Steppenwolf is Hesse’s most surrealistic novel. With its cast of dreamlike characters, its Magic Theater, and its nightmarish imagery, it comes closer than any of his other works to re-creating the fevered intensity of the lost soul adrift in time and space, ensnared in its own smothering web. The only way back is the mystical process of depersonalization. Harry Haller, the main character, is a man in deep despair because he doubts his ideals and his vocation. Life has become senseless; he longs for new values. Haller first has to learn to accept himself wholly, then to perceive life as a game, and finally to expand his soul to include the whole world in its totality.
On the surface, a bourgeois world is a world of sanity. Haller looks about him at the comfortable routine of domestic existence, and although he feels nostalgia for it, he can no longer accept it. Thus when he sees a sign that says “Magic Theater; Entrance Not for Everybody; For Madmen Only,” he tries to enter, because only madmen can make any sense out of a bourgeois world. Until Haller reads the pamphlet entitled “Treatise on the Steppenwolf,” he has always thought of himself as a double personality: man and wolf, the civilized human being and the freedom-loving outlaw. So great is this inner tension that Haller has often been on the point of taking his life and indeed is able to keep living only because he plans to commit suicide on his fiftieth birthday.
After reading the treatise, however, Haller realizes that he is wrong in supposing that he is a twofold person. All people, he learns, have manifold personalities, and the common notion that each person is a single ego is...
(The entire section is 688 words.)