Steppenwolf: A Quest for Happiness
Within his fiction, German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse investigates a surprising, Eastern view on people’s perception of themselves. While traditionally Westerners describe each person with such definite characteristics as their names, appearances, and main traits, Hesse argues that this idea is both incorrect and even hurtful at times. The main character of his famous novel Steppenwolf, Harry Haller, discovers multiple contradictory personalities within himself. Only after understanding and accepting these numerous sides of himself does Harry become free and happy. In his novel, Hesse encourages his readers to abandon ages-old western idea of a strictly defined personality, learn to laugh, become loving to themselves and their fellow-humans, and search for liberation in the depths of their own unforeseen selfs.
One of the main points Hesse raises is the failure of the Western world to apprehend the complexity of human personality. Harry suffers because he cannot accept the fact that a part of himself defies the expectations of his immediate social surrounding. At times Harry sees himself as an animal, a beast of the steppes, “He went on two legs, wore clothes and was a human being, but nevertheless he was in reality a wolf of the Steppes. He had learned a good deal . . . and was a fairly clever fellow. What he had not learned, however, was this: to find contentment in himself and his own life. The cause of this apparently was that at the bottom of his heart he knew all the time (or thought he knew) that he was in reality not a man, but a wolf of the Steppes”. Sadly, Harry fails not only to accept or understand, but even to see clearly multiple parts of himself. While his soul is a baroque mosaic, Harry perceives any unconventional parts of himself an anomaly.
In a chase after money, in an attempt to remain moral, in strife to become educated, people often forget about a sensual, “animal” part of themselves. Harry spends years over the refined reading and loses touch with the Harry-child, Harry-dancer, Harry-lover. “Oh! how stiff you are! Just go straight ahead as if you were walking . . . Dancing, don’t you see, is every bit as easy as thinking, when you can do it, and much easier to learn. Now you can understand why people won’t get the habit of thinking,” – claims Harry’s closest friend, Hermine. Through Hermine Hesse teaches the reader not to neglect what modern Western society deems “primitive” part of a person. Laughter, dancing, and warm feelings toward other humans are components of the potion Hesse prescribes Harry to combat the psychological illness the main character suffers from, “An experience fell to my lot this night of the Ball that I had never known in all my fifty years, though it is known to every flapper and student—the intoxication of a general festivity, the mysterious merging of the personality in the mass, the mystic union of joy”. An immersion into the larger human mass, the disintegration of personality bring Harry long-missing mirth and liberation. In other words, confined by narrow limits of a well-defined character, acquiring wealth and status, but losing touch with oneself, a person doesn’t find genuine happiness. Not only Hesse admits that there are various souls imprisoned inside a single mind, he also points out the need for “space” and attention of each of them. For example, for the most of the book Hesse glorifies inter-personal relationships of numerous kinds: comradeship, friendship, artistic bonds, and lovers’ intimacy. But solitude is inevitable, sometimes beautiful, and, in a way, healing, too.
In the beginning of the novel, Harry shares this revelation, “Solitude is independence. It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it. It was cold. Oh, cold enough! But it was also still, wonderfully still and vast like the cold stillness of space in which the stars revolve.” Although the bonds between humans are the most wholesome ones, solitude inspires thought and creates a link between the thinker and the eternal. Western world tries to catch its dwellers into the webs of simplicity. It tempts men and women with the clear idea of a fast-paced, moral, learned world where people are not that complex and the bonds between them are severed. Hesse argues against that. The novelist shows main character’s quest for happiness and liberation through embracing idea of interconnection with other people and partial dissolution of personality.