Pablo and Maria
Harry’s immersion in the world of dancing, drink, nightclubs, and restaurants is accompanied by what he calls a “disintegration of the personality.” In keeping with the principles set out in the Treatise, Harry starts to see himself as a composite of thousands of other souls. This disintegration is very painful, especially when these selves jar and come into conflict, which makes Harry feel that he is defiling everything he has held sacred in his life. At the same time, though, Harry is able to see for the first time the blind hypocrisy of his former life. He has been in his own way just as pompous and one-sided as the portrait of Goethe he earlier condemned.
Harry spends a considerable amount of time in the company of Pablo. He tells Pablo about his musical theories, but the response he receives is always a quiet, smiling indifference, which frustrates him. When Harry is particularly annoyed by one such exchange, Pablo offers him a pinch from his gold snuffbox, and Harry sniffs a cocaine-laced powder. One day, Harry finally manages to engage Pablo in a discussion, but Pablo responds to all of Harry’s theoretical discourse by saying that music has nothing to do with good taste, right, wrong, or education. Instead, music is about creating as much, as well, and as intensely as possible. Harry tries to defend higher, spiritual music, but he cannot argue against Pablo’s firm belief that music is made first and foremost to give pleasure.
One night, Harry is feeling particularly upset about his newfound hedonism. He is practically on the verge of cursing Hermine and going back to his original plan to commit suicide. However, when he enters his room he finds that the beautiful Maria is lying in his bed. Maria has arrived at Hermine’s request, and Hermine wants Harry to make love to Maria. That night, Harry sleeps with Maria.
Rather than feeling that Maria defiles his spirituality, Harry finds that she is its “worthy fulfillment.” The next day, he rents a room in a nearby neighborhood for their amorous meetings. Even though Harry is not Maria’s only lover, he is drunk with the sensual delights she provides. Being with her is the first time since his downfall that he has been excited about his life. Through the feeling Maria kindles in him, and through all the sensual arts she teaches him, Harry recalls all the romantic affairs of his life, as well as all the friendships. He realizes that these experiences constitute his life’s wealth.
Harry learns more about Maria and Hermine’s life of champagne, drugs, and wealthy men. He also learns about the accoutrements of love affairs and about the small gifts that lovers give each other. Like Hermine, Maria is infatuated with the young Pablo, who is apparently another of her lovers. In fact, at one point Pablo suggests that the three of them have an ménage à trois, but Harry vigorously objects. Another time, Pablo asks Harry for money, suggesting, to Harry’s horror, that he take that night with Maria in exchange.
In the three weeks preceding the annual Fancy Dress Ball organized by the Society of Artists, Harry continues to feel connected to Hermine, who understands him well. On the day before the ball, she comes to his apartment, and they have a long, intense talk. Harry explains that although he has been happy with Maria, he does not feel right about the happiness because it does not lead anywhere and because he is not made for such contentment. What Harry really wants is to suffer beautifully and long for death. Hermine understands Harry and explains that for him, as for her, life has not asked the great sacrifices and achievements they are both prepared to make. Instead it has offered a gaudy whirl of stupid, ephemeral tricks. Hermine says that the two of them are among those who suffer because they have a “dimension too many,” and she speaks of a kingdom of “eternity” that exists after death, a kingdom to which all of the geniuses and saints and heroes of history belong.
Inspired by Hermine’s words, Harry writes a poem about the perfect, unchanging “immortals.” He is amazed that Hermine has managed to understand his deepest, half-conscious sentiments so well. He feels that she understands him almost too well. Harry even begins to suspect that she has somehow drawn the feelings out of him. He spends the night before the ball with Maria, who has a premonition that this is the last time they will be together. Harry suspects that Hermine will claim him at the ball.
As the Treatise has claimed, Harry gradually begins to discover that he has many souls or identities. During the period when Hermine teaches him to dance and Maria teaches him to love, Harry develops the various personalities that lie latent within each person. He himself begins to see his so-called soul as an ever-growing collection of souls. Harry’s increasing intimacy with Pablo and Maria in the external world is symbolic of the internal development he is undergoing, creating multiple internal parts of himself. Yet Harry senses that this proliferation is not an end in itself: the generation of Harry’s many different parts has accomplished the job of breaking the stereotype of the Steppenwolf. However, it remains to be seen how the Steppenwolf is taught to accept all of these parts, and how it is taught to laugh.
One way to interpret Steppenwolf is to dismiss the magic qualities of its odd happenings and credit them instead to the heated, insistent imagination of a desperate, teetering, aging man. Harry’s response to Maria is sudden and total; he had previously been so focused on books and music that sexual experience is completely foreign and mysterious to him. The account of Harry’s love affair with Maria can come across as sincere and touching, but it can also seem terribly embarrassing. When they dance and make love, Harry is very conscious and shy about the fact that he is an old man, and he cannot imagine why a beautiful girl like Maria would choose to have anything to do with him. Harry’s concern suggests the possibility that all of his distaste for society is a result of his insecurity about his age. After all, until Harry meets Hermine, the story of the Steppenwolf is just a document of social debacle after social debacle.
Hesse likely intends the reader to sympathize with Harry’s infatuation, however. Deeply influenced by Asian philosophy, Hesse’s brand of mystical symbolism embraced both spiritual and physical aspects of human life. Maria is a total incarnation of the physical, sensual sphere. Some critics have pointed out the reductive simplicity of this opposition between physical and spiritual life, accusing Hesse of chauvinism for using a woman as a representative of anti-intellectualism. Despite Hesse’s best attempts to credit Maria with being wise in her own ways—the ways of love—she often comes across as false and forced. As a result, when Hermine discusses the suffering that belongs to those with “a dimension too many,” we are left with the uncomfortable suspicion that she lacks an adequate understanding of the true complexities of other people. Whatever the case, we can see that by the Fancy Dress Ball Harry has made up his mind: the only two options for people like him are a life of beautiful suffering or a noble, paradoxically immortal death.