Course Hero. "Steppenwolf Study Guide." Course Hero. 22 Mar. 2018. Web. 18 Jan. 2019. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Steppenwolf/>.
Course Hero. (2018, March 22). Steppenwolf Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 18, 2019, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Steppenwolf/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "Steppenwolf Study Guide." March 22, 2018. Accessed January 18, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Steppenwolf/.
Course Hero, "Steppenwolf Study Guide," March 22, 2018, accessed January 18, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Steppenwolf/.
The story takes place in a German-speaking country not long after World War I, likely the early 1920s. Harry Haller, an intellectual in his late 40s, arrives in an unnamed town and takes up residence in a boarding house. Haller has no job, having saved enough money not to need to work. He spends his days in a depressive state of discontent, unhappy with his poor health and his loveless, friendless life. Haller calls himself the Steppenwolf, a "wolf from the Steppes" (vast barren lands), and feels he has two sides of his personality. One is the man he presents himself as to society, but the other is a lone wolf that rages within him. The two fight for domination and leave miserable Haller no peace; he often thinks of suicide. Only rarely does Haller feel joy, which happens mostly when he is listening to classical music. One night while wandering the dark alleys of the Old Town, Haller sees a sign advertising a Magic Theater, "ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY. FOR MADMEN ONLY!" Soon after he meets a strange peddler carrying a similar sign, and the man gives him a book. It is titled "Treatise on the Steppenwolf," and Haller soon discovers it is a detailed examination of his own personality.
The treatise reveals Haller has not two, but thousands of personalities. He has created his own lonely world though his overwhelming drive for independence, over time separating himself further and further from the bourgeois world he despises. Haller's suffering will end not through suicide but only when he can expand his soul to include all the aspects of his personality—and when he can learn to accept life and other people as they are. In doing so he can become one of the immortals, those souls who recognize the unity of all humanity and who see the humor in life despite its ugliness and imperfections.
After reading the Treatise, Haller resolves to commit suicide. He is still intrigued by the Magic Theater, though, and searches for the peddler, whom he thinks he spots in a funeral procession. When Haller asks the man about the Magic Theater show, he doesn't seem to know what Haller is talking about and recommends the Black Eagle bar instead. Shortly thereafter Haller runs into an old colleague, a professor, who invites him to dinner at his home. The professor and his wife are solidly bourgeois, and the evening does not go well. More depressed than ever, Haller avoids going home because only suicide awaits him there. Instead he wanders by the Black Eagle bar and goes inside.
Haller meets a mysterious girl, Hermine, who orders him around in a motherly fashion, making him eat and get some rest. She seems to have a deep understanding of life and a strange amount of insight on Haller himself. When she asks him to dance and he exclaims he doesn't know how, she lectures him about blaming others for his unhappiness. He could have learned to dance at any time but did not choose to. He asks her to meet him again, and she agrees on the condition he will obey her commands, including learning to dance. She also states matter-of-factly that Haller will fall in love with her and eventually kill her!
The two begin to meet regularly for meals and dance lessons. Hermine takes him out to dance halls, where he learns to like jazz, a popular genre he has previously disdained as too modern, too unpredictable. Slowly the old Haller begins to disintegrate and a new Haller rises to take its place. The new Haller finds some enjoyment in life and takes more social risks than the old Haller did, all under the direction of Hermine. She introduces him to Pablo, a passionate jazz saxophonist who passes drugs to Haller, and to Maria, a beautiful girl who becomes his lover. For several weeks Haller enjoys a period of happiness and sexual exploration with Maria. Hermine continues to be the most important to him, though, and they meet often and discuss the nature of life and death. After one such conversation, Haller reflects on the immortals though writing a poem. Their lighthearted laughter echoes around him, a state of joy he himself sometimes feels but has trouble maintaining over time.
A big night arrives for Haller; it is the Fancy Dress Ball he and Hermine have been preparing for with his dance lessons. He arrives in his usual attire and searches through the costumed crowd for Hermine, finally discovering her in a room resembling hell. She has disguised herself as a young man, reminding him uncannily of his childhood friend Herman. They talk and laugh and then dance with other partners for hours. Haller becomes blissfully happy in music and dancing, his personality dissolving into "the mystic union of joy." Hermine then appears in a new costume as a comic female mime, and they kiss passionately and dance furiously as the dawn approaches.
When the music ends Pablo appears and invites the pair to his Magic Theater, where Haller will seek out his own soul. They smoke unfamiliar cigarettes and drink a strange liquid, then Pablo presents Haller with a small mirror in which Haller sees both himself and the wolf. They then go to the theater, which is a long corridor of doors, each opening to a theater box and a new scenario. Pablo explains the theater will help Haller get rid of his personality, and he orders him to leave behind the man and wolf in the cloakroom before he enters. Hermine disappears down one half of the corridor, beyond a giant mirror, while Haller explores the opposite direction.
Through the first door he chooses, Haller finds a war between man and machinery. He and his childhood friend Gustav shoot at passing cars, killing the passengers and destroying their cars. Through the second door he meets a chess player who holds up a mirror that reflects the many pieces of his personality. He teaches Haller to reassemble the pieces in various ways in order to play the game of life. Behind the third door Haller witnesses his two dominant personalities, man and wolf, dominate each other in horrifying ways. The wild beast is tamed into a circus animal, while the man rips small animals apart with his teeth and drinks their blood. Horrified, Haller quickly exits and then enters a room where he encounters all his former loves. He relives his time with each one, and this time every love affair turns out wonderfully. Haller next sees a door with the sign "HOW ONE KILLS FOR LOVE," reminding him he has promised to kill Hermine. He shudders then finds himself back at the gigantic mirror, where he talks to his own reflection in confusion. He hears music from the world of the immortals, and his personal hero Mozart appears. Mozart laughs at his depression over life's horrors, and Haller ascends with him into the cold atmosphere of the immortals, where he loses consciousness.
When he reawakens, he views himself in the great mirror again and realizes he no longer fears many of his former hobgoblins, such as women and dancing. He has grown and changed but is still trapped in his former "reality" and personality. He opens the last door and discovers Hermine and Pablo, naked and asleep together. He takes out a knife and kills Hermine, and as her body turns cold he hears the music of the immortals. Mozart then enters, fiddling with a broken radio until it plays. The modern music disgusts Haller, and Mozart advises he should listen to it rather than judge it. Mozart explains such broadcast music is inferior to a live concert in the same way life on Earth is inferior to life among the immortals. Both are a distortion of something far more beautiful, but despite their imperfections they still contain the essence of divinity. Man can only laugh at the absurdity of it all; this is the laughter of the immortals. Mozart and a tribunal of immortals then punish Haller for his murder of Hermine. He is sentenced to eternal life and will have to continue confronting his many personalities until he learns to find the humor in life. Mozart then morphs into Pablo, who shrinks Hermine into a chess piece and puts her in his pocket. He predicts Haller will do better next time he visits the Magic Theater, and at last Haller understands the game of life. The pieces are all in his pocket, and it is he who dictates the game. He determines to play again and become better at the game, and even to learn to laugh as one of the immortals.
Steppenwolf Plot Diagram