Hermann Hesse and His Pathways to Ecstasy: A Study of the Outsider and Society

Publication Year



Literature, Hesse, literary criticism, outsider, society, ecstasy


Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


The words of sociologist Peter Berger express poetically the fundamental function of society: to protect man from the naked terrors of his existence, creating a comfortable, sensible life out of the mystical miracle of being. The caves serve to channel and constrain human behavior into typified routines; they are the myriad social institutions man has constructed to trivialize the mysteries of cosmic reality and pattern his existence. Just beyond this veneer of sensibility howl the hyenas of terrifying reality; they are the tormenting doubts of being which find root in the probing question, "Why?" The hyenas are the wonder, mystery and terror of birth, desire and death, the "rites of passage" collectively experienced. And drowning these fears is the blinding beat of custom and tradition, as man surrenders the profound experience of individual responsibility to the abstracted Man of Heidegger, losing his unique identity in the anonymity of the cliche. Berger urges man to experience ecstasy, to spurn his social shield and stand alone in the darkness, shedding the myths of society and witnessing ultimate reality in its undefined infinity. To achieve ecstasy is to understand that the social world is built to protect man from nothingness, creating order and meaning in the face of chaos. Ecstasy is to appreciate the miracles and mysteries, to confront the human condition without the crutches of social reality. Ecstasy is to perceive that social roles buffer the responsibility of individual decision and choice, becoming alibis by which to hide from freedom. It is to see that "bad faith," or believing man has no choice in how to live his life is a "flight from freedom," an evasion of the "agony of choice." Ecstasy is an awakening to one's Self, a realization of individual responsibility. In this sense, ecstasy is the experience of three Hermann Hesse characters: Emil Sinclair, Siddhartha and Harry Haller.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status

English: Literature and Writing

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