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Steppenwolf : The Disintegration of Harry Haller as it Relates to Music

Steppenwolf : The Disintegration of Harry Haller as it Relates to Music

Among the many themes present in Hermann Hesse’s 1927 novel Steppenwolf, two stand out as

basic threads around which the story is constructed: the isolated nature of the artist and the duality of

existence (Benét 471). Harry Haller, the protagonist of the novel, is portrayed as an outsider to society and

to modern life; he must struggle with his own outmoded ideals and bestiality to embrace humanity and

reality. His Zerrissenheit, or disintegration (literally translated, “the state of being torn apart” [Benét

1142]), culminates in the Magic Theater at the finish of the novel. Here, he finds himself a changed man,

with a clearer understanding of human and social relations. Harry Haller’s progress to this point can be

traced through his changing perception of music and the role it plays in his life: as he becomes increasingly

disenchanted with his former lifestyle and actively interested in his new one, his understanding and

acceptance of new and old music undergoes a significant change.

The preface to the novel establishes Harry Haller as a great lover of music. In it, Haller’s landlord

remarks on his habits and characteristics. One of the most striking encounters he has with Haller takes

place at a symphony one night:

First some Handel was played, noble and lovely music. But the Steppenwolf sat absorbed in his

own thoughts…After the Handel came a little symphony of Friedemann Bach, and I saw with surprise

how after a few bars my stranger began to smile and abandon himself to the music…for about ten

minutes [he was] so happily lost and rapt in pleasant dreams…

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… the seriousness and spirituality of the


Haller’s Zerrissenheit culminates in an understanding that humor, love of life and passion with a

sense of restraint are essential to spiritual health. To live comfortably and yet fully need not be an

unattainable standard of life. One may be original without pretense, whole with many parts; it is certainly

possible to understand the holy pain of a long, complex movement and yet still take pleasure in the fast step

of a fox trot.

Works Cited

Benét, William Rose. “Hermann Hesse.” Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Benét, William Rose. “Zerrissenheit.” Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Hesse, Hermann. Steppenwolf. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927.

The Transformation of Harry Haller in Steppenwolf

The Transformation of Harry Haller in Steppenwolf

A “dazzling” line “flashes” before Harry Haller’s eyes (Hesse 194). It says, “Marvelous Taming of the Steppenwolf” (194). By this statement, one must realize Hermann Hesse’s final goal for his character of Harry Haller. One also should note that all of this “taming” and these other wild events are taking place in the psyche of Harry Haller, not in reality. Hesse draws on the ideas of his generation’s psychologists, such as Carl Jung, to guide Harry Haller’s transformation. At the same time, the dreamlike experiences Haller has have great significance in reality. This symbolic aspect of the Steppenwolf puts the struggle of Haller’s ego in perspective for the reader.

The concept of the Steppenwolf itself is an important psychological image for determining the mind processes of Hesse’s character. The “wolf of the steppes” serves many purposes in describing Haller (Hesse 4). His “wolfishness” sets him apart from all others. It echoes reality, where the Steppenwolf is separate from others in his human form, too. This image of a wolf is often contrasted by an image of the “bourgeois” society as a flock of sheep, something that wolves do not mix with except to cause violence with. A lone wolf is always shifty -seeking contentment- and it suffers a pain of discomfort. The Steppenwolf is also quite wild, which is highlighted by the order and cleanliness of the rest of people around him. The order of the flowers in his apartment house, and the clean smell, amaze Haller, yet at the same time annoy his disheveled, crazy animal instincts. As another interpreter puts it, “The world of the bourgeoisie is etched [in] its contrasts with Harry’s world by the employment of symbol…

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…eristics come out in a healthy mentality. This mental health, a turbulent process for Haller, is reached through a set of subconscious experiences that mirrored Haller’s real life. Each of the dreams he has -the meeting with Goethe, the Magic Theatre sign, the hall of mirrors- are inner trials that magnify his conscious emotions. Hermann Hesse changes Harry Haller’s conceptions of reality through a surreal adventure through Haller’s psyche.

Work Cited

Boulby, Mark. Hermann Hesse: His Mind and Art Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1972.

Freud, Sigmund. The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud Ed.

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