Hermann Hesse Hermann Hesse World Literature Analysis

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Hermann Hesse World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Hesse’s first published work, Eine Stunde hinter Mitternacht, is a collection of short stories overflowing with sentimental posturing and romantic clichés, a style Hesse soon came to call sick and incomprehensible, but which he simply refined rather than repudiated. In his next work, Hinterlassene Schriften und Gedichte von Hermann Lauscher (1901), the hero with a split personality became the model for a long line of alter egos (doppelgänger), including Narcissus and Goldmund, Emil Sinclair and Max Demian, and Hans Giebenrath and Hermann Heilner.

The early works contain many of the themes that appear in Hesse’s later writings. One of these is the author as confessor-observer who looks at life objectively and perceives a higher resolution above its superficial contradictions. A similar theme is that of the child who views the world in the eternal present and lives as in a paradise, unaware of the passage of time. Other familiar themes are those of the mirrored image, the outsider, and the Earth Mother. There is also a pervasive love of nature throughout Hesse’s works. The hero of Peter Camenzind, Hesse’s next major novel, strives to obey his own inner law the way seeds obey theirs. His experiences as a student in the city expose him to the artificiality of humankind, and he comes to feel that his mission is to lead the world back to God through Nature. Peter Camenzind also contains another of Hesse’s central themes: a moment of awakening when intuition and intelligence ignite in a burst of inspiration. Beneath the Wheel is a school novel much like James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), John Knowles’s A Separate Peace (1959), and J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Like Joyce’s novel of initiation, this novel chronicles the rebellion of its main characters, Hans Giebenrath and Hermann Heilner, against a dehumanizing educational system. Heilner has the courage to escape, but Giebenrath retreats into a world of madness and ultimately commits suicide. The theme of the inaccessible woman dominates Hesse’s next novel, Gertrude. Similar goddess figures can be found in Peter Camenzind and particularly in Demian, where Frau Eva, Demian’s mother, is portrayed as a shadowy Earth Mother and an object of veneration to those few who bear the mark of Cain.

Discouraged by the events of World War I, branded a traitor by his country, and devastated by a series of domestic disasters, Hesse underwent psychoanalysis to emerge spiritually reborn. The artistic reflection of this rebirth is Demian, in which Hesse makes conscious use of dreams, memories, and associations. Hesse published it under the name of its narrator, Emil Sinclair, because he wished to express the change of personality he (Hesse) had experienced with psychoanalysis and because he wished to appeal to a more intellectual kind of reader. There is only one principle that Demian teaches: that people have a duty to be themselves. Those who abide by this principle will be the ones qualified to lead humanity into the future. In Demian, these people bear the mark of Cain as a badge of honor, not shame, a sign that they have the courage to break old rules and create new ones. From Demian on, Hesse’s theme is the fundamental oneness of all being. This vision of the unity of all life is central to Klingsors letzter Sommer (1920; Klingsor’s Last Summer, 1970) and Knulp: Drei Geschichten aus dem Leben Knulps (1915; Knulp: Three Tales from the Life of Knulp, 1971), Hesse’s personal favorites among his own works, as well as to Klein und Wagner (1920) and to his most popular work, Siddhartha. Although Siddhartha’s life closely parallels that of the Buddha, the novel, with its synthesis of all major religions, is really the profession of faith of a seeker who cannot accept any doctrine but who, when he finds his “way,” is able to approve each doctrine and share in the universal brotherhood of all of those who have glimpsed something of the divine and the eternal.

(The entire section is 4,010 words.)