By Kimberly Richardson
Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf is more than a simple story within a story: a man and his travels read by a young man who discovers his manuscript. This novel tells of a man coming to grips with his humanity as well as the beast within. This man, Harry Haller, is a purveyor of knowledge, arts, and culture. He is the one living under the sun, a creature of the day. However, the Steppenwolf is a savage of the night who takes this knowledge from the man and pushes the envelope, pursuing the extremes. The wolf understands the true ways of the world and is made stronger by it. He is not afraid to live while the man is not afraid to die. Therein lies the paradox of the Steppenwolf. Harry seeks release from the pain his increasing knowledge of the world brings, but he cannot kill himself for the wolf will not allow him to commit such an act of cowardice. On the brink of suicide he meets a young woman named Hermine. She represents everything that Harry is with an extra component – she does not fear life.
Rather than dwell upon the pessimistic, she revels in the good that life has to offer. From this initial meeting the two become lovers as Hermine shows Harry a better way to handle his knowledge of life. She teaches him how to dance the fox trot, carry on a passionate affair with a woman, and seek pleasure in its many forms. However, the Steppenwolf learns his greatest lesson after a masquerade ball when his new musician friend, Pablo, invites him to spend some time in his Magic Theater. The theater shows the wolf his life in various ways, revealing hidden fears and secrets. This causes him to take action, resulting in the unveiling of the greatest lesson learned for the Steppenwolf. The unexpected ending was quite a surprise for me; I had to read it three times just to make sure I fully understood what had happened to him. Cruel clarity was the end, but the price was high. Such is the way of the Steppenwolf.