Hesse published Steppenwolf in 1927, after a failed marriage and two subsequent years of debauchery. Harry Haller’s age, profession, intellectual interests, and unpopular pacifist journalism match Hesse’s own. Hesse suggests that Harry is actually a reflection of himself. Just as the concept of “the Steppenwolf” is useful to Harry for self-analytical purposes, Harry is useful to Hesse as an illuminating fictional construction.

Harry is more like a theoretical framework than a believable, realistic character. He appears out of nowhere, inhabits a nameless space, and disappears again into nowhere when his usefulness evaporates. Harry is also an engaging character. The more mundane aspects of his existence—his admiration of his favorite wine, his embarrassment about his aging, his physical sufferings—are refreshingly lifelike and endearing. These touches soften Harry’s seemingly boundless despair and self-absorption.