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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
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.
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.
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Steppenwolf!