Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

September 6, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): Harry Haller is a sad and lonely figure, a reclusive intellectual for whom life holds no joy. He struggles to reconcile the wild primeval wolf and the rational man within himself without surrendering to the bourgeois values he despises. His life changes dramatically when he meets a woman who is his opposite, the carefree and elusive Hermine. The tale of the Steppenwolf culminates in the surreal Magic Theater—For Madmen Only!

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • I thought the premise of Harry Haller having a dual nature (part man, part wolf) was an interesting way to look at man’s natural appetites. I probably would have appreciated this book a lot more if Hesse had addressed this topic in a more straightforward manner.


  • Many of the scenes in this book were just way too out there for me. For example, all the Mozart stuff seemed utterly ridiculous, and I didn’t buy any of the Maria/Hermine/Harry stuff.
  • This wasn’t really fiction so much as it was a philosophical treatise. Philosophy has its place, of course, but this kind of content wasn’t really what I signed up for.
  • So Hesse’s ultimate message is that we shouldn’t take ourselves or our lives too seriously? That we should lighten up, laugh a little more, and love each other? Gee, how deep.
  • Haller wasn’t really that compelling as a protagonist. I didn’t like anything about him, and as the story slogged along, began wishing with all my heart that he would just go ahead and kill himself already instead of waiting until his 50th birthday!
  • I can see how this book might appeal to college students who think they know everything. You know, the ones that constantly question authority, despise everything they see in regular society, and generally think they’re somehow above the fray. But reading this as a well-grounded, middle-class, family minded adult? Meh, total disconnect.


I read Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse because of its standing as a classic. After an intriguing start, however, the story simply descends into a slush pit of philosophical drivel that didn’t grab my attention at all. No doubt I’m one of the hedonists that Harry initially railed against and no doubt I missed some of Hesse’s other important “messages,” but there’s no way I’m going to spend any more time trying to figure it all out. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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