Hermann Hesse (born July 2, 1877, Calw, Germanyβ€”died August 9, 1962, Montagnola, Switzerland) was a German novelist and poet who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. Hesse’s works were centered on the individual’s effort to break out of the established modes of civilization to find his essential spirit and identity. His best-known works include Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game. Each of these books explore the individual’s endless pursuit for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality.


Steppenwolf is the tale of an enigmatic man who refers to himself as the Steppenwolf. The protagonist of Steppenwolf, 47-year-old Harry Haller, is leading an abysmal life. Once a renowned public figure, Haller has abandoned all fame and spotlight. The reason is his abhorrence of modern European culture. Living all on his own, Haller is both jobless and homeless; he leads a life of wolfish isolation, ruminating during the day and visiting taverns at night.

Harry is a genius, whose intellect goes to waste for the want of a proper channel. He has absolutely no faith in humanity and is completely disconnected from the world. This forces him to create his own world, one existing within the realm of his own thoughts. So extreme is his solitude that he pens down an idealized account of his life, only it has never actually happened. Such is his longing for hope – for something to cling on to – that he does not hesitate to create an illusion of it. It is his imaginary soulmate: Hermione.

In a world where his desires go unfulfilled, depression is the only expected outcome. He begins to feel trapped, and time only fuels his desire to escape. Again, he decides to create an escape for himself on paper.

An excerpt from Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Deep down, he is torn apart by the battle raging between the two souls that inhabit his body. One is “the beast”, which longs for savagery and isolation, and the other is “the man”, which yearns for culture and love. Despite his desire to kill himself, Haller just cannot give up on what he terms as “evil days of inward emptiness and despair”. All in all, Steppenwolf is a poignant story of the internal conflict that gnaws at anyone who feels at odds with the society they live in.


Steppenwolf is a beautifully written work that can force the readers to wonder what is real and what is a figment of one’s imagination. The book has an evident undertone of Indian spiritualism. However, Hesse has examined it from the standpoint of Western pessimism. Another parallel that can be drawn between Steppenwolf and Indian philosophy is the subtle allusion to the Hindu concept of rebirth. The way he stresses how every man can become immortal is quite refreshing.


The nature of the narrative makes it very hard to tell reality from imagination. There are several layers of storytelling, which does not make reading any easier. Furthermore, Steppenwolf consists of these really long paragraphs that can prove intimidating for the most patient readers.


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.

You are willing to die, you coward, but not to live.

There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside of them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.

In eternity there is no time, only an instant long enough for a joke.


Ameya Rating:

Taking 4.3 stars out of 5, Steppenwolf makes no attempt at creating an inner sense of tranquility as a response to the problems in life. In fact, that is why Hesse deliberately leaves the plot unresolved. Steppenwolf is, after all, the agonizing story of a man who wastes his life indulging in self-pity and a self-induced isolation.

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