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The Beauty of Music
Music as a solace to the soul is a recurrent theme in the novel. Throughout his life, Hesse was drawn to music, learning to play the flute and violin. Many of the characters in his books are musicians or at least appreciate the spirituality of music. In Steppenwolf, Pablo is the musician and Haller is the lover of music.
Pablo is symbolic of the new twentieth century music, represented by his sensuous modern jazz. When Haller first hears his cacophonous saxophone notes, he calls it the music of decline. He feels that only classical tunes, the music of the Immortals, has any soul. As he is taught to shed his inhibitions, Haller begins to appreciate Pablo's music and even learns to dance to it. He knows, however, that contemporary music will never be immortal like the music of Mozart.
Throughout the novel, Haller listens to or talks about music. He explains that classical music, with its order and crispness, is true abstract beauty. He often goes to classical concerts to soothe his weary soul. He also uses musical images. He sees Brahms and Wagner heading a wearisome procession of black notes, indicating his view on romantic melodies. Before Haller finds Maria in bed, he appropriately hears the music of the great composer, Bach, transporting him into a vision of eternity. As Pablo brings Haller to self-recognition and acceptance, the musician fades into the figure of Mozart, the great Immortal whose music cannot be destroyed by modern culture. The novel even closes with a musical allusion: "Pablo was waiting for me; and Mozart too." This closing statement indicates a reconciliation between the two types of music, jazz and classical. It also indicates a reconciliation in Haller's soul.
Throughout his life, Hesse hated modern science and technology. He was critical of the bourgeois love for material goods and society's enthusiasm for new machines, many of which had been invented at the time of Steppenwolf. Hesse regarded the newspaper, the gramophone, the cinema, and the radio as threats to the real culture that he loved. Haller, as Hesse's mouthpiece, also hates these technological advances. He equates reading the newspaper with wasting time. He regards the gramophone as a detestable instrument suitable only for jazz music. He is appalled by the fact that cinema is a source of cheap entertainment. He is horrified at the radio, which he considers to be a tool for the extermination of art. Haller's dislike for the machines is so intense that despite being a pacifist, he joins the battle between men and machines in the Magic Theater.
Hesse strongly believed that technological advances and mechanization led to the decline of Western culture. According to him, modern man forgot spiritual values, replacing them with a desire for physical comfort and material possessions. In addition, machines caused a slide into decadence, for they took true art away from the masses and caused a laziness amongst the people. On the radio or record player, art is never really experienced, but is passively enjoyed.
The Criticism Of German Nationalism
Steppenwolf criticizes German nationalism throughout the novel. He criticizes the Germans for their belief that they are a superior race and castigates them for their thirst for war. He attacks the unthinking patriotism of the German intellectuals. Haller, like Hesse, loses his reputation for voicing his opinions against popular German thought. Like Hesse, he is also considered to be a traitor.