The Search for Stability and the Inevitability of Change in the Writings and Life of Hermann Hesse

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Hall, Amy Laura

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How can human beings, whose main characteristic is to change constantly, find stability or internal stillness? This is a question that concerned Hermann Hesse his whole life. His answer to this question of stability itself changed over time. Hesse started with the belief that stability was acquired by dwelling on a farm, and ended with the conviction that stability as “stillness” is something human beings can never achieve. Hesse’s final answer is that we are wanderers, constantly incomplete, always in process of more. In this project, I look closely at Hesse’s progress of thought from his first answer to his final answer. Hesse asks this question in his first novel Peter Camenzind (1904) and provides a final answer in one of his last novels, Narcissus and Goldmund (1930). I conduct my analysis through the close reading of these two novels, together with a study of Hesse’s historical background from his childhood to his mid-fifties. His historical background is necessary to understand the metamorphosis of his thought. As a way of elucidating Hesse’s ideas, I compare them to Martin Heidegger’s and Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical theories. Hesse’s first answer is surprisingly similar to Heidegger’s belief that the way in which we, human beings, are in the world is by “dwelling.” Dwelling is our essence. His second answer leaves Heidegger aside, and mirrors instead Sartre’s theory that a person is what she makes of herself through her actions; there is no one specific essence that corresponds to the human being, and we are, in Sartre’s words, condemned to invent ourselves constantly.





Desimoni, Victoria (2017). The Search for Stability and the Inevitability of Change in the Writings and Life of Hermann Hesse. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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