Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | MonkeyNotes
FORM AND STRUCTURE
Steppenwolf is a "framework" novel, meaning that it has a realistic introduction to a narrative that may be unrealistic. The framework form provides a contrast between the commonsense Preface and the dreamlike adventures that constitute the body of the novel. The Preface gives an objective portrait of Harry Haller. Although it appears as an introduction, the Preface is presented as having been written some years after Haller has gone, and it covers the whole period of his stay in the lodging house.
A second departure from conventional narrative is the "Treatise on the Steppenwolf," the mysterious pamphlet that gives Harry a psychological portrait of himself at the beginning of his adventure. In most editions this section is physically set off from the body of the novel by a change in type and page layout, as though it were in fact a pamphlet bound into the volume.
The main body of the novel is called "Harry Haller's Records," with the subheading "For Madmen Only." The first-person narrative that begins here flows steadily forward, with no chapter divisions but only occasional spaces in the text to indicate a change of time or scene. The crossings between the real and the imaginary are not signaled except by content.
The story appears to follow chronological order but, like the characters and events, time also has a dreamlike distortion, being sometimes stretched, sometimes compressed. Harry refers confusingly to things happening "today," "yesterday," "last night." Only by reading carefully can you determine that Harry's entire adventure, excluding the Preface but including his acquiring and reading the Treatise, takes place within a period of five or six weeks.
Breaking into the narrative flow of Harry's adventures are his interior monologues, in which he bares his thoughts and memories to the reader. These offer still another portrait of Harry, an intellectual one, revealing his observations and opinions on the world around him, its arts, and the state of its society. They also serve as flashbacks, giving his personal history before the time of the novel.
The Magic Theater experience carries the novel to its climax. Here Harry experiences past, future, and present as they exist together in his unconscious where memories, hopes, and unfulfilled drives are forever stored. His adventures sweep tumultuously to his predicted murder of Hermine, and then decline from that high point to end without a clear resolution of Harry's fate, except that he will go on living and trying.
In terms of literary experiment, the framework form is not new. But the blend of outer and inner worlds, political and social argument, and experiences drawn from the unconscious-all in terms of the hero's quest for self-realization-constitute a literary innovation for its time. When you read Steppenwolf, you will actually read three books with three authors, three points of view, and three portraits of Harry. Some see the Magic Theater sequence as a fourth portrait. Do you?