Literature Study GuidesSteppenwolfSteppenwolf And The Bourgeoisie

Steppenwolf | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Steppenwolf | Steppenwolf and the Bourgeoisie


Steppenwolf makes numerous references to the concept of bourgeois and bourgeoisie. Bourgeois is a French adjective for values that are typical of the middle class; the bourgeoisie are the people who adhere to those values. In the novel Haller says he "hated and detested ... this contentment, this healthiness and comfort, this carefully preserved optimism of the middle classes." At the same time he chooses to live in this bourgeois society, a choice that creates great conflict for him.

The terms originated in medieval France but took on their current meaning during the tumultuous 18th and 19th centuries, as a newly rich and property-owning middle class of professionals and merchants demanded the political rights of the aristocracy, culminating in the French Revolution. German philosopher Karl Marx (1818–83) appropriated the terms in his own social and political theory, seeing the bourgeoisie as part revolutionaries, part exploiters of the lower classes. Eventually the terms took on the derogatory connotation they have in Steppenwolf, naming a class of people who are materialistic and seek an orderly, picture-perfect life of social respectability.
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