Discussion of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

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Discussion of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Post Number:#1  Postby Scott » December 3rd, 2009, 3:48 pm

Please use this thread to discuss the December book of the month, Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. Do not read this thread until you have read the book because this thread will contain spoilers.

What do you think of the book? Do you recommend it to others? Are there any passages or quotes from the book that you especially like?

I haven't read the book yet, so I'll post my own comments on the book once I've read it.

Last edited by Scott on January 16th, 2010, 2:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Discussion of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

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Post Number:#2  Postby Haller » January 9th, 2010, 6:05 pm

Nooo, I missed steppenwolf... argh. Such a great book...
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
-Friedrich Nietzsche
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Post Number:#3  Postby A Poster He or I » March 24th, 2011, 3:55 pm

I read Steppenwolf for the first time in my early 20s and it literally saved my life. My reaction, however, should be considered as very subjective: it just spoke to me at a very transitional and delicate moment in my life.

Nevertheless, it turned me on to Hesse and I ended up reading all 12 of his novels that have been translated into English (his first novel was not available in English back then). Hesse is easier to read compared to the other German 20th century great novelist, Thomas Mann. Most of Hesse's novels are what the Germans call Bildungsroman -- male coming of age stories. Steppenwolf is an exception, the main character being in his late 40s.

The main theme of the book to my mind is about the possibility of establishing meaning and purpose by embracing life's Dionysian aspects from an Apollonian platform, if that makes any sense.

A fine movie version of Steppenwolf was made in the 1970s starring Max von Sidow and Dominique Sanda. It is very true to the book and is a very effective translation to the screen.

Besides Steppenwolf, Hesse's other novels that I'd call philosophical are Demian, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game. Steppenwolf is the best, but my favorite nevertheless is The Glass Bead Game, his magnum opus--3 times longer than any of his other novels--and very philosophical. It is a dysfunctional novel, aiming so high by tackling the very root of intellectual pretense and of aesthetics, but it cannot sustain itself so it sort of just falls apart at the end. Still he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, mostly because of The Glass Bead Game.
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Re: Discussion of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Post Number:#4  Postby Schaps » May 21st, 2012, 2:27 pm

Both the Glass Bead Game and Steppenwolf are amazing works of philosophical depth. Steppenwolf can be described as an existential exploration, whilst the Glass Bead Game (possibly my all-time favourite work of liteature) is one of fantasy, imagination and possibilities - a glimpse into an intangible world of the mind.
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Post Number:#5  Postby Vojos » May 22nd, 2012, 6:30 pm

A Poster He or I wrote:The main theme of the book to my mind is about the possibility of establishing meaning and purpose by embracing life's Dionysian aspects from an Apollonian platform, if that makes any sense.

I agree.

Although it's been a while since I read it, I recollect identifying with the feeling of despair as well when the narrator describes this relationship. If I remember correctly he's the product of a childhood resembling the one of the narrator in "Demian". In the sense that he is by many means the product of a middle/upper-class upbringing, consisting of a kind of light, neat and very orderly environment (which is why he rents a room in a house reminiscent of his childhood). In my opinion his type of upbringing is one of the sort where you are expected to achieve a certain amount of success in society. In addition to this he has a sort of antagonistic personality, a force that makes him want to experience the more, as you say, "Dionysian" parts of life, he's in need of the tension and excitement that follows from those more "adventurous" experiences in life, which kind of collides with that orderly upbringing. And I think it's important to emphasize that there's a huge conflict between these two forces. I think that's why I related so much to this book, and I think many people can identify to a certain degree with this conflict of identities. We tend to see our personality as one unit, but in my opinion our personality consists of different personalities and therefore your choices always has some other personality pressing their opinion or judgment on your choice. And I believe that's one of the main themes of the book, that every time he acts on his, as you articulated it "Dionysian" forces, this other person this "natural product" of his upbringing, that wants to be a regular citizen and wants to fit in and conform with the values and conducts of the everyday man, judges him and looks down on him with a kind of resentment. And oppositely, if he tries to follow the life of the other personality or identity, the wolf or the "steppenwolf", always stands outside scratching his door, and mocking him with his howls. So no matter how he conducts his life he feels a form of shame/guilt.

And as for him being 40 instead of a teenager or a young man on the edge to manhood I think is that he's the symbol of the middle-age crisis. Of all these "rebels" that doesn't want to conform with the dull average life of the common citizen, but eventually has to and maybe does so a bit involuntarily because he is, as I said, expected by the nature of his upbringing to achieve some kind of success and by that are pressed into this society. This again results in those repressed thoughts and needs coming back to haunt him later in life, like it does for many men in that age. But I'm only 21 years old, so I can't say this by my own experiential judgment, but I'd imagine that's one of the points Herman Hesse wants to make. It's a feeling that stuck with me as I read it at least, maybe especially due to the point I am in life, kind of on this edge.

This whole matter of combining and harmonizing those two forces within you is the way I see it an immensely intricate thing, and a source of crisis and despair within many peoples life's.
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Re: Discussion of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Post Number:#6  Postby A Poster He or I » May 23rd, 2012, 12:34 am

I enthusiastically endorse your review, Vojos. I agree with it completely. I think this book has something to say to anyone who has ever acted out of a sense of duty while their heart pulled in another direction, or who settled for a safety net when their intuition told them they could fly.

I also see significant similarities of theme, tone and personalities between this novel and Demian, even though the stories are very different. Steppenwolf is the better of the two books.

I'd be very interested to know if you tackle The Glass Bead Game. If Demian and Steppenwolf reached your heart, then you are primed for the big one.
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Re: Discussion of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Post Number:#7  Postby Vojos » May 23rd, 2012, 6:28 am

Yeah, he has some of the same messages as Paulo Coelho, in that way I suppose. Haven't read too much of him, although I've enjoyed some of his books. But when I compare them, Herman Hesse will always be something extraordinary because I think he grasp the theme on a much deeper, clever and insightful level.

I haven't had a chance to read The Glass Bead Game, yet. I'm kind of in a period where I want to read Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Baudrillard and so on, so I guess I'm in for a long journey. But from the first time I read Herman Hesse I knew I had found a favorite author, so at some point I'll definitely pick up that book!
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