Last Updated 11 Feb 2021


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The story of Steppenwolf (1927) is the Herman Hesse’s most widely read book. The main character Harry Hiller, Steppenwolf, is influenced by Hesse’s exposure to Western philosophers as well as Indian and Chinese philosophy. Concepts of Eastern spiritual wisdom which Hesse was interested in can be seen in the novel. Following the record of Harry Hiller’s manuscript, Hesse exposes the struggle of human mind through describing the lack of acceptance, rejection, broken dreams and division in the society and individuality to the readers. This is a realistic picture of despair, depression and isolation.

Eastern wisdom such as Indian and Chinese philosophy plays an important role in the structure of the novel. The introduction of ‘magic theatre’ in the novel exudes a sense of transcendence from place and time. In effect, ‘magic theatre’ brings about a tinge of Eastern charm and Indian cultural identity. Indian philosophy on the discovery about ‘centrality of consciousness’ states that dualistic nature exists in individuals. Personal identity of the ‘Witness self’ is the crucial point of our individual nature, and is also utilized in the realization of the Absolute Self.

The Indian spiritual and philosophical wisdom sees the finite self characterized by the individual ‘I’. The concept of such relates to physical body and mind, and prevents the individual from engaging with the infinite self. Infinite self expands the finite mind a soul and realizes our true unification with the ‘Godhead’. Hesse incorporates this ideology into the Immortals for example, Hermine, as well as the human part of Steppenwolf. Harry cannot be a peace with himself due to his wolf inner tendencies.

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He cannot gain peace in society because everyone else is fixated on the finite self. The only way Steppenwolf can achieve unity with the Godhead is through suicide. (Kheper, 2001) The ideology of Chinese philosophy also can be seen in novel. The themes of Confucianism emphasize the importance of humaneness towards others (ren), righteousness (Yi), integrity and human-heartedness. (Confucianism, n. d. ) Fairness and devotion of one’s life passively for the sake of moral value of ren and yi are considered trademarks of honor. Cheung, 1999) Steppenwolf despises bourgeois society. When he attempts to reveal his true identity, in order to gain acceptance, individuals who are used to order, logic and restraint are frightened. These individuals are the representative of middle class. The middle class’ commitment to respectability, responsibility, and morality reflect the Confucian thought and the sense of honor. Taoist theory argues that individuals move through a series of state of being in order to search for immortality.

Taoist theory focuses on the interrelationship between humanity and the cosmos, promoting harmony and peace with nature and the universe. (Herzog,n. d. ) Both teachings of Confucianism and Taoism are present in Steppenwolf. Harry’s numerous encounters and experiences revealed aspects of his true nature and this prepared his participation into the Magic Theatre. In the Magic Theatre, the Steppenwolf is forced to confront his multiple souls, his past and his future. At last, he is told that he simply takes life too seriously.

The concept of change in the Magic Theatre mirrors the Taoist theory of changing states. Hesse’s other writing, Siddhartha, tells the story of a young Indian man’s journey of seeking spiritual knowledge and salvation. This book is published in 1921 and it has become the culmination of Hesse’s studies of Eastern philosophy. In Siddhartha Eastern wisdom is an essential foundation for the religious and philosophical ideas of the narrative. (Herzog, n. d. ) Elements of Eastern wisdom such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism can be seen from this work.

The ending of Siddhartha turns to be more Taoistic than Indian. The master of Taoism Lao-Tse says that the gentlest overcomes the strongest. One instance in the writing, Hesse’s description of Siddhartha’s merging into ‘unity’ displays the core idea of the doctrine of Tao. In the novel, it states that ‘real doing is that same as suffering; both are the execution of fate; to wait, to submit. ’ This is the teaching of the Vedanta and of Lao-Tse. Siddhartha delivers himself to God’s will as the result of waking by God.

This is synonymous with the idea of accepting the inevitable fate, the enlightened passiveness of the Chinese-Taoistic philosophy and the submission of the Bhagavad-Gita. When Siddhartha dissolved all conflicts after reaching a degree of intensification of feeling, Siddhartha had merged into unity. These words of Hesse can be referred to Lao-Tse’s Tao Te King: ‘Can you discipline your soul to embrace the one without destroying itself? (Herzog, n. d. ) Although Hesse was brought up in a Pietist family, however his later visit to India in 1911 initiated his study of Eastern religions. His discovery of eastern mysteries and religious belief are reflected in his work.


  1. List Confucianism (n. d. ) Retrieved at 20th of May From http://confucianism. freehostingguru. com/ cheung
  2. L,P (1999), Confucian Ethic of Death with Dignity and its contemporary Relevance Retrieved from http://arts. hkbu. edu. hk/~pclo/e5. pdf
  3. Herzog, PH. (n. d. ) Hermann Hesse and China II Chinese influence in Siddhartha; Steppenwolf and the journey to the east.
  4. Kheper, (2001), Eastern Philosophy, The centrality of consciousness-the ego and the self, retrieved from http://www. kheper. net/topics/eastern/ego_and_Self. htm
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