Steppenwolf | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Steppenwolf | Section 2 : Treatise on the Steppenwolf | Summary

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Summary

As Haller reads the "Treatise on the Steppenwolf," he is amazed to discover it is an analysis of his own personality. The tract states Haller has not learned "to find contentment in himself and his own life," because deep down he believes he is a wolf rather than a man. Haller believes he has two sides to his persona, one human and one wolf. This animal-man nature is one many others share, yet they have learned to live with their dual nature and even thrive. Often such people are artists, and in the moments when their happiness rises above their suffering their creative work shines with an enchanting radiance that touches the hearts of others. Haller's two sides, though, are almost always in conflict, each sabotaging the other. The wolf spoils Haller's enjoyment of the nobler human activities, while Haller's human side abhors his wolfish desires for primal pleasures like food and sex. Haller is very unhappy, and he makes others unhappy, too—particularly those who love him. Some have loved him for his human side and others for his wolfish nature, but none have embraced his duality and accepted him as a whole. Nonetheless, Haller has rare moments of happiness in which one side or the other takes precedence or both sides exist in harmony.

Haller craves independence above all and has at times gone hungry rather than compromise his freedom. He has "thrown away a hundred times what in the world's eyes was his advantage and happiness in order to safeguard his liberty." He loathes the idea of office work or the armed services, for he has no wish to obey another's rules or follow a set routine. Haller has achieved this independence, but at the cost of immense suffering and loneliness. He sees "his freedom was a death and that he stood alone." His wish has now become his life sentence, and people avoid him because he has made it so.

The writer of the treatise calls Haller one of the "suicides," a group of people who believe someday they will kill themselves (though many never do). They are "emotional and sensitive" people who believe not in perfecting the self but in "liberating themselves by going back to the mother, back to God, back to the all." For many suicides this is achievable in death, rather than life, and suicide is a comforting option that is available to them at any time. Most, though, acknowledge it is a cop-out, so they resist the desire to actually commit the act. Haller often pushes the limits, seeing just how far he can sink into depression before thoughts of suicide arise. He has, however, entertained the amusing idea he would permit himself to commit suicide on his 50th birthday, soon approaching. This thought of having a time limit, a fixed date of death, has helped him endure his trials more easily, especially that of his ill health.

The treatise writer then tells of Haller's aversion to the bourgeoisie and how he looks down on ordinary men and is glad not to be one. However, Haller is secretly attracted to the bourgeois life and still maintains many of its customs himself. He has money in the bank, dresses respectably, and stays on the right side of the law. He lives in bourgeois homes and is not comfortable with other classes of society such as criminals or servants—though he may agree intellectually with their viewpoints. The writer defines bourgeois as a striving for balance between opposites: neither rich nor poor, neither debauched sinner nor pious saint. Such a mode of living often avoids "violent storms and tempests" but also misses out on the intensity of life, such as the heights and depths of emotion. "A man cannot live intensely except at the cost of the self," the writer states, but the bourgeois attempt to preserve the self above all. In doing so they become "a herd of sheep" that is easy to rule. Nonetheless, the bourgeoisie prospers thanks to the talents of the Steppenwolves who live among them. Lone wolves such as Haller, though capable of far more than the average man, submit to a bourgeois life because of nostalgia or social conditioning. A few individuals escape the gravity of this "parent constellation" and rise above the bourgeois atmosphere to reach the cosmos.

For most outsiders who remain within the bourgeois world, though, their comfort is in humor. If a Steppenwolf can reconcile himself to living in such a world yet still stand apart from it, he can live a life that is both "bearable and productive." To do so requires deep self-examination, forcing the man and wolf nature to recognize each other without judgment. This will either destroy the Steppenwolf, or he will see the humor of his situation, thus releasing himself from suffering. The writer speculates Haller may one day achieve this if he can "get hold of one of our little mirrors" or if he happens to meet the immortals. He may stumble onto "our magic theaters" which will help him free his soul. Moreover, the Steppenwolf knows all of this deep down. He suspects the immortals exist and his place is among them. He also suspects he will indeed have to face himself, though he shrinks in fear from doing so.

There is one more delusion to destroy, says the writer, and that is the existence of the Steppenwolf at all. The Steppenwolf is a fiction, for no person has only two natures—to imagine so is a vast oversimplification. Thinking of himself in terms of two natures helps Haller understand himself, but in truth he has a thousand selves or more. Man has an innate need to see his self as a single unit, but each person is really a "bundle of selves." Any man daring enough to say so, however, may be confined to the psychiatric ward, diagnosed with schizomania. Society accepts the delusion of the personality as one-dimensional only, but this is an error. "As a body everyone is single, as a soul never," the writer states. Literature, too, falls prey to this delusion in its insistence on characters as one-dimensional, separate entities. The writer, though, surmises that all the characters of a story are "facets and aspects of a higher unity ... of the poet's soul." This conglomeration of characters is what reveals the true nature of the soul, not the consideration of the characters separately.

And so, though Haller struggles with just his two personalities, two is not too many but rather too few. Each person is a continuum of existence between nature and spirit, with not only man and beast but also many other manifestations of personality. Man is a work in progress, not a fixed entity, but Haller clings to the commonly held idea of the one-dimensional personality. He is afraid to do that which will truly help him join the immortals: to expose and embrace all facets of his personality, to shatter the illusion of a single self. This will lead to great suffering, which Haller fears. Suicide will not solve Haller's problem, warns the writer. The only solution for the Steppenwolf's dilemma is to expand his soul to encompass every living being, as the Buddha and "every great man" has discovered. Rather than complaining about his suffering, Haller could use his genius to pursue this immortality. Instead he is cowering among the bourgeoisie and blaming his problems on the wolf (which could, in fact, be "the best part of him"). The Steppenwolf ignores "the thousand flowers of his soul" if they do not fit into the box of man or wolf. If Haller were already an immortal (which seems to be the path he is on), he would look back in amazement at his current self with both pity and joy, and smile.

Analysis

The theme of multiple personalities is explained explicitly in the treatise Haller receives. The basic assumed theory of personality in Haller's bourgeois world is that a person has only one personality. Haller has been struggling under the notion of having two personalities, which has made it hard for him to fit into society as he did during his younger years. Now the Treatise makes clear this perception greatly underestimates the complexity of personality. Not only does Haller have two personalities, he has thousands of them—as do all people. Most ignore the multitude of possibilities by focusing on the one personality they have thus far developed in life. It is known and comfortable, whereas exploring oneself in order to grow and change can be painful. Such exploration requires a person to take a hard look at their flaws and desires and to accept and integrate these into a whole, complete self with many aspects of personality, both "good" and "bad."

Who is the writer of this treatise? The author is unknown; the treatise seems to be delivered from an omniscient outsider who knows Haller better than Haller knows himself. The treatise adds a further element of unreality to the novel; mysterious strangers don't just pop up out of nowhere and hand a person an in-depth analysis of their personality. A clue, however, is given when the writer discusses characters in literature as one-dimensional individuals. He suggests all characters in a story reflect aspects of the author's personality, and when taken together, they give a more complete picture of his soul. From this perspective the writer of the treatise (along with all the other characters in Steppenwolf) is one aspect of Hesse's own personality. Hesse wrote Steppenwolf in part as a means of exploring his own personality and coming to grips with the problems in his life, which are similar to Haller's problems. The writer of the treatise may be surmised as one of the more enlightened aspects of Hesse's personality. He sees himself clearly at times, even though the revelations he discovers may upset his previous notions of his own personality and motivations.

The theme of suicide is elucidated in the treatise, with the writer explaining a category of people called "suicides." For these sensitive souls like Haller life can be so painful or distressing that suicide seems a comforting way out. The writer posits such "suicides" are looking for the way back to God, or "the all." However, the writer advises suicide won't solve Haller's problem. Instead the writer states Haller must expand his soul to embrace all of its aspects and all of the possibilities of the world. Hesse includes references to Eastern philosophies that were important throughout his own life. These ideas include "unmasking the illusion of the personality" and the notion that the Buddha (and all other great men) achieved enlightenment through expanding the soul into unity. This unity ("the all") is the idea that the souls of all living beings are one, separated only by individual bodies; this is the divine consciousness that supersedes individual consciousness.

Furthermore, the writer of the treatise mocks Haller for clinging to the bourgeois world where his soul is stifled. The implication is if Haller could only look honestly at his multifaceted personality, not forcing himself to fit into society's boxes, he could then find his own latent genius and become immortal himself. When viewing the writer as an aspect of Hesse, such mocking could show a tinge of Hesse's own self-loathing at his fear of fully exploring his personality.

The writer foreshadows what will later happen to Haller in the Magic Theater by mentioning "our little mirrors," an important symbol of self-examination in the book. More foreshadowing comes from the statement that Haller already knows he will have to face himself. Thus the reader may predict that when Haller finally visits the Magic Theater he will be forced to take a good look at himself and face what he sees in the mirror. Given Haller's recognition of at least part of his nature (the wild, bloodthirsty wolf), it seems likely some of what he will discover will be unpleasant or even shocking.

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