Tread lightly. For weary hearts ONLY. The happily content, beware!
Steppenwolf, by Herman Hesse, is a novel perfect for the kids who perpetually have a single tear rolling down their cheek. You know who you are, with your vintage band tee, dark circles under your eyes and “kicked puppy” vibe. Not that I’m one to judge. I too have spent many a Friday night in my figurative basement listening to shoegaze, writing poetry and sobbing into a crisp bag of Juanitas.
Fellow introspective teen, you would likely identify with protagonist, Harry Haller, if like me, you carry an air of cultural superiority and simultaneous longing for outward validation. Harry Haller, like the common dreary teen, hasn’t the slightest clue of who he is,though, he thinks he does. As did I when I came home from Hot Topic in sixth grade shamelessly dawning a Nevershoutnever! t-shirt and a pair of fingerless gloves.
Haller thought that happiness lay in the solitude of his own judging mind and that only he could see beauty with his hyper critical eye. But with the help of a spritely young woman, he woke to the true beauty of life. Admittingly, I was bitter that he only wanted to escape suffering after a pretty girl told him to, but really, who doesn’t change themselves, eagerly, at the chance of getting laid?
I love this book because it’s timeless. People had angsty identity crises in the 20’s, when Steppenwolf was written, and people certainly still have them now. Teenagers like us most of all. Herman Hesse’s poetic writing style also exemplifies how it feels to be a teen: that constant sense of drama and urgency; That persistent feeling of now or never. His writing feels like all of the firsts: the first love, the first heartbreak, the first fight, and leaving home for the first time.
The focal point of Steppenwolf is Harry Haller being torn between the man and the wolf (which he takes so seriously that he strictly refers to himself as Steppenwolf, meaning wolf of the Steppes.) Like Haller, we teens feel constantly torn between adulthood and childhood, never knowing how to act or feel. In Steppenwolf, Harry Haller learns how to reconcile his conflicting identities which in turn brings him peace and happiness. We can learn from Harry. By the time Harry accepted the complexity of his identity, he was old and well on his way towards the Forever Nap. But we’re young and have so much life ahead of us. We don’t have to waste our lives fighting internal wars. We can make peace with wolf and man and learn to love all the crooked parts of us.
Words by Kaya Noteboom
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