Steppenwolf

by: Hermann Hesse

Symbols

Main ideas Symbols
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Mirrors

In a novel concerned with the discovery of the self and its pluralities, mirrors occupy a central symbolic niche. The voyage in the Magic Theater is one long look into a hallucinatory fun-house mirror. Even the “Treatise on the Steppenwolf” may be seen as a mirror made of words, one that speaks back to Harry specifically. Of the novel’s other, subtler mirrors, Hermine is the most important. She recognizes her mirroring function, declaring that she serves as Harry’s much-needed looking glass. Harry himself later notes that gazing at Hermine is like gazing into a mirror. Yet, as much as Hermine reflects Harry, she also draws out of him those aspects of himself to which he has previously been blind. Articulating the feelings that are hidden inside Harry, Hermine draws out both the expression of these feelings and Harry’s realization of their existence.

The Radio

Harry’s relationship to the radio—the quintessential incarnation of the shabby mediocrity of modern life—is fraught with distrust, disgust, and foreboding. Harry distrusts the radio’s warping of music, and feels disgusted that the general populace tolerates and fails to notice such defilement. Harry’s negative feelings blind him to any positive interpretation of the radio, as we see in his conversation with his landlady over tea. After touching on some of the interesting philosophical implications of the radio, Harry quickly gets sidetracked into an angry polemic.

The Araucaria Plant

Harry sees the araucaria plant in the vestibule of an apartment in his lodging house as the ultimate symbol of bourgeois order and moderation. Everything about the plant, which is spotlessly clean and obviously cared for devotedly, bespeaks the routines and rhythms of bourgeois life. Harry experiences nostalgia for such a life, but he also feels excluded from it. The araucaria is thus both a beacon of a lost world and a symbol of the narrow-minded, shortsighted bourgeoisie that Harry scorns.