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96345 the Age of Anxiety Herman Hesse a Part of the German Zeitgeist

96345 the Age of Anxiety Herman Hesse a Part of the German Zeitgeist

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Published by: 8mmmmmmmm on Mar 07, 2010
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7394Period 3April 30, 2007The Age of Anxiety:Herman Hesse - A Part of the German ZeitgeistThe extremely negative conditions of post-World War I Germany – specifically, the social repercussions of the extremely high death toll of Germanmen and the paralyzed economy – shaped the disturbed and indignant writings ofHerman Hesse and the social consciousness of the German people. This socialconsciousness morphed into many new cultural movements, which shared manyof the same feelings that Hesse expressed in his writings. Hesse’s Steppenwolfand Siddhartha were written as a clear response to WWI and its aftermath.The emerging social and cultural movements in the 1920s – the period inwhich Hesse wrote Steppenwolf and Siddhartha – are directly connected to theconditions in Germany during and after World War I. WWI, on many fronts, wasa war of attrition, meaning it was not a war based upon the conquering ofstrategic points, but a war of who could bleed longer. Soldiers were seen by thegenerals as expendable pawns in a game of chess. In fact, the disregard for
human life was so great that soldiers believed that they were being “used ascannon fodder” (Schivelbusch 233). Therefore, with extremely low regard for thesoldiers’ lives, commanders sent thousands ‘up and over’ to be slaughtered everyday. And since no charge, no matter how massive it was, could breach theenemy’s trenches, terrible new technological weapons were created:“flamethrowers, poison gas, phosphorus bombs, tanks, planes” (Blackbourn 466).In part, due to the creation of these new weapons of mass destruction, “Germancasualties alone numbered 1.6 million killed and 4 million wounded” (Blackbourn466). These atrocities were shared with the public via newspaper and accountsfrom returning veterans. With these detailed stories, it is not a shock that artists(i.e. Herman Hesse) had a powerful response to the
Great War.Hesse’s Siddhartha may be seen as a direct response to all the violenceand gore of the Great War. Hesse describes a utopian world that Germans couldbe living in, instead of the hellhole created by WWI. Hesse’s utopia (Siddhartha)and Germany (his home) had one main antithesis: Hesse’s focus on innerspirituality vs. German nationalism.In Siddhartha, Hesse teaches the reader that wisdom and true knowledgecomes from within, not from other people. For example, after rejecting the
Buddha’s teaching, Siddhartha says, “I will cast down my eyes in front of no oneelse, no one. No other teaching will entice me” (34). Hesse, possibly personifiedin Siddhartha, clearly is very much his own person, and does not like to be taughtor told what to do. This feeling of independence and freedom of thought is inclear contradiction with the immense amount of nationalistic and patrioticpropaganda that was being pushed on the public. “Press and cinema alsosupported the national cause… Government, army, and opinion formers allechoed the theme of national unity” (Blackbourn 468). It was this kind ofnationalistic agenda that would morph into the German war machine of WWII.Nevertheless, from WWI catastrophes, new artistic and musicalmovements emerged. The movements challenged old beliefs, eradicatedtraditions, and questioned many types of rules. Two of the most influential andprominent movements in the arts were Dada and Jazz. Dada was an artisticmovement that defied all previous artistic standards and achieved internationalrecognition. (McKay 1116). Similarly, Jazz was revolutionizing the American andEuropean music scene by breaking musical conventions and distancing itselffrom past rules on how music should sound. It was a new world of art, culture,and creation.

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