SJ Loria's Reviews > Beneath the Wheel

Beneath the Wheel by Hermann Hesse
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's review
Nov 29, 2009

really liked it
Read in November, 2009

This story showcases Hesse’s brilliant prose mixed with his thoughts on life, aging, and love. In a story centered around a bright, gifted, yet timid boy Hesse shows both sides of the spectrum, celebrating the pain and sorrow along with the joys and surprises of life. The boy’s tale is equally beautiful and tragic. He has extraordinary gifts that simply do not fit into the demanded “one narrow path” of life for small town German students at the time. Unfortunately, he is crushed beneath the wheel like a cog in the machine, and the world does not benefit from his talents and vision. This boy was called to join in the higher realm of thinkers and people, yet due to the conditions of society he is unable to live this out. Perhaps a line where Hesse describes learning sums up the view of society and life just as well, “Every day true scholarship seemed more beautiful, more difficult, more worthwhile.” In this novel Hesse shows life as beautiful, difficult, and worthwhile if one can overcome the obstacles presented by a society intent on suffocating dreams. The clear menace in this tale is the system of school, organized religion, and people who place their demands on students instead of letting them explore the world. Our protagonist is the victim, but the intended effect is that the reader take away this lesson and not join their ranks. Hesse still celebrates life and the poetry of every moment, and he viciously attacks those who suppress it in this tragic tale.
One question I had while reading this novel is whether or not adulthood itself is another enemy. The transition from childhood to adulthood is performed though love, which Hans experiences first through friendship, then through a hint of homosexuality, and then finally through heterosexual longing. The transition into adulthood opens the door to pain and suffering. Though love is beautiful, it is not clear in this novel whether or not Hesse thinks its beauty is worth the price of innocence lost. The passages describing Hans falling in love are absolutely stunning, however the cost of love remains unsettled. Is adulthood and love worth the pain of growing up? Hesse leaves this unanswered, which is a surprise in this novel. Another surprise is the passage about a homosexual experience and an unlikely person at the end of the book to accept any of the blame. There are questions open to consideration through a tale that describes the beauty of life through poetic prose. A damn good book, classic Hesse.

It was possible to live in this town and give the appearance of being educated without knowing the speeches in Zarathustra. 5
Thus his future was mapped out, for in all of Swabia there existed but one narrow path for talented boys – that is, unless their parents were wealthy. 5
In a single hour he introduced Hans to an entirely new approach to learning and reading. Hands received an intimation of what tasks and puzzles lay hidden in each line and word, how thousands of scholars and investigators had expended their efforts since the earliest times to unravel these questions, and it seemed to him that he was being accepted into the ranks of these truth-seekers this very hour. 47
Every day true scholarship seemed more beautiful, more difficult, more worthwhile. 47
It has occurred to many people while they stood on this square that it would be just the right place for the good life and happiness, for something lively and gratifying to grow, for mature and good people to think glad thoughts and produce beautiful, cheerful works. 57
Proud and praiseworthy feelings and high hopes swelled in their breasts and it did not occur to a single one of them that this day he was selling his child for a financial advantage…it did not occur to any of the boys, nor to their fathers, that all this would perhaps not really be free. 65
“He realized that there are certain sins and omissions beyond forgiveness and repentance and it seemed to him that the stretcher bore not the tailor’s little son but Heilner, who now took all the pain and anger caused by Han’s faithlessness with him far into another world where people were judged not by their grades and examination marks and scholastic success but soley in accord with the purity or impurity of their consciences…they realized for a fleeting moment how irrecoverable and unique is each life and youth. 94
Anyone with a touch of genius seems to his teachers a freak from the very first…[a teacher’s:] task is not to produce extravagant intellects but good Latinists, arithmeticians and sober decent folk…among true geniuses the wounds almost always heal. As their personalities develop, they create their art in spite of school…thus the struggle between rule and spirit repeats itself year after year from school to school. 100
He was like someone in love for the first time: he felt capable of performing great heroic deed but not the daily chore of boring, petty work. 103
Their faces displayed the whole spectrum of shadings between vanishing childishness and budding manhood. 106
Hans’ thoughts and dreams now moved in this world to which he had been so long a stranger. He sought refuge from his great disappointment and hopelessness in a past that had been good to him. In those days he had been full of hope, had seen the world lying before him like a vast enchanted forest holding gruesome dangers, accursed treasures and emerald castles in its impenetrable depths. He had entered a little way into this wilderness but he had become weary before he had found miracles. 138
He stared at her with a mixture of unfamiliar desire and bad conscience. In this hour something broke inside him and a new, alien but enticing land with distant blue shores opened up before his soul. He did not know or could only guess what the apprehension and sweet agony signified, and did not know which was stronger, pain or desire.
But the desire signified…the first intimation of the mighty forces of life, and the pain signified that the morning peace had been broken, that his soul had left that childhood land which can never be found again…He must find his own way and be his own savior. 150
Fearful but shaken to the roots of his being, he felt the nearness of a great mystery, not knowing whether it would be delicious or dreadful but having a foretaste of both. 153
The pain and anger over this loss and the restlessness of his inflamed but unsatisfied passion came together in a single, agonizing confusion…In this way he discovered – perhaps too soon – his share of the secret of love, and it contained little sweetness and much bitterness. 165

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