A Study of Hermann Hesse's Philosophy of Education: An Analysis of His Novel Steppenwolf and its Relationship to Jung's Individuation Process

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


With the rise of an existential-epistemological philosophy of modern education, the writings of the poet-author Hermann Hesse have gained in significance as a philosophical concept. Although Hesse never claimed to be either an existentialist or educator, the theme of his "inward journey to self" recurs in most of his ^-orks and generates a philosophy which parallels many of the epistemological concepts of the existentialists. The essence of Hesse’s inward journey, i.e., the discovery and the articulation of the manifold aspects of the self and its relation with all other existence in the universe, found structural articulation in Jung's process of individuation. The novel Steppenwolf (1927) is Hesse’s poetical record of his own individuation process undergone as a patient at Jung's clinic in 1915-1921. Since an existentialist does not generally differentiate between experience, philosophy and knowledge, but sees ttiem as integrated parts of a total process of selfrealization, Steppenwolf may also be viewed as a statement of Hesse's existential-epistemological philosophy of education.

In Stoppenwo]f, Hesse engages the reader in a reciprocal psychic relationship with the novel's central figure Harry Haller. Potentially, it ■’‘s when the reader realizes that Haller's inward journey to selfrealization or self-equalibrium is in truth, a mirror for the reader's own journey that a type of existential awakening to the reality of sel" may occur. In a series of incidents which involve choice, decision, action, experience and self-knowledge on Haller's part, Hesse moves the novel's action through .Jung's three areas of osychic consciousness: (1) conscious, (2) personal unconscious, (3) collective unconscious. In each decision which results in self-knowledge Haller encounters another character, each being an archetypical manifestation of a part of his total self. As the novel ends, Haller actualizes his inner- relationship with all the other characters and with all existence; he understands that he, the others and the universe are all parts of a tot process of becoming and that man is the universe in microcosm. The process of becoming, however, will never be completed; both Hesse and Jung realize that self can never be achieved; the process is its own end in perpetuity.

Knowledge for the existentialist is generally acquired simultaneously with experience. Knowledge as an abstraction imposed by an external order, such as a school system, has no real meaning in the self-realization process; hence, Hesse sees school systems as the antithesis of existential education. For Hisse, any system ’which denies the individual opportunity to awaken to the nature of the self, to question all predetermined values, experience the responsibility of absolute freedom, make decisions in relationship to the discovered self and stand in consequence of those decisions, bastardizes the meaning of existential freedom. As it is the practice of mos educational systems to provide only a limited selection of courses instead of establishing an environment in which the Individ tal can question who and what he is and v" at needs are relative to the discovered self , the initial existential awakening may be postponed indefinitely. Ye'' existentialism seemingly grows in spite of the system's providing ready-made values and a collective morality based on an "average" or "normal" behavior in place of an opportunity to discover the universal nature of the self. In an organization such as the American educational system existentialism’s influence spreads, not because of specially instituted curriculums, teaching methods or materials, but because of isolated instances in which an individual educator provides a milieu within which crucial existential questions of self can be asked. It is in such existential enclaves that Hesse's philosophy of education finds its application.

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