The Christ Within: A Jungian reading of the Christianity in the early life and works of Hermann Hesse

The purpose of this Master’s paper is to showcase Hesse’s Christianity both through a biographical analysis of the author’s early life and an analysis of two novels written during this period: Peter Camenzind (1904) and Klein and Wagner (1919). Although I will reference Hesse’s other works in passing to support my argument, and the reader may assume familiarity with his entire repertoire on my part, the bulk of this paper’s analysis will be on Hesse’s life and work up through the end of WWI. At the core of Hesse’s life and work is a simple question: what is one to do with his existential freedom? As a child and adolescent, Hesse refused to allow his will to be broken by his strict religious parents. His refusal to break—to surrender—would propel him to explore the limits of his own freedom in both his personal life and cathartically through his fiction. Over the span of 39 years, Hesse would go on to publish sixteen novels and novellas—each a unique spiritual or philosophical battle in which Hesse confronts his freedom and subsequently his shame—which leads him to the verge of despair—only to be rescued by a divine grace, which in his novels takes many forms. “God sends us despair not to kill us; He sends it to awaken new life in us (518),” writes Joseph Knecht in The Glass Bead Game, Hesse’s final novel that earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature 1946. In this last work, Hesse coalesces his message in the affirmation of existential freedom, but discovers that such freedom becomes slavery when it is not lived out in service. For Hesse, the realization of one’s freedom ultimately meant the realization of one’s culpability in a world where genocides and holocausts occur. As the vast majority of Hesse’s novels were written either during or between the World Wars, one can understand the urgency of Hesse’s spiritual and philosophical questions. His perch in Switzerland kept him personally safe even as Europe destroyed itself around him. As this paper will demonstrate, to live in a world of death for Hesse, one must choose between despair on one hand and love and laughter on the other, and to choose the latter requires faith that forces us to “listen to the cursed radio music of life and to reverence the spirit behind it and to laugh at its distortions (216),” to quote Mozart in Steppenwolf.



Work Title The Christ Within: A Jungian reading of the Christianity in the early life and works of Hermann Hesse
Open Access
  1. Eric Badaracco
License CC0 1.0 (Public Domain Dedication)
Work Type Masters Thesis
Publication Date 2022
Deposited February 09, 2022




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