SustainIt Book Club: Steppenwolf

SustainIt Book Club: Steppenwolf


Half human half wolf, Mister Harry Haller is the main character of Hesse`s Steppenwolf, a book that describes in an extraordinary and very articulate way the daily interior fights of an old man passionate about literature, music and philosophy, who struggles to keep the pace with the social and cultural manners of his time.

At first sight, Harry Haller might seem an eccentric and bizarre man: he doesn`t have a proper job, he loves sleeping during the day and hanging around filthy and smoky cafes and pubs at night, he likes drinking and challenging his landlord with philosophical and intellectual deep conversations. He defines himself as a “Steppenwolf” and his best friends are books and classical music songs and dead composers. Someone would probably label him as an outsider, or a “weirdo”, but there`s much more behind his evanescent appearance.

The complexity affecting this man`s soul is fascinating and it can`t be reduced to such simple words: it took Hesse himself to deploy his protagonist`s character through all the book, and still, when it comes to the end, a sense of bitter disorientation “affects” the reader.

The leitmotiv of the whole book is the sense of desegregation and separation from the rest of the world that Harry experiences in all his ordinary activities and makes him feel like he is constantly divided into two different personalities: a child-hearth man craving for a woman, a family, an ordinary job and a full-of-love life on one side; and a strained, solitary, hungry and antisocial wolf laughing at the little joys of human life on the other side.

The sufferance and the pain caused by being unable to adapt and find himself a place and a role among humans and society enhance Harry`s incapability to cope with the overwhelming feeling of loneliness, sadness and failure he experiences that lead him to the terrible decision to end his life.

At the highest point of his endless agony and negativity, when everything seems settled and about to happen, he eventually gets rescued by a young and beautiful lady (Hermione), who helps him get through his complexities and free himself from his boundaries and self-limits introducing him to that very distant world he experienced till then as an outsider – a world of dances, modern music, gramophones and never-ending adventurous nights, beautiful women and perdition. Harry falls in love with her and brings the story to an unpredictable point and an irreversible ending… But let`s leave something unexpected for the reader and not spoil the book.

The unbearable consciousness of a superior soul, the loneliness we experience as human beings unable to express and be understood, the complexity of human existence, the duel between immediate carnal passions and intellectual needs, are expressively and majestically illustrated by Hesse`s rich and effective writing, in a thought-provoking novel that will keep the reader engaged, address common fears and explain popular and shareable feelings.

Giulia Danielis

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