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.
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