Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews March 4, 2024
February 26, 2024
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas
explored in a literary work.
Steppenwolf describes Harry Haller’s
unusual, tragic condition. He is torn between two selves: a man-half
who desires the respectability and comforts of bourgeois existence,
and a wolf-half who scoffs at these vain, absurd desires. Although
Hesse returns to this dichotomy throughout the novel, he also frequently
dismisses it as overly simplistic and exaggerated. According to
the “Treatise on the Steppenwolf,” the idea that Harry is composed
of these two selves is useful in theory, but, like all such theoretical
constructs, is ultimately unable to capture the complexity and richness
of reality. According to the Treatise, “Harry consists of a hundred
or a thousand selves, not of two.” Moreover, this is true not only
in Harry’s case but is an inherent condition of mankind.
The idea of multiple identities is most fully explored
in the Magic Theater at the novel’s close. Pablo speaks of the theater
as a place in which to perform the dissolution of the personality.
Behind one of the strange doors, a man closely resembling Pablo
teaches Harry that the individual is comprised of innumerable selves
that may be reconfigured in varying ways, like chess pieces. Drawing
upon the Eastern ideas of reincarnation and transmigration of the
soul into infinite bodies, and upon the psychoanalytic theories
of Carl Jung, Hesse articulates a highly personal hypothesis of
the multifaceted nature of the soul.
In her most intense and revealing discussion with Harry,
on the day before the Fancy Dress Ball, Hermine emphasizes something
she calls “eternity.” Eternity exists “at the back of time.” It
is the realm of all the things that matter—works of genius by artists
like Mozart, the strength and potency within all true feelings and
acts, and the pure saints and suffering martyrs.
Hermine’s speech provides the clearest formulation of
Hesse’s idea of such a world beyond time. Other figures in Steppenwolf refer to
it in more or less straightforward terms; Goethe for instance, speaks
of the mistake man commits in making too much of time. Indeed, the
mere fact of Harry’s encounters with past geniuses points to their
continuing existence in some realm freed from the mechanism of time.
More subtly, the idea of existence beyond time crops up as a frequent
sensation whenever Harry is operating correctly. Caught up in the
collective dancing fervor at the ball, for instance, Harry says
that he has “lost the sense of time.”
Since Steppenwolf is meant to be an
educational text, Hesse develops the idea of a world beyond in tandem
with his other major ideas in the novel. The laughter of the “immortals”
is one way of entering into the world of eternity. Likewise, the
failure to recognize the existence of multiple selves within the
individual may be linked to an insufficient consciousness of timelessness.
Indeed, when Harry looks into the gigantic mirror of the Magic Theater,
he sees dozens of Harrys of all sizes, inclinations, and temperaments.
One Harry even darts off impetuously before Harry’s astonished eyes.
Being thus intertwined with the other major ideas of the novel,
the existence of a space beyond time in a sense provides the soul
of these ideas. Laughter may offer a way to confront life, but it
is eternity that holds the key to the reason for doing so. Hesse
suggests that our actions struggling on behalf of goodness and genius
do matter in the large-scale view.
Steppenwolf recounts the drama of a conflicted,
despairing individual’s quest to resolve his internal difficulties
so that he may once again live life. The novel offers a straightforward
solution to this problem: laughter. Each source of wisdom in the
story—the “Treatise on the Steppenwolf,” Goethe, Hermine, Pablo,
and Mozart—advises Harry that laughter is the correct approach to
life. Laughter tinkles coldly and beautifully at all of the novel’s
most intense, breakthrough moments, and the story finally closes
on Harry’s determined resolution to learn how to laugh.
Hesse’s notion of laughter is complex. It is neither
an escape from life into pleasure and entertainment nor a recasting
of the darker sides of existence with an artificial rosy light.
Rather, the laughter that the enlightened possess pierces through
the serious traumas of existence while at the same time superseding
and transcending them. Though Harry has been correct in finding
human existence full of horrors, the appropriate response to this
knowledge is not to destroy one’s life through obsession with the
ultimate failure. Instead, one must struggle and at the same time
laugh at the world’s mess.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Steppenwolf!