Characters Discussed

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Harry Haller

Harry Haller, a steppenwolf, part man and part wolf. He has a strange period in his life, when he is fifty years old, in which he haunts taverns and picks up unusual friends, both men and women. Previously a quiet man with suppressed emotions, he finds a new addiction to alcohol, sexual eroticism, and narcotics that helps him to see his many selves for the first time, as exemplified in Pablo’s hall of mirrors. There, he encounters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, stabs Hermine, and is sentenced by the court to eternal life.


Erica, Harry Haller’s wife, a madwoman. Her husband lives away from her and visits her only every few months.


Hermine, a woman Haller meets at a tavern. She helps him so that he will come to love her enough to kill her. She finds Haller a mistress, encourages his love life, and at last brings him to love her.


Maria, a woman introduced to Haller by Hermine. She is an expert in love and becomes Haller’s mistress. She has been Hermine’s lover as well.


Pablo, a saxophonist who prefers Mozart’s music to jazz. He is a fine musician as well as a dope peddler. He becomes Haller’s friend and introduces Haller to some strange sides of life. In his hall of mirrors, Pablo becomes Hermine’s lover. When the jealous Haller finds them together, he stabs Hermine under the breast.


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Apart from Harry Haller, the central characters in Steppenwolf are Hermine, Pablo, Maria, and the various Immortals. Since the story is surreal, each character represents one or more idea. Pablo acts as a kind of master of ceremonies at the Magic Theatre, which he claims as his own; Hermine helps Haller to understand and express his human side when she promotes the affair between him and Maria. The Immortals— including, in lesser roles, Wagner and Brahms—try to instruct Haller in the ways in which he should interpret and live his life. Thus, the laughter which Mozart urges on Haller is really part of an overall philosophy that the novel promotes.

There are few secondary and tertiary characters in the novel. The Narrator, whose preface opens the book, provides an introduction to the main character and places him in a clear context: "Haller belongs to those who have been caught between two ages, who are outside of all security and innocence. He belongs to those whose fate it is to live the whole riddle of human destiny heightened to the pitch of a personal torture, a personal hell." These remarks do a lot to prepare the reader for the rest of the novel.

Haller's wife, Erica, who may be insane, never appears on the scene, but she acts as a further evidence of Haller's separation from "normal" life. Rosa Kreisler, a girl Haller loved as a young man, serves to recall the purity and innocence of youth and the pain of loss, as Rosa disappears and other girls appear.

Of all these characters, the Immortals— Mozart especially—are the most important thematically; they utter profound philosophical comments, such as when Mozart replies to Haller's cry that Wagner and Brahms' suffering for the music of their time is "frightful": "Certainly. Life is always frightful. We cannot help it, and we are responsible all the same. One is born and at once one is guilty. You must have had a remarkable sort of religious education if you did not know that." Such thematic remarks inform the conversation of these characters, as well as that of the "human" characters.


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(This entire section contains 1726 words.)

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The bourgeois narrator is the nephew of Haller's landlady. He narrates the novel's preface, reporting on his acquaintance with Haller and his observations about Haller's character and personality. Unlike Haller, the middle-class narrator lives an orderly, respectable life, full of predictable routine; he goes to work at an office each day, and he values punctuality. Also unlike Haller, he neither smokes or drinks.


Erica is the estranged lover of Haller. He reports that he meets her occasionally, but for some reason she is angry with him and they quarrel.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832), a German poet, novelist, dramatist, and essayist, was one of the greatest writers Germany has produced. Haller is an admirer of Goethe, and he is greatly offended when, visiting the home of the professor, he sees a portrait of the great man that does not capture Goethe's true spirit. In one of the surreal episodes in the novel, Haller dreams that he meets Goethe. He reproaches him for being insincere in his work and presenting too optimistic a vision of human life. Goethe evades his question playfully, saying that Haller should not take things so seriously, and he laughs and dances.


Gustav is Haller's boyhood friend. Haller meets him again through the "magic theater," when Gustav accompanies him in the war against the automobiles.

Harry Haller

Harry Haller, the protagonist and narrator of much of the novel, is known as the Steppenwolf. A divorced man nearing fifty years of age, Haller is an intellectual. He has published work on poetry and music and the metaphysics of art. He loves Goethe and Mozart and believes their work belongs on an immortal plane of life. But Haller is not a happy man. He is in poor health, suffering from gout and insomnia, and he does not fit well into bourgeois society. Living in two rented rooms in a city, he is an outsider, a solitary man, "a melancholy hermit in a cell encumbered by books," as he describes himself. He is lonely, since he sees his one friend, Erica, only occasionally, and even then they quarrel. But he will not seek out company because he despises comfortable, bourgeois respectability and mediocrity and prefers to experience the heights and depths of life, apparently through his appreciation of music and literature. When he finds himself drifting through tolerable days in which nothing much either good or bad happens to him, he says that he would sooner feel "the very devil burn in [him]" than accept this "slumbering god of contentment." He longs for strong emotions and sensations, not the kind of flat, sterile life that he believes is the bourgeois norm. He also finds himself at odds with the prevailing nationalism and militarism in Germany, convinced that it will lead to another war.

Haller has thought deeply about his own nature. He feels that he has a dual personality, divided between normal human emotions and feelings that lead to benevolent actions and what he describes as his wolf nature, which is strong, wild, ruthless, and solitary, and he despises humans for their vanity and stupidity. The man and the wolf in Haller are perpetually at war with each other. He can be sociable and friendly and pleasant, but then the wolf surfaces, and he behaves in socially unacceptable ways, as when he rudely criticizes the picture of Goethe in the professor's house. It is the wolf element within him that leads him to describe himself as "that beast astray who finds neither home nor joy nor nourishment in a world that is strange and incomprehensible to him." Haller feels so out of place in the world that he plans to commit suicide by cutting his throat with a razor. However, his life changes after he meets Hermine, who befriends him and introduces him to a world which formerly, because of his intellectual snobbery, he had despised. Instead of staying in his room reading his books of German poetry, he learns to dance and to enjoy worldly living, and doing so includes having a sexual relationship with the prostitute Maria. Through his new friends and his experiments with taking drugs given to him by Pablo that open him up to the unconscious elements of his mind, he learns to understand life in a more balanced way, accepting the many-sidedness of his being, instead of seeing himself divided into two fixed elements, man and wolf.


Herman was a childhood friend of Harry Haller. When Haller meets Hermine, her boyish appearance reminds him of Herman, a resemblance that becomes even more acute when Hermine dresses like a man at the fancy dress ball.


Hermine is an friendly and charming prostitute, pale and pretty, whom Haller meets at a tavern called The Black Eagle. She has a rather boyish appearance, and Haller later realizes that she reminds him of his boyhood friend, Herman. When he first meets Hermine, Haller is in despair, but she listens to his tale of woe and seems to understand him. She takes charge of him and decides to teach him some of the simple things in life, such as dancing, that he, with all his intellectual accomplishments, has failed to learn. She refuses to accept any gifts from him, even though accepting such things from men is a part of her profession. Her role is to encourage Haller to experience all the sensual aspects of life that as a stiff intellectual he has scorned. She tells him not to take life so seriously, and she introduces him to Maria and sends her to his bed because she thinks it is high time he slept with a pretty young woman.

For his part, Haller is fascinated by Hermine. She is everything he is not, he observes. Unlike him, she is able to live in the moment, and she has a childlike ability to switch in an instant from seriousness to merriment. It is because of Hermine that Haller learns how to spend time enjoying himself at dances and listening to jazz in night clubs. She helps to end his sense of isolation.

Symbolically, perhaps, Hermine represents the feminine, sensual side of Haller himself (he says that when he looks at her it is like looking in a mirror). She may also represent his homoerotic desires, since she reminds him so much of his former male friend, Herman, and actually dresses as a man at the fancy dress ball. This symbolic dimension may help to explain why Haller kills the image of Her-mine in the magic theater; because he has found in himself what she represents, she can no longer appear as a being outside of himself. He is, after all, only fulfilling her wish, amounting to a prediction, that he should eventually kill her.


Maria is a beautiful young woman who is a friend of Hermine. Like Hermine, Maria is a high-class prostitute, but there is also a kind of innocence about her. At Hermine's suggestion, she takes up with Haller, although she continues to see many other men as well. Haller falls in love with her. He believes that she is the kind of woman who lives only for love. Like Hermine, Maria makes Haller feel at home in the world of dance halls, cinemas, bars, and hotel lounges. She has no formal education, but, again like Hermine, she has the ability to live fully in the moment, in a sensual kind of way, and she knows exactly how to please her lovers. She also shows Haller that her love of the latest American popular songs can be as pure an artistic experience as his more exalted pleasure in classical music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) was one of the greatest composers in the Western musical tradition, famous for the almost heavenly beauty of his music. Haller venerates Mozart and regards his work as an expression of the eternal and the divine. In a surreal episode near the end of the novel, when Haller is in the "magic theater," he encounters Mozart and discusses music with him. Mozart reappears after Haller has murdered the image of Hermine and plays some music of Handel through a wireless. His purpose is to show Haller that even though the music is poorly reproduced, its divine quality can still be heard, and so Haller should also appreciate the presence of the divine in all the variegated expressions of human life. It is Mozart who refuses to pronounce the death sentence that Haller believes he deserves for killing Hermine. Instead, Mozart pronounces that Haller shall live, and by living, he will learn to revere life and also to laugh at it in the same way that the immortals laugh.


Pablo is a saxophone player in a jazz band. Of South American or Spanish origin, he is a friend of Hermine and through her comes to know Haller. Pablo says little, but he is charming and seems to live on good terms with everyone. He is an excellent musician but, unlike Haller, sees little point in theoretical discussions about music. In Pablo's view, music should be played, not talked about, and he loves to play dance music that gets people moving and makes them happy. Pablo introduces Haller to mind-altering drugs, such as cocaine and opium, and he also suggests at one point that Haller join him and Hermine in a sexual encounter. Haller refuses, but the incident shows that Pablo does not conform to conventional notions of morality. The drugs Pablo gives to Haller enable Haller to enter the "magic theater" and so connect with his unconscious mind.

The Professor

The professor is a former acquaintance of Haller. They used to spend time together discussing oriental religion and mythology, which is the professor's specialty. When they meet again by chance in the street, the professor asks Haller to dinner. Haller's assessment of the professor is that his interests and knowledge are too narrow. He envelops himself in his scholarly work and believes in its value because he believes in evolution and progress. But he knows nothing of how the work of Einstein has changed the foundations of thought, because he thinks Einstein's work only concerns mathematicians. The professor is also a conventional, unthinking patriot who does not see that the militarism he supports will lead inevitably to the next war.




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