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The Importance of Childhood in Steppenwolf

The Importance of Childhood in Steppenwolf

Upon reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, one cannot help noticing its large number of references to childhood. Youth, or a “childlike” state, is mentioned in the Treatise, in connection with Dionysian pleasures, in reference to Hermine, and in multiple other contexts. The ubiquity of this motif can be explained by the deep symbolic importance of childhood to Steppenwolf’s protagonist, Harry Haller. Although his own young life appears to have been rather joyless, Harry holds up in his mind an ideal childhood to which he seeks, in various ways, to return. “Childhood,” to Haller, embodies certain qualities he presently lacks: escape from the seriousness of the world, the treatment of life with eagerness and joyful abandon, and indiscriminate love. Thinking of Harry’s wish for a “return to innocence” helps readers of Steppenwolf better understand some of the protagonist’s motivations and his reactions to the people around him. It helps explain, among other things, his gravitation toward the “All girls are yours” door in the magic theater, his growing eagerness for Dionysian pleasures, and his attraction to Hermine (and similarly, to Maria and Pablo.) Through all of these venues, Harry finds the temporary respite he is looking for; therefore, to him, issues of love and pleasure (in many instances, sexual pleasure) are inexorably entangled with the idea of childhood.

The presence of the “All girls are yours” scene is perhaps the most direct manifestation of Harry Haller’s mental connection between love and youth. It is interesting to note how many other scenes could have stood in place of this one. Even if he had limited himself to tableaux of “young Harry,” Haller could…

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…into a complete picture of his soul. Thus, readers may certainly approach Harry’s psyche from the “child” angle when trying to rationalize his thoughts and actions; they must simply realize, when considering this side of Harry, that there are other facets to his personality, and think of this interpretation as just one step toward understanding him as a whole.


Flaxman, Seymour L. “Der Steppenwolf: Hesse’s Portrait of the Intellectual.”

Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon Gunton. Vol. 17. Detroit:

Gale Research Company, 1981. 196-7.

Hesse, Hermann. Steppenwolf. Trans. Joseph Mileck. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1929.

Ziolkowski, Theodore. from The Novels of Herman Hesse. Contemporary

Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research

Company, 1973. 145-6.

Steppenwolf’s Decision to Live

Steppenwolf’s Decision to Live

In the novel, Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, the main character, the Steppenwolf, considers committing suicide. He tries to justify taking his life with religious and philosophical rationales, but in the argument he finds that his life is worth living and suicide not a logical option. Sadly though, the novel provides little evidence beyond the Steppenwolf’s own feelings as to why he cannot commit suicide. It is the intent of this paper, with some religious and philosophical references, to shed light on the reasoning behind the Steppenwolf’s decision to live. The issue of suicide has been addressed throughout history by many critics. Many try to justify taking one’s own life, but for different reasons. The disparity in justifications forces the individual to decipher applicable reasoning and determine if suicide is justifiable. The Steppenwolf is one of these individuals.

The Steppenwolf is controlled by two souls-one of a wolf and one of a man. For men or human beings the soul is the center of life. The soul is immortal and believed to continue into the afterlife. Religion and philosophy both view the soul as the center of the man and the aim of their respective ideas. The Steppenwolf is controlled by two instincts directly correlated to the souls of the wolf and the man. One to act like a secluded wolf and another to interact with people like a man.

Because of the two souls, the issue of a suicide therefore, must be viewed for both wolf and man. As to suicide for the wolf, there is no religion for beasts and consequently no religious justification of suicide. Secondly, beasts have no philosophy and no means of knowing their existence. Beasts have no concept of the life t…

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…ving himself from society only made him realize that the need for human contact outweighs the need to escape from the torments of life. In the end, the Steppenwolf chooses life because in his attempt to justify killing himself, he realizes suicide is not the exit Steppenwolves choose.

Works Cited and Consulted

Farberow, Norman L., ed. Suicide in Different Cultures. Baltimore: University Park Press, 1975.

Hesse, Herman. The Steppenwolf. New York: Henry Hold and Company, Inc., 1963.

Lehrer, Keith, ed. Analysis and Metaphysics. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Pub. Company, 1975.

Quincey, Thomas De. De Quincey’s Writings. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1877.

Shneidman, Edwin. The Definition of Suicide. New York: John Wiley

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