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Beneath the Wheel [Paperback]

Hermann Hesse , Michael Roloff
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 1 2003
In Hermann Hesse's Beneath the Wheel, Hans Giebernath lives among the dull and respectable townsfolk of a sleepy Black Forest village. When he is discovered to be an exceptionally gifted student, the entire community presses him onto a path of serious scholarship. Hans dutifully follows the regimen of study and endless examinations, his success rewarded only with more crushing assignments. When Hans befriends a rebellious young poet, he begins to imagine other possibilities outside the narrowly circumscribed world of the academy. Finally sent home after a nervous breakdown, Hans is revived by nature and romance, and vows never to return to the gray conformity of the academic system.

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“A remarkable mixture of affection, gentle humor, compassion, light irony, bitterness, and cold, angry indignation.” —The Sacramento Bee

“Can be read for sheer pleasure. Hesse’s peculiarly supple lyricism, his brittle irony, and his stunning descriptions of nature are marvelously carried over into the English.” —The Saturday Review

“[A] Black Forest Catcher in the Rye, a work infused with that sense of homesickness that Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., quite rightly said was so prominent in Hesse’s novels.” —The National Observer

About the Author

Hermann Hesse was born in Germany in 1877 and later became a citizen of Switzerland. As a Western man profoundly affected by the mysticism of Eastern thought, he wrote novels, stories, and essays bearing a vital spiritual force that has captured the imagination and loyalty of many generations of readers. His works include Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, and The Glass Bead Game. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. Hermann Hesse died in 1962.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesson as fresh today as when it was written Jan. 26 2002
Herman Hesse wrote this novel in 1906, long before he became known as one of the greatest writers in the 20th century. Obviously autobiographical, it tells the story of a Hans, young boy from a small village in the Black Forest region of Germany, who was pushed to study for exams so that he could gain admittance into a famous school that prepared boys for the ministry. Under the tutelage of the schoolmaster and the minister, he is pushed almost beyond endurance to master Greek, Latin, Hebrew, mathematics and other subjects. His childhood is spent in unrelenting study and he even has to give up his love of fishing. And then when he passes his exams and is admitted to the school, the pressure gets even worse. No wonder he gets splitting headaches!
Immediately, the reader is drawn into the story and we become the young Hans, and see the world through his eyes. We are there with him during the long hours of study and we meet his schoolmates, one young man in particular, a poet, who rebels against the system that is forcing the students to keep pushing themselves from getting crushed "beneath the wheel." Young Hans starts to have episodes of forgetfulness and fainting and eventually has a nervous breakdown and is sent back to his village in disgrace. The inevitable conclusion is tragic.
I can easily see the making of the great writer in Hesse's youthful novel. He's a master of simply stating the contradictions around him without making the connections obvious. And his descriptions of the beauty of nature are wonderful. He captures the essence of the heavy price we pay in doing what is expected of us without question. There's historical significance here too because, as we read, we have the hindsight to know what later happened in Germany.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fall from grace June 15 2002
BENEATH THE WHEEL is the tragic story of young Hans Giebenrath. Young Hans is a precocious, possibly genius young man from a small one-horse German village. It's a working class town that is known for its steadfast character of its denizens, but not for the scope & breadth of their erudition. Hans is the exception to the rule: he is far & away intellectually superior to his peers, and he knows it.
So bright is Hans that he is selected to attend a German monastery to continue his academic studies. So prestigious is this academy that it would be comparable to an American student being accepted to Princeton or Stanford. It is on this journey that we join young Hans; so full of promise as well as a wee bit of arrogance.
In some ways, this book could be described as the anti-CATCHER IN THE RYE. Instead of extolling education as something worthwhile as opposed to merely banal, Hesse has a far less flattering view of the educational system. The crux of the book is found in the following passage:
"A schoolmaster will prefer to have a couple of dumbheads in his class rather than a single genius, and if you regard it objectively, he is of course right. His task is not to produce extravagant intellects but good Latinists, arithmeticians and sober decent folk." (99-100)
Here it becomes evident that Hesse has little regard for a German pedagogic system which places pragmatism above nourishing persons of exceptional mental acumen. Most of the rest of the book revolves around the nucleus of this passage.
The whole tone and style of this book very much reminds me of Thomas Mann. The theme of transition from adolesence to adulthood is present in Mann's works as well.
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4.0 out of 5 stars a hundred years before the test obsession July 28 2001
Hesse wrote this before he had full access to the wellsprings of creativity that produced masterpieces like STEPPENWOLF and NARCISSUS AND GOLDMUND. Nevertheless, the idea that standards from outside drive a gifted student to despair takes on new prophetic meaning as the current U.S. government strives to force all students (and teachers) into standardized measurements that can only shame those who do not "measure up" or whose uncalculatable gifts--you know, artistic talent, intuition, faith, courage, imagination, passion, idealism, love of learning--all that trivial stuff--will now fall ever more deeply into the cultural shadow.
Later in his life, Hesse saw his early novels as hopelessly bourgeois. Some critics have followed him in this, but it's simply wrong. He always wrote from the heart; the difference is that the later novels spring from a heart fully cracked open.
BENEATH THE WHEEL reflects the beginnings of that painful opening up to wider vistas for the author....and, it is hoped, for the reader as well.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Under the wheel of social pressure Feb. 2 2001
Hans lives in a small town with a small-town life and mentality. He turns out to be a remarkably intelligent boy and the leaders of the community take an interest in him. So they take him under their care, and start preparing him for admission into the Seminary. First sign: Nobody ever asks Hans if he wants to become a priest. It is simply assumed that a gifted boy like that, a rare jewel in such a sleepy town, has to go that way. An added pressure is that Hans's father is very proud of his boy and, besides, he has no mother. So he tacitly accepts studying Latin, Greek and Math, with a memorizing method. Studies are hard and abstract, and not connected at all with reality. Hans is rather shy and introspective, but likable nonetheless. For a year, he dedicates all his time to study, and finally gets to be admitted in the Seminary. He goes there, but finds life miserable (hint: he doesn't really like the idea of becoming a priest). There, he meets the excentric poet-to-be Hermann Heilner, and feels attracted to him. Heilner is an embittered young man, a loner and pompous lecturer. Their friendship gets Hans in trouble, and he becomes alienated from the rest of the students. He starts to underperform in class, and at some point suffers dismays and nervous breakdowns. And so he is sent back home, to suffer the disappointment of the town, which had put hope in him. Hans, of course, will always be conscious of his great failure: he didn't live up to the expectations he arose on his fellow townsmen. Hans then becomes a mechanic, surrounded by fellows he clearly does not belong with. One day, they go for a drink and, on returning home.. well, I won't spoil the ending. although it's not hard to imagine.
I have no idea if Hesse projected himself in this book or not.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best commentaries of education, ever.
This is a story about a kid, Hans Giebernath, who gets pushed into higher academics and testing instead of being allowed to flourish on his own. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2002 by Marc Schaub
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Hesse's greatest, but a very good novel.
This is a story about the faults of education and how they push gifted kids too hard. In an effort to maximize their intellectual talents they leave out expression of soul and of... Read more
Published on June 11 2001 by "cjjdnc"
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Analysis of the Artist
This is a well-written book, very personal as all of Hesse's works are, but suffers from a rather underdeveloped writing style -- understandable since it was written so early in... Read more
Published on May 31 2000 by "gsibbery"
5.0 out of 5 stars A message of warning
I couldn't have read this book at a better time. Like a lot of American high-schoolers in the "fast track" to college, I was feeling way overworked. Read more
Published on May 19 2000 by Andrew M. Schirmer
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Preview of the Hesse to Come
Having been a long time Hermann Hesse fan, I was more than pleasantly surprised by Beaneth the Wheel - the story of early conflict between fitting into and earning respect in a... Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2000 by T. Lansing
4.0 out of 5 stars A sad tale about a teenager.
A well-told story of a teenager who is a bit different than the rest, and how this and the forces around him shape his tragic destiny. I enjoyed reading it. Read more
Published on Aug. 19 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful commentary on how conformity crushes genius.
Hesse's thinly veiled autobiographical work presages hos own battle with mental illness. An important volume in the Hesse canon which tells us much about the workings of the... Read more
Published on Jan. 27 1999 by
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hesse's recreation on adolescence world
In this book plenty of sensibility and, sometimes, hardness Hesse show us the negative consequences of some educative systems, which are efficient for success at expense of... Read more
Published on Oct. 13 1998
3.0 out of 5 stars A life wasted
Hermann Hesse's second novel, Beneath the Wheel, concerns the plight of young Hans Giebenrath who is a highly-prized student of his village. Read more
Published on June 25 1998
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