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“Steppenwolf” acerbically awakens an arpeggio

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

Photo by Malcolm Streitfeld

Disclaimer: This book focuses heavily on suicide and depression. Only read this one if you are comfortable reading about these topics.

A while back, I accidentally stumbled across Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf.” Having never heard of Hesse or Steppenwolf before I didn’t know what to make of the novel. I then put it back and decided to read something else. Then just last year, I discovered the book again, this time now having a hazy recollection of hearing Hesse’s name once or twice, and promptly put it on my reading list. However, it’s a wee little thing and quickly I lost track of it again. As a result, earlier this month when I did want to read this book, it had gone missing.

Turns out it was lying behind the other books on one of the shelves in my literary cabinet. “Steppenwolf” was a fast-paced thrill ride, and I finished it quickly. However, it is only just now, as I write this review, do I realize what the book means to me. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the plot and go from there.

“Steppenwolf” is a tale put onto paper by the titular Steppenwolf, who chooses to stay at the framing narrator’s house one night. The framing narrator discovers the Steppenwolf’s manuscript after he departs, describing his life in detail. This is where our story begins.

The Steppenwolf, also known as Harry Haller, is a shadow stalking the streets. Devoid of purpose and dead set on cutting his own throat with a razor, Haller’s journey one evening is interrupted when he stumbles across a book that speaks to the beast lurking within.

That’s all I can say without spoilers, so let's move on to what the book means to me. I have always hated the angry part of myself, the part of myself that sometimes lashes out and holds grudges for petty reasons. I’m a kind and forgiving person at heart and so it's difficult for me to fully understand myself whenever I get upset. For the longest time, I rejected and suppressed this resentment that I saw as “negative.”

Thankfully, I have grown by now. I now see that the only way for a person to move on with their life is to accept that these emotions will always exist within them. Everyone has their own Steppenwolf, their own demon to face. It is only when we are at our lowest points can we truly face ourselves, come to terms with who we are and start to fix what’s broken. Each of us has a song to sing, and sometimes that song will howl out as an arpeggio, a broken chord of pain and fear.

Perhaps that’s precisely why I think Hesse’s story can speak to any kind of reader. Eventually, all of our arpeggios will ultimately converge and resonate through the collective consciousness of mankind. Hesse is a deeply philosophical writer, equal parts stark and captivating. His novel is the tale of a destroyed man rising from the ruins of his life transformed, forged iron by the fires of tragedy.

For someone trying to understand their anger, this is the perfect read. But really, it can be tackled by anyone interested in a haunting exploration of the human psyche.


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