Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. Why do you suppose Hesse places such emphasis on the Magic Theater? What is the relation between magic and spectacle in the novel, and why should this relation be of interest to Hesse?
2. Think of all the ways in which mirrors function in the novel. What significance do they have in the Steppenwolf’s quest for himself and the writer’s quest for artistic form?
3. Using Steppenwolf as evidence, why do you think Hesse was so popular with the hippie counterculture of 1960s America?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. The critic Eugene Stelzig calls Harry Haller the “Hessean psychonaut par excellence.” The image of the Steppenwolf as a voyager of the inner world is an apt one. How do the spaces through which Haller physically travels in the novel match the psychic stages through which he passes? (Consider, for example, the bourgeois space of the landlady’s lodging house in contrast to the subterranean dens of dancers and musicians.)
2. How are we to understand the character of Hermine? Is she a mother, a friend, a sister, a lover, or every one of those things? What is her significance in relation to Harry? Is she an other, or a part of the same?
3. At the Fancy Dress Ball, Harry considers that the event is “all a fairy tale,” “fanciful and symbolic,” and endowed with “a new dimension, a deeper meaning.” In what ways does Steppenwolf conform to the structure and logic of a traditional fairy tale, and in what ways does it not?
4. From what we know of Hesse’s background and history, much of Steppenwolf clearly stems from real events in his life. What are the implications of this for the novel? Does it alter our sense of Steppenwolf’s genre? How does the confessional nature of the work influence our reception of it?
5. By the end of the novel, Harry has learned to approach the modern world with humor, though not with acceptance and contentment. Do you think his earlier concerns and criticisms have been borne out in the intervening years? What aspects of the second half of the twentieth century do you think Harry—or Hesse—would have felt most conformed to his predictions?
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