I am amazed how powerful this novel is almost 40 years after I originally read it. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse speaks to our duality, that part of us that is “human” and that part the novel describes as “wolf,” or the shadow side we try to hide. But, as Hesse suggests, we are more than these two limitations.
The novel proposes that our plight as humans may be to learn to enjoy the daily and the mundane, to embrace life’s pleasure and surrender ourselves to intimacy, while suffering the pangs of loneliness, isolation and abandon — the pain of knowing there is something more we can’t attain. Perhaps that attainment is locked into the daily routine. Perhaps it is hidden in the joys of sharing with others or within the human encounters when we let ourselves experience the emotion of the moment and subdue the intellect. Perhaps it is all of these.
There is a way to transcend our plight and get lost in Steppenwolf’’s world of blurred lines. Hesse wants us to learn to laugh:
“Now, true humor begins when a man ceases to take himself seriously.”
While humor is not the answer to everything, it does seem to fit many scenarios. Laugh at the ambiguities and the unfairness of life. Laugh at ourselves trying to understand them. Laugh and we can begin to live consciously, not just as a prelude to death.
Perhaps laughter teaches us what Harry, the main character, discovers: There is more to us than our personality. Life isn’t just a duality of man and wolf. There is another level — the spiritual or mystical world. Part of us lives there, too. To get there, we must let go, laugh and enter an unknown, sometimes scary world. Harry does. He reluctantly enters the “mystic union of joy” and escapes his personality, or the “prison where you lie.” There is so much more to us. We can transcend the two parts of us, the civilized, tamed human and the wild and instinctive wolf or shadow side. We need to let go of one in order to not fear the other. Then we can rise above both and glimpse that other world of spirit.
This novel shows more than the importance of finding an equilibrium between the “human” and the “shadow” within. This is a chance to enter and get lost in a bizarre environment where you may find that other dimension, an opportunity to accept that the world we see isn’t the only reality. That blurring line between what we think we know and what we sense gets even less clear. And that is the good news.
A mystic journey with laughter as we transcend our humanity and accept our spirituality.
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