***Spoilers ahead****

I would first like to say that I had read this book years ago, probably when I was about 18-19 years old. I remember not understanding much of what I had read, and struggling to finish the book or relate to it. I had read Siddhartha prior, and loved it. So when I began reading Steppenwolf I could hardly recognize it was written by the same author. Both books are written in such contrasting style. I am a huge Hesse fan and I've read almost all of his books, and so I thought I would come back to the one and only book of his that didn't resonate with me at the time I had read it. I am now 27, and I can't express enough at how relatable this book has become (maybe the most relatable of all his books). Having dealt with depression in my mid twenties, I now found this book hard to put down and felt like Hesse was capturing to such a precise degree the emotions and processes of self resentment, isolation and depression that felt so indescribable to me.

Steppenwolf really shines hope and optimism for individuals struggling with suicidal ideation and how, often, much of these ideations are fuelled by absurd and engrained cognitive beliefs that need to be challenged. Hermine is the character that helps Harry challenge his core beliefs, and realize the absurdity of suicide. Though I don't think this book captures Hesse's actual life events, I think that it is supposed to be recognized as a poetic autobiography of an emotional state that Herman Hesse experienced and lived through. The main character Harry Haller shares a close resemblance to the name Herman Hesse (both initials, H.H.) Like Hesse, Harry Haller is a critic of war, a mystic, a philosopher and a writer. The other main character in the book is Hermine, the female rendition of the name Herman.

I believe Hermine represents a part of Harry that he is learning to rediscover. Hermine (with the features of a young boy) reminds Harry Haller of an old childhood friend. Hermine represents Harry's inner child. She is full of youth, energetic, and loves to indulge in play, (dancing and self expression). These are the qualities that Harry is lacking and has long lost. In fact, these are the qualities he endlessly wishes to rid himself of (the pleasure seeking wolf part of himself which he in constant battle with). He views dance and play as animalistic endeavours. Hermine teaches Haller to dance with the wolf, to accept it, rather than try hard to beat the wolf into submission.

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Haller meets Hermine on his darkest night, (soon after discovering the magic theatre) where he feels certain of his impending suicide. Fearing to go home to the dreaded knife, as a last defensive attempt to save him form himself, he stumbles upon Hermine in a pub with "hedonistic" jazz music and dancing. The fact that Harry is terrified to return home to commit suiced is evidence that he has a part of himself he recognizes is still worth saving, though he can’t exactly tell what it is. Hermine holds exactly the characteristics that Harry is missing in his life and is envious of. She is able to dance and embrace her inner wolf rather than fight it, where as when Harry tries to dance or indulge in anything pleasurable he is in constant strife with his inner wolf. He views dancing and jazz music to be characteristics of the wolf inside of him, and his rational persona tries to tame these desires, ridding himself of the art of play he once had as a child. Hermine offers to take Harry under her wing and learn how to dance only if he accepts her request. Hermine tells Harry that he will learn to fall in love with her, and once having achieved his love for her, he is to stab her with a knife. This is of course completely irrational, and sums up the absurdity of Harry's suicidal ideation. How could you possibly kill something that you love. Haller hates himself, and so in his time of self resentment, suicide seems feasible. But as mentioned above, deep down Harry knows there is a part of himself worthy of love, and he begins to discover it in the pub, it is Hermine, his inner child. His greatest task then, is to learn to fall involve with himself once again (his inner youth) and to learn how to dance with himself, so that the very thought of suicide becomes completely insane.

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In the final part of the book, when Harry is in the magic theatre, he stabs Hermine, and as a consequence he is also to be faced with execution for committing murder. This could also be interpreted that Hermine and Harry are in fact one, and when he stabs her, he is also executing himself. After awakening from the magic theatre, he finds himself next to Pablo, the creator of the madhouse and the magic theatre, realizing that his whole experience in the pub, the dancing balls he attended, and Hermine were all just a vivid dream, an illusion that was created when he had entered the magic theatre at the beginning of the book and that Pablo was the man who offered him the pamphlet to the madhouse. Though his experience in the magic theatre was an illusion all along, the wisdom of learning to love oneself again, and embrace the wolf and eternity was gained.

Source: reddit post


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