The Glass Bead Game Essay - Critical Essays

Hermann Hesse

Critical Context

Hesse’s massive novel belongs among the great works of twentieth century literature that mark the height of the modern age. Often compared with the masterpieces of his contemporaries—Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (1924; The Magic Mountain, 1927) and Doctor Faustus, Hermann Broch’s Die Schlafwandler (1931-1932; The Sleepwalkers, 1932), the Austrian Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (1930-1943; revised 1952, 1978; The Man Without Qualities, 1953-1960), and even the Irishman James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922)—The Glass Bead Game has been much read and more often misread by the youthful intellectuals of post-World War II America. Seeing in Hesse’s novel a justification of an adolescent intellectualism that was part of the rise of the working classes into the educated classes, college students in the 1950’s and the 1960’s embraced the work with a zeal and humorlessness not shared by readers in Europe, where Hesse’s work was seen as part of a larger modernist statement that included condemnation of totalitarianism.

The Glass Bead Game gained popularity, too, as the culmination of a series of novels by Hesse, notably Die Morgenlandfahrt (1932; The Journey to the East, 1956) and Siddhartha (1922; English translation, 1951), which helped to introduce Eastern religion to young American readers, many of whom also shared a drug-culture appreciation of the arts fueled by another Hesse novel, Der Steppenwolf (1927; Steppenwolf, 1929). The Glass Bead Game’s more enduring reputation, however, rests on Hesse’s adroit manipulation of several literary genres at the same time, as well as on the boldness of Hesse’s defense of the joy of intellectual and artistic pursuits.