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Thread: Why does Haller kill Hermine?

  1. #1
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    Why does Haller kill Hermine?

    I've just re-read Hesse's Steppenwolf. The first reading, 10 years ago, was a struggle. This time round I was transfixed. The whole novel abounded with significance for me. I am left with many thoughts and questions, but would appreciate anyone's take on why Haller kills Hermine. Very shortly after their first meeting Hermine alludes to the fact that Haller will eventually kill her. She says, it will be her last request of him, and that he will comply. When the moment finally comes, Haller finds her and Pablo naked and asleep in one of the rooms at the magic theatre. He stabbs her in her sleep (I cannot see where she requested he kill her). Pablo later critises Haller for having sullied the magic theatre with reality and says he hopes that Haller's motive for killing Hermine was jealousy.

    Now, the boundaries between reality and fantasy are blurred throughout the novel. Hence, the Hermine character may never have existed independently but only in Haller's imagination. In fact, there are strong indications that Hermine exists only as a part of Haller's personality, which he attempts to de-construct in the final pages of the book. Is the killing, then, an act of immaturity? The act of a man who feels he has no choice, but to act according to his conditioning? I don't know.

  2. #2
    Registered User pagebypage's Avatar
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    Feb 2009
    Let me preference my reply with the comment that I am not a big Hesse fan. Anyone who needs long soliloquies to move his story rather than through character development and action will always be second rate for me. But you pose an interesting question.

    I can't say whether the character Hermine is real but I don't think it really matters. The nut of the story doesn't lie with this Nietzschean red-herring of the wolf inside. It lies in the Magic Theater. Hesse is displaying the fractured ego as it appears to those who enter deep meditation. Maybe it's buddhist meditation, maybe not; the rest of his work shows a muddled understanding of buddhism so let's give him the benefit of the doubt and rate it so. Then Hermine is the last struggle--the sex drive. The Buddha himself related that if the sex drive was any stronger he would not have managed enlightenment. So when Pablo asks him whether he killed her out of jealousy, he was inquiring as to whether the action was based in desire (still clinging) or whether he is letting go of her and the desire itself. Just the kind of question a meditation master would ask his disciple after a supposed breakthrough. A bit of a reach interpretationally--absolutely. But if it's Hesse its all a mess!

  3. #3
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Feb 2007
    They are all the same character - he destroys the rift between them, as he no longer needs/wants the aspect of Hermione, after he has absorbed it into his main personality.

    All the characters are aspects of Heller, with the exception of perhaps Maria.
    Last edited by JBI; 02-07-2009 at 01:43 PM.

  4. #4
    Registered User Red-Headed's Avatar
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    I am starting to re-read Steppenwolf. I always thought that Hermine represented an anima figure.
    docendo discimus

  5. #5
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    great question, i have often wondered the same thing. Hermann kills Hermine in the end and its strange, and leaves you wondering why, but Hermine told hermann he would kill her in the magic theatre long before he actually did,

    if to be a representation of the ANIMA, that still does not really explain why he kills her. maybe as a realization that he didn't have to because the novel ends by him saying he would do better next time. this may have to do with hermans relationship with his wife, if you do a little research you will see they had a strained relationship and both sort of broke downaround the writing of demian before steppenwolf, but yeah it is interesting to think of why he killed hermine.

  6. #6
    Registered Gorilla Tom Voke's Avatar
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    Jul 2009
    That depends on the observer.
    Link to Anima/Carl Jung wiki

    Hesse was born 1877, Jung 1875. Hesse died 1962, Jung 1961.

    "Jung believed anima development has four distinct levels, which he named Eve, Helen, Mary, and Sophia."

    I don't remember Eve being in the book but another reading may find her. Eve may be Rosa, his fist love.

    Helen is probably Hermine, Maria probably Mary, and Haller was reading "Sophia's Journey from Memel to Saxony." Coincidence? I think not ;) If one reads the descriptions of each stage in the wiki (which probably excludes Rosa from being Eve, and probably why there is no Eve that I can remember) they correspond somewhat to the characters presented.

    Hermine was obviously not named Helen since "Hermine" pretty much explains that she is in fact Herman Hesse/Harry Haller and that this is an autobiography, hence the sometimes unbearable, "long soliloquies" ;) If one wants an autobiography, one will need a few "long soliloquies" (which one will find absent or well done in "Siddhartha" and "Narcissus and Goldmund"). This is not a book about character development, but rather personality disassembly/assembly/inspection, although one may argue, and I will concede, that the two are not far apart. Also note that in the tavern on their first encounter Hermine reminded Harry of Rosa, although Harry noted that Rosa had a darker complexion. Since "Eve" generalizes all females as evil and powerless, perhaps this reference to Rosa circumvents and disposes of Eve purposefully.

    Hermine also guesses that Harry wishes to commit suicide. "Jung stated that the anima/animus archetype was not totally unconscious, calling it 'a little bit conscious and unconscious'". This would explain the interplay between Harry and Hermine. Hermine knows much about Harry, Harry little if naught about Hermine, yet she reminds him of something very familiar. Note too that at their fist meeting, Harry, just before Hermine orders him to go to sleep (interesting in and of itself) takes out a cigar but finds no matches and has no inclination to smoke it and puts it down on the table in front of himself. Harry views Hermine as a sister. However, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar so the Freud reference is uncertain.

    Upon their second meeting Hermine urges Harry to guess her name and actually reminds Harry that sometimes she looks like a boy. Harry recalls Herman, and Hermine "jokingly" says she may be a boy in woman's clothing. One does not get more obvious than this. Also recall that in the Masked Ball Hermine is dressed like a boy. Harry now tells Maria he must see Hermine and Maria bids him farewell forever. Hermine is in Hell and this fits one way or another with Harry's suffering. Sorry, but I'm getting a bit tired to attempt to explain that. I'd probably be wrong.

    And now to draw upon the wiki:


    The fourth and final phase of anima development is Sophia, named for the Greek word for wisdom. Complete integration has now occurred, which allows females to be seen and related to as particular individuals who possess both positive and negative qualities. The most important aspect of this final level is that, as the personification "Wisdom" suggests, the anima is now developed enough that no single object can fully and permanently contain the images to which it is related."

    I will take a guess that Hermine transforms into "a" Sofia and since "no single object can fully and permanently contain the images to which it is related" Harry must "kill" Hermine [this I have revised somewhat, somewhere below, I believe]. Pablo (who is actually Harry/Herman as well) does not seem to like this however, and neither does Mozart (also Pablo/Harry/Herman), so I'm not sure if my guess is a viable one.

    At the end Harry jumps to extremes. At one moment he is ready for Hermine, the next, he kills her (which would actually fit in with my guess). He is wise, then he is stupid. Mozart/Pablo implies he can restore Hermine so she can marry Harry as a punishment for Harry (although since Mozart tells Harry he is a coward for being willing to die, yet not to live, "punishment" and "reward" here apparently have opposite meanings).

    This has all the illogic of a dream (or my inability to "put it all together"), and a dream it surely is. Must Harry kill Hermine, is it natural and unavoidable (according to Jung)? Yet Harry/Mozart/Pablo/Herman does not approve of killing Hermine.

    Here the Steppenwolf, "from behind clenched teeth," tries to oppose Mozart but submits when Mozart becomes Pablo, along with the help of one of Pablo's cigarettes ;)

    Pablo "hopes" Hermine was killed out of jealousy (clinging--to refer to the poster pagebypage's comment), rather than a "desire" to let go--desire is desire ;) as Pablo wishes Harry to plunge into life and not intellection. Pablo says Harry made a mess "spattering our pretty picture world with the mud of reality." [Jung's symbols--click "Carl Jung's" in the first wiki link.]

    Hesse had already written Siddhartha in 1922. Steppenwolf seems out of place, being written in 1927. The order seems reversed. The author of Siddhartha seems to pretty much "have it." But then I don't claim to fully understand Steppenwolf, where the author seems not to understand what he wrote in Siddhartha.

    Hesse is writing about his first and probably moreso his second marriage, it seems. Here's a passage from a review of a book written in about 1980 but Hesse may have guessed as much.

    "One day, you're fighting, thinking about divorce and she tells you, "You're not the man I married!"

    You answer, "You're not the woman I married either!!"

    Punch line: YES SHE IS (and YES YOU ARE for that matter.)

    So why didn't you know this when you first met? Because the INVISIBLE PARTNERS were doing all of the dancing in the archetypal ballroom."

    The link to the book review is

    Archetypal ballroom is a big clue here (one the author quoted above may have gotten from Hesse, actually). Ballroom rings a bell, doesn't it ;) Harry had to learn to dance, to understand these animas.

    Harry "killed" Hermine, his anima (if she was not some other aspect of himself). He's not supposed to kill her. He's supposed to "understand" or apprehend it/her when he sees it as he looks at women. Because when you look at the "right" woman you are usually looking at your anima, not the woman.

    Pablo refers to Hermine as a figure (after he picked her up and she shrank) Harry did not know what to do with. Figure, symbol/archetype. Pablo/Mozart threaten to bring Hermine back and to have Harry marry her. That would be a punishment. He'd be marrying his anima, not the woman, perhaps that young lady in the picture in his room with whom he had a terrible fight (the author of the preface says the fight occured during the latter period of his stay: "...and an extremely violent, I may even say brutal, quarrel occured...).

    Again, Pablo says Harry made a mess "spattering our pretty picture world with the mud of reality." The Magic Theater is Harry's unconscious mind wherein, according to Jung, all archetypes exist, hence Harry's ability to come back again and be a general or speak with Alexander the Great.

    You can bring the unconscious to conscious view. But when you do, it doesn't mean it's still not confusing to you. It could be that Pablo means, you have seen your anima but you tried to kill it with a knife. You have seen your unconscious content and you mean to extinguish it literally, to commit physical suicide. It suffices that you understand it. You yearn for physical death but you haven't even learned to live with your unconscious content, or possibly, because of it (as I believe Hermine points out in their first meeting as well).

    You have brutally quarreled with your young "real world" lover (and probably terminated the relashionship), but you were mistaking your anima for the woman whom you quarreled with. That woman is not who you imagine her to be. She is not that picture in your head. You have killed the real woman with your mental image of who/what she is. You have also confused the imaginary woman for a real woman in the Magic Theater, and made a bloodly mess of it/her. I'm not sure how this last point is meant to be taken, if indeed it's meant to be taken as I write it here.

    The above is well muddled by me, no doubt because I am a muddler. However, any thinking person, and if you have read Steppenwolf you must be, should be able to slowly piece together what Hesse meant (knowing now that it requires at the least some Jung). I'm still working on my own final revision. I just finished reading Steppenwolf and came here to ask the same question as the original poster, and have been aided by the original poster and the subsequent posters and some Google work. I shall read Steppenwolf again.

    Steppenwolf, it seems, is difficult to understand unless one is familiar with Jung, probably Freud as well, and Buddhism and Zen Buddhism (I'm quite sure I read that Hesse was influenced by D.T Suzuki, as was Jung, who wrote an Introduction to one of Suzuki's books). In fact, I'd bet Hesse read Sermons of a Buddhist, 1913, later published in 1993 as Zen for Americans, by Soyen Shaku and translated by D.T. Suzuki. Suzuki's Translator's Preface is dated 1906 and I can see it being translated into German from the English, though of that I am not certain.

    Steppenwolf is difficult because it does not directly explain, or is not overtly "self-evident." Hess did a great job with Siddhartha and Narcissus and Goldmund in that they are mostly self contained. With Steppenwolf one needs to know Jung and some rudimentary Buddhism. Steppenwolf is also poetic in many places (I don't know German, the translations must suffice), and reading a translated poem is like reading a song without the notes. You read the words (translated words, no less) not the music, and the music can explain much. And owing to the various interpretations of Jung and Buddhism on top of that, Steppenwolf is not an easy read.

    For example, Rosa may very well be Eve. Harry did not get this initial stage "right" hence his "confusion," blah, blah, with women. Helen (Hermine) led him to Maria but they seem to be reversed. Unless Hermine is Sophia. In fact, Hermine is Sophia, I now believe. Harry is not ready for Hermine/Sophia so she brings him Maria/Mary.

    Harry got it upsidedown in the ending. He was "ready" (so he claims) for Hermine/Sophia, the next step, whatever you want to call it, the stage of complete integration. Hermine/Sophia wanted to be destroyed but, that was all really Harry's idea. I have to stop. I don't think it would be "way out there" for Hermine to be a shadow aspect, then, on further reflection, it was probably Harry Haller's Steppenwolf who was Hesse's shadow aspect.

    There appear to be many contradictions in my reasoning and there are surely many ways of interpreting. I'll have to read it again.

    Reading Steppenwolf is possibly like reading some of Dylan Thomas' more esoteric poems. You'll never understand them until you learn the "language" Thomas speaks in, and I don't mean English. It took me two years and more to decipher his symbolic way of speaking/writing. I enjoy his less complicated poems for that (Fern Hill, There Was A Saviour). But I'd have to read twenty or thirty other books and understand them the way Thomas did in order to understand some of his more difficult poems. And I seriously doubt I will ever attempt that. But I'll give Steppenwolf another go :)

    Points of note:

    Emil was the waiter Hermine spoke with during her second meeting with Harry. Emma was Jung's wife of 52 years. This might be a coincidence.

    I don't like the material the above link offers, but it may offer a tidbit or two of insight.
    Last edited by Tom Voke; 07-02-2009 at 05:56 AM.

  7. #7

    She is Him

    He has to kill her because she is him, the whole book is about the battle between himself and who he is to be. To be a dog to society or a wolf with the mad men. Hermonie is his connection both in and out. She is his introduction in to society, of love, a social life. That is why Pablo hopes he did it out of jealousy, because that is a societal tendancy. But when he kills her, in a mirror, he is killing his ego, and able to release his soul in to the eternal laughter.

    The whole point is that he has to kill his buddha. Hesse was a very deep fan of eastern thought, and always saw himself as being able to reach Nirvana or enlightenment. You can read the glass bead game to see if he did or not. he finished it the year he died, and makes it very clear if he reached Nirvana or not.

    He was definitly aware of the buddhist proverb of "killing the buddha". Which is about when you see the buddha you must kill him, and thus kill your ego. He was very close friends with Karl Jung, who was a big fan of this idea.

    long live the mad men.

    you get five points if you can guess where my name is from.

  8. #8
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    To go along the jungian lines i'd say

    Eve = Old woman he rents the room from
    Helen = Rosa
    Mary = Hermine at first sight, and dancing etc.
    Sophia = Hermine's end the party, te magic theatre, her tragic death, along with hallers realization after the fact

  9. #9
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    It is interesting to note when he arrives early on at the room he stays at he requests they do not tell the police of his arrival?...Is haller simply a murderer with a history of murder? Is hermine his first victim? Leads me to wonder.

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