleasant dreams...
... middle of paper ...
... the seriousness and spirituality of the
Haller's Zerrissenheit culminates in an understanding that humor, love of life and passion with a
sense of restraint are essential to spiritual health. To live comfortably and yet fully need not be an
unattainable standard of life. One may be original without pretense, whole with many parts; it is certainly
possible to understand the holy pain of a long, complex movement and yet still take pleasure in the fast step
of a fox trot.
Benét, William Rose. "Hermann Hesse." Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1996.
Benét, William Rose. "Zerrissenheit." Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1996.
Hesse, Hermann. Steppenwolf. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927.
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