Hermann Hesse Nudges Readers to Seek Enlightenment and the Meaning of Life

Hermann Hesse was a fiction writer and poet whose work was heavily influenced by Eastern mysticism.

While he didn't write self help books, his work caused readers to expand their thinking and undergo self inquiry.

He became very popular with the counter culture of the sixties, which promoted free thinking, spiritual experimentation, and psychedelics. His most notable works include "Siddhartha" and "Steppenwolf."

Background Of Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse was born in Germany on July 2, 1877. He lived to the age of 85 and died in Switzerland on August 9, 1962.

He had a strict upbringing and showed signs of depression at a young age. His grandfather spoke several languages and was a doctor of philosophy. He encouraged young Hermann Hesse to read from the volumes of world literature in his vast library. Reading, writing, and music were all important parts of his family life while growing up, and heavily influenced the course of his life.

Hesse's teen years were tumultuous. He became friends with the wrong crowd, became rebellious, and took up drinking. Depression continued to haunt Hesse and he even attempted suicide.

As a young adult, Hermann Hesse worked in a bookshop and surrounded himself with his love of reading. Soon he was writing poems and stories of his own. His first published works were failures, but slowly his writing became more popular.

Hermann Hesse continued to struggle with depression into his adult life. He sought relief from psychoanalysis and knew Carl Jung personally. Psychotherapy seemed to fuel his creativity and passion for writing.

During his long life he penned numerous poems, short stories, and books. The writings of Hermann Hesse touched so many people that he became world renowned. Schools were named after him in Germany, theatres where named after him in the United States.

The popularity of his books surged after his death in 1962 as the hippie movement embraced his theme of the quest for enlightenment. His books became popular reading among university students and some even became required for certain high school and college classes.

Hermann Hesse received numerous prestigious awards for his work throughout the decades of his career. In 1946, he earned the Nobel Prize in Literature for his book "The Glass Bead Game."

Important Books by Hermann Hesse

• "Siddhartha" was the ninth novel written by Hermann Hesse. It was originally published in 1922 and is still widely read today. It tells the story of a spiritual journey taken by an Indian man during the time of Buddha. It was written in German as was much of the other work by Hermann Hesse, and not published in the United States until 1951 when it went on to influence a generation of youth during the 60s. To better understand his character who was in pursuit of enlightenment, Hesse became reclusive while writing this book and immersed himself in Buddhist and Hindu teachings.

• "Steppenwolf" was published in 1927 and was the tenth book written by Hermann Hesse. This book was an international best seller although Hesse claimed his work was misunderstood. The story is about spiritual crisis and it combined autobiographical elements and was influenced by Hesse's obsession with psychoanalysis. The title was derived from the wild and homeless nature of the wolf of the steppes that conflicted with the protagonist's more spiritual nature. In an important passage in the book, the characters attend The Magic Theatre where they experience fantasies of the mind. The Magic Theatre that was founded in 1967 in San Francisco and became one of the most prominent theatre companies in the US, took it's name from this element found in Steppenwolf. Some members of the counterculture understood the passage to be referring to the use of psychedelic drugs. This work by Hermann Hesse was made into a film in 1974 that starred Max von Sydow.

• "Narcissus and Goldmund" was published in 1930. When translated into English, the book was titled "Death and the Lover." This book earned Hermann Hesse much acclaim. The story tells about a young man who left a Catholic monastery and wandered around Medieval Germany in pursuit of the meaning of life. This book reflects a recurring theme in Hesse's works of the struggle to find oneself and the conflict of opposing opposites within a person.

• "Journey to the East" was published in 1932. In this short novel, Hermann Hesse tells the story of a man who joins a religious sect called The League. The League has many prestigious members, some real and some fictional, that include a character from "Siddhartha," Plato, Don Quixote, Pythagoras, and Mozart. Part of the sect heads to the East to search for the ultimate truth and in their journey they travel through space and time. All does not go well as they quickly lose a beloved member of the group and the rest of them are reduced to arguing and distress. Years later, after a lifetime of bitterness and disillusionment, the main character discovers the lost member was actually the president of their sect who was giving them a test of faith which they all miserably failed at the time.

• "The Glass Bead Game" was the last novel written by Hermann Hesse. It was published in 1943. The novel is set hundreds of years into the future in a location in Europe that has been set aside to nurture the mind. The city was reserved for intellectuals who ran boarding schools and played the Glass Bead Game. The game is incredibly sophisticated and requires years of study in the arts and sciences to play. The book is a psychological coming of age story set in a utopian society. Hesse is said to have been inspired to write the "Glass Bead Game" as a response to the oppression of Nazi Germany that was unfolding as he wrote the work.

The Legacy of Hermann Hesse

The influence of Hermann Hesse has lived on for decades past his death. Even though he didn't write self help books, he still influenced many readers.

He drew from great thinkers such as Jung and Nietzsche. He studied Eastern mysticism extensively. His own life was filled with despair, adversity, and search for meaning. All these aspects played out in his stories. His characters were extensions of himself.

By reading about his pursuit of enlightenment, readers over the decades have been nudged to question the meaning of life and search for their own truth.

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