Boxall's 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die discussion

Steppenwolf
This topic is about Steppenwolf
136 views
1001 Monthly Group Read > March {2018} Discussion -- STEPPENWOLF by Hermann Hesse

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Charity (charityross) Sorry for the delay! The discussion is now open...


Christopher (Donut) | 28 comments Born to be wi-i-ld...

(sorry. Couldn't resist)


Charity (charityross) Christopher wrote: "Born to be wi-i-ld...

(sorry. Couldn't resist)"


HA!! No magic carpet ride? ;)


Sammy (sammystarbuck) | 14 comments Hehe... My husband asked me whether I was reading a biography of the band... Of course, the band is more likely to have taken its name from the book.

Which I enjoyed by the way, even if it wasn't what I was expecting. I thought it all rather tame really. There was a lot of talk of this terrible "wolf", without ever really seeing what that actually entailed. I had also been expecting a little more from the "show".

But I enjoyed the writing (even though my daughter saw some of the pages I was reading - solid blocks of text without indentation - and told me that was her worst nightmare. Good job she's studying English and not European literature!


message 5: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) Sammy wrote: "Hehe... My husband asked me whether I was reading a biography of the band... Of course, the band is more likely to have taken its name from the book."

When I ordered a copy from the library, I almost ordered the band's self-titled album. That would've been a blast from my past but I figured I should move my checkmark to the Hesse book. Apparently the entire state of Maryland has two copies. It just arrived today.


Tiffany | 33 comments I really enjoyed this. It reminded me of The Master and Margarita, probably because of the trippiness and crazy party scene. ...And maybe also because of the sense that there was more to it than I was getting. I'm sure there were allegories in there that I don't know about.

But I did get *some* of the depth of it, and I enjoyed it.


message 7: by Chuck (last edited Mar 26, 2018 09:23PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chuck | 24 comments My version of the book had an introduction by Hesse addressing how the book had been misunderstood. Hesse is so right that it would be near impossible for a young person to understand this story of a well-educated middle-aged man in the throws of personal crisis. Being deep into middle age myself, I can't imagine grasping these dilemmas at a younger age.

What an existentialist tale it is; so much so I began to wonder if the character Harry Haller is a 20th century version of Kierkegaard. I think at times it gets pretty indulgent or just meanders, but the payoffs more than make up for it through its allegory of the death of the false self. Also, Hesse's reflection of the liberal German mindset at the time and the acknowledgement that another and far worse war was on its way is chilling.


message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 12 comments A scene I remember from when I read it (a while ago) is Harry's discouragement in the face of speakers from the "nationalist militarist" (or some such phrasing) political party. There seems to be a despair-filled withdrawal from the social and political world into the world of self and sensuality. I'm not sure that's the wise way to go. In our current world of rising nationalism, how one reacts seems like a timely question.


Kirsten  (kmcripn) I'm 40% in and am enjoying it. I was worried because the back of my edition said it was compared to James Joyce's Ulysses. But I am enjoying it. Maybe I think more like a German than a Irishman?


Tiffany | 33 comments Kirsten wrote: "I'm 40% in and am enjoying it. I was worried because the back of my edition said it was compared to James Joyce's Ulysses. But I am enjoying it. Maybe I think more like a German than a Irishman?"

Hrmmm... I tried reading Ulysses and didn't make it very far, but I was SO in to Steppenwolf. I'm not sure what the back of your edition was thinking. They don't seem very similar to me.


message 11: by Suki (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 14 comments I loved the way the surrealism of the ball and the Magic Theater cut through Harry's bleak view of the reality of his existence. Harry's experiences in the Magic Theater read something like an acid trip (just what, exactly, *did* Pablo have them drink and smoke before they entered the Theater?)


Amanda Dawn | 135 comments I read this book a few years ago and I found myself unsure of whether I liked or could endorse what it was getting at until I finished it, and ended up giving it a 4 star review. I can see why Hesse himself was frustrated with the common misinterpretation of the novel, as it does employ a "bait and switch" with the ethos its portraying, and I can see how many people missed the "switch" part of it.

Particularly, I found myself exhausted with and annoyed by Harry for much of the book as I felt he was a poster-boy for this pseudo-intellectual trope that irks me: that cynicism is inherently more profound than and wise than optimism, that the essence of life is one of desolation and depression, and only deep and smart people can see that and everyone else with their frivolous enjoyments in life is a blind idiot who can't see how pointless it all is, and therefore the better deeper people are always doomed to isolation. And this is the idea that many people identified with and took away from the book, which Hesse said missed "the possibility of transcendence and healing", the part of it that I actually started to love.

I found the book really evolved past the set up and became really noteworthy after Harry encounters Hermine and she introduces him to things he dismissed as "bourgeois frivolities" like dancing, parties, and companionship. He realizes that the frivolousness of these things does not make them invaluable or invalid reasons to continue living if they bring joy: giving him a camus-esque embracing the absurd moment that I particularly enjoyed.

I kind of consider myself to be a happy or positive nihilist, so the Kierkegaard and Camus vibes this book gives out (in fact, I wonder if Camus was inspired by this novel), about how the meaninglessness of life does not have to be a depressing thing if you accept and embrace it was a huge plus for me. Definitely one of my favorite existential novels I've read.


Amanda Dawn | 135 comments Jim wrote: "A scene I remember from when I read it (a while ago) is Harry's discouragement in the face of speakers from the "nationalist militarist" (or some such phrasing) political party. There seems to be a..."

That's a really great comment, Jim, that I reminds me of a really scathing video review of "Rent" (which at one point had been my favorite musical), for taking the same stance about artistic life and in the AIDS crisis, where the characters "rebel" by refusing to participate in political and societal life, and therefore renouncing any say or power in it, when the real life ACT-UP AIDS movement was so unlike that and heavily politically involved. And it's not just Rent- many stories of "rebels" aren't rebels at all, they are people who just refuse to be involved and look to their own sense of personal freedom and lack of responsibility instead of actually opposing anything. Which, in many cases, can be a harmful thing to do as you've suggested.

Which is honestly part of why I like Cabaret (as a story at least) better than Rent now, as it stands in direct opposition to that viewpoint.

I wonder if by the end of Steppenwolf, if that is truly what Hesse is suggesting though? I mean it definitely is Haller's viewpoint at the time. But, giving yourself reasons to live even if they are sensual and frivolous doesn't automatically mean you are retreating from important things into them, it can also give one perspective that there are things worth fighting for.


Linda | 1 comments I think my initial reaction was that the protagonist was a self-indulgent intellect who can be that way because he does not have to work for a living, unlike most people in this world. Then I realize there's a lot of symbolism and analogies that penetrate deeper than that. All of us have a strong desire for more than this life once we have reached basic needs of food and shelter, and health. And this book allows the reader and the writer to explore that. However, I wish there was more substance in the plot, which usually makes the reader think more concretely and also more deeply. To use analogies almost in the entire book drains the writer and the reader the potential for a well thought-out examination of human existence. Without the concrete, one does not even know the abstract, and vice versa, both are very important part of living a fully examined life. Personally I enjoy more plot driven book. This is almost like a philosophy book.


message 15: by Jim (last edited Apr 28, 2018 05:01AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim | 12 comments Amanda wrote: "giving yourself reasons to live even if they are sensual and frivolous doesn't automatically mean you are retreating from important things into them, it can also give one perspective that there are things worth fighting for. ..."

Amanda, I find the idea that the latter part of the book is about healing very interesting. We may not know where spaceship earth is going, but we can look after ourselves and each other while we're on the ride.

In the couple of other Hesse books I've read, there seems to be a preoccupation with whether an ascetic intellectual life or a life of egocentric sensuality is the "right" one. I'd seen Steppenwolf as being along similar lines, but maybe Hesse is saying a balance is best -- or at least that there's a time when you have to look after yourself to not go mad.

I do wonder about the running away from public responsibilities. Is that what the author's advocating? Is he saying that's an illusion and one can only deal with oneself? If so, I disagree. We may only be able to nudge mildly in one direction (in the grand scheme of things), but it seems wise to try --- to make the ride better for everyone, including ourselves.

On the other hand, in the face of some challenges, like the rise of Fascism, with public enthusiasm all around, I can understand how he'd be deeply disheartened.


back to top