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POINT OF VIEW

Since Steppenwolf is composed of three different first-person narratives, each of them contributes to the story of Harry Haller from a different point of view. The narrator of the Preface, the landlady's nephew, is a man of conventional opinions and prejudices who gives a portrait of Haller as he appears to the middle-class world. However, he makes some shrewd observations about Harry Haller's gifts, his unhappiness, and his way of life, which this observer calls "suicidal."

The second point of view is that of the Treatise on the Steppenwolf. The pamphlet is a psychological portrait of Harry. It is written in the first-person plural, but this appears to be an editorial "we" until near the end of the Treatise, when it refers to "our" mirrors and "our" Magic Theaters. From this hint the authors appear to be the ghostly Immortals whom Harry admires and hopes to join.

As the authors of the Treatise, the Immortals are all-knowing-indeed, they know more about Harry than anyone other than Harry himself. They explain the confusions and contradictions in his personality. They know his past and present life and they predict his possible future. They pass judgment on Harry's errors in self-understanding and instruct him how to do better. Their tone is that of patient professors speaking to a student who tries hard but is not very bright.

The third narrator is Harry Haller himself, and the novel becomes his first-person account of a magical, dreamlike experience. This narrative, which forms the bulk of the novel, has been interpreted in several ways: as a hallucinatory, drug-induced "trip," as a record of the author's actual psychoanalysis, and as an artist's exploration of his own dream world.


The first interpretation-that the novel represents a drug-induced "trip"- triggered the wave of popularity for both the book and its author with the American drug culture of the Sixties. Ironically, this is the least likely of the three interpretations. Hesse's biographers are all in agreement that this respectable middle-aged intellectual was neither a drug user nor an advocate of drug use. His most radical, "anti-establishment" principles were his anti-war and anti-Nazi stands.

One possibility for you to consider is that all three points of view are intended by the author as Harry Haller's-or Hesse's-own view of himself.

The first narrator is Haller/Hesse imagining how he appears to the middle-class society that he detests.

The second, the "we" of the Treatise, would be a psychological self-portrait as he might see himself, looking down like the Immortals from a detached, superior height.

The third is Haller/Hesse pursuing the solution to his difficulties through the labyrinth of his unconscious. Obviously Hesse, as the author, is the creator of all three narrators. But if you like this further twist-that both the nephew's and the Immortals' account of Haller are also Haller's own creations-then you may see in it a streak of Hesse's humor.

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