The novel is a scrap of Harry Haller, found in the room where he lived, and the nephew of the mistress of the house in which he was renting a room. On behalf of the nephew of the mistress, a preface to these notes is also written. It describes the lifestyle of Haller, gives his psychological portrait. He lived very quietly and closedly, looked stranger among people, wild and timid at the same time, he seemed a being from a different world and called himself Steppe Wolf, lost in the wilds of civilization and philistinism. At first the narrator treats him with suspicion, even hostility, as he feels in Galler a very unusual person, sharply different from all those around him. Over time, cautiousness is replaced by sympathy, based on great sympathy for this suffering person who failed to reveal all the wealth of his forces in the world,
Galler is by nature a scribe, far from practical interests. He does not work anywhere, he lies in bed, often gets up almost at noon and spends his time among books. The overwhelming number of them are the writings of writers of all time and people from Goethe to Dostoevsky. Sometimes he paints with watercolors, but always in one way or another resides in his own world, not wanting to have anything in common with the surrounding philistinism, safely survived the First World War. Like Guller himself, the narrator also calls him Steppe wolf, wandering “into cities, into herd cats, – no other image will more accurately depict this man, his timid loneliness, his savagery, his anxiety, his yearning for homeland and his bezrodnost.” The hero feels in himself two natures – man and wolf, but unlike other people,
Harry Galler tries to find a common language with people, but crashes, communicating even with like-minded intellectuals who turn out to be just like everyone else, respectable inhabitants. Having met a familiar professor on the street and found him on a visit, he does not endure the spirit of intellectual philistinism, which imbues the whole situation, beginning with the slender portrait of Goethe, “capable of decorating any philistine house,” and ending with the loyalty of the master about the Kaiser. An enraged hero wanders around the city at night and realizes that this episode was for him “a farewell to the philistine, moral, scientific world, full of victory for the steppe wolf” in his mind. He wants to leave this world, but he is afraid of death. He accidentally wandered into the restaurant “Black Eagle”, where he meets a girl named Hermina. They have a kind of novel, although rather it is the kinship of two lonely souls. Hermina, as a more practical man, helps Harry adapt to life, bringing him to night cafes and restaurants, to jazz and his friends. All this helps the hero to more clearly understand his dependence on the “philistine, deceitful nature”: he stands for reason and humanity, he protests against the cruelty of war, but during the war he... did not let himself be shot, but managed to adapt himself to the situation, found a compromise, he was an opponent power and exploitation, but in the bank he has a lot of shares of industrial enterprises, on the percentage of which he lives without a twinge of conscience.
Reflecting on the role of classical music, Galler sees in his reverent attitude to her the “fate of the whole German intelligence”: instead of learning about life, the German intellectual obeys the “hegemony of music”, dreams of a language without words “capable of expressing the ineffable”, eager to leave in a world of wonderful and blissful sounds and moods that “never transform into reality”, and as a result – “the German mind missed most of its true tasks… people are intelligent, they all did not know reality, they were alien to it and in so, in our German reality, in our history, in our politics, in our public opinion, the role of the intellect was so pitiful. ” Reality is determined by generals and industrialists, who consider intellectuals “unnecessary,
At the end of the novel, the hero gets to the ball-masquerade, where he plunges into the elements of eroticism and jazz. In search of Hermina, disguised as a young man and a winning woman with “lesbian magic,” Harry enters the basement of the restaurant – “hell”, where devil-musicians play. The atmosphere of the masquerade reminds the hero Walpurgis of the night in Goethe’s Faust and the fabulous visions of Gofman, which are already perceived as a parody of the gofmanian, where good and evil, sin and virtue are indistinguishable: “… the drunken dance of masks has gradually become some sort of crazy, fantastic paradise, one by one seduced me petals with their scent of a snake seductively looked at me from the green shadow of the foliage, the lotus flower hovered over the black quagmire, the fever-birds on the branches beckoned to me… ” Running from the world, the hero of the German romantic tradition demonstrates a split or multiplication of personality: he is a philosopher and dreamer, a music lover gets along with the murderer. This is happening in the “magic theater”, where Galler gets with the help of Hermine’s friend saxophonist Pablo, a connoisseur of narcotic herbs. Fantasy and reality merge. Galler kills Hermine – either the harlot, or his muse, meets the great Mozart, who reveals to him the meaning of life – it should not be taken too seriously: “You must live and you must learn to laugh… you must learn to listen to the accursed radio music of life… and laugh at her bustle. ” Humor is necessary in this world – it must be kept from despair, to help preserve the mind and faith in man. Then Mozart turns into Pablo, and he convinces the hero that life is identical to the game, the rules of which must be strictly observed. The hero is consoled by the fact that one day he will be able to play again.