“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein
Take this, Hesse…you’ve got sarcasm dripping down onto your shirt.
The story of Hans Geibenrath’s journey toward maturity marks the beginning of Hermann Hesse’s infatuation with the topic. Despite lacking the depth and range of Demian, Beneath The Wheel explores the concept at a truly accessible level. Hesse’s brilliant and poetic style, though kept in relative check through this book, adds to the sheer pleasure of turning these pages.
Hesse explores three major crossroads in Hans’ journey.
First, the academy, and the social institution of scholarship and its general policies, plows irreverently across Hans’ road and he speeds to his right and left chasing the glories of academic fertility. Alongside him, schoolmasters, instructors, priests and parents zoom by with dust, debris and the occasional body spitting behind their vehicles. Hesse sarcastically impales these people and accuses them of repressing the liquor of curiosity naturally imbibed in youth. They tirelessly spark ambitious conceit within the child’s breast and feed the flame of their own pompous self-worth. Split from nature and the instinctive inclination to indulge in youthful fascinations, Hans excels in the world of academia but drowns in the muck of arrogance and reckless ambition.
But Hans cannot escape the natural influence of his peers and eventually gives up scholarly politics and continues along his road. Suddenly, and quite beyond his control, love, or its physiological affectation, intersects his path seemingly from behind. Unlike the academic realm, the fork leading to love cannot be avoided and he cannot turn about and resume his journey from the road he had once traversed. This compulsive turn had revived him, had opened his heart to a very primal physiological state quite opposite from the mental fortifications he had built throughout his youth.
He approaches the last crossroads, filled at every corner with riotous drunkards and cigar-puffing hyenas herded together according to their crafts. The people he had once scorned and at whose existence he had scoffed at, the people he had loathed, who had motivated him to escape their vocational fate, living their kind of deplorable life as base workers and laborers, artisans and tradesmen, now transformed into a kind of living knowledge. Hans saw them now, though through a drunken haze, as men who chose to live what others chose to study from the wall. And beyond this intersection, Hans might have seen his destiny beneath the wheel – grinding down the path of his life under the gloomy routine and dull anguish of the machinist and locksmith.
But that, too, was just a crossroad…