First I should point out that Nietzsche did not renounce the world at all. In some sense Hesse was heavily influenced by Nietzsche and so in order to understand something of this book it might be helpful to have read a little bit of Nietzsche himself. Unlike his predecessor Schopenhauer (another great philosopher), Nietzsche did not condemn the world. What Nietzsche really condemned was the current state of things (rampant nationalism, anti-semitism, Bolshevism, and materialism etc.) and the mentalities that produced them (racism, narrow-mindedness, complacency, and absolute religious convictions) when he scathingly criticized the 'majority', insofar as the majority embraced these doctrines. Hesse, like Nietzsche, is a 'Yes-Saying' man (Yes-saying to the world that is) and that is manifested in this novel. Obviously Hesse believed in progress and had much hope for humanity. Perhaps those who have charged the author with such nihilistic sentiments have not read further than the first half of the book and have only read the despair that Harry later transcends. This book isn't going to root out and remove suffering altogether but enough so that it isn't so overwelming that one gives up on life. As Hesse wrote, "But I would be happy if many of them were to realize that the story of the Steppenwolf pictures a disease and crisis-but not one leading to death and destruction, on the contrary: to healing.Read more ›
The ending of the book is like an answer key to all the questions that inflict Haller throughout. He makes some wrong choices only to end up with the right lessons in life.
Hesse maintains the level of intensity throughout as he continues to bring forth his opinions on war (keeping with the times it was first written), commentary on suicide ("it must be said that to call suicides only those who actually destroy themselves is false."), his attitude towards the bourgeois, music, poetry, etc.
Hesse stated in his note written in 1961 (many years after this book's first publication in 1927) that he found readers either completely misunderstanding it or partially understanding it. One must go beyond the main character's personal problems and study it in totality to understand what the author really intended to do with this story.
In both novels is an interesting recurrance of Indian philosophical strands and Hesse's thematic analysis of the conquest of suffering and fear. Steppenwolf is however a tougher text and the story-line is expanded in greater detail. The first half of the book is slightly slow-moving yet is necessary for the final revelation (or enlightenment - to use an Oriental term) at the end of the novel.
This book seems to have a slightly auto-biographical tone to it making the text vivid and extremely heart-felt. It's worth a read.