Hermann Hesse

Journey To The East

  • 35-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 5 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a published author with a degree in English Literature
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Journey To The East Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 35-page guide for “Journey To The East” by Hermann Hesse includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 5 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Serving and Leadership and Immortality and Art.

Plot Summary

Hermann Hesse’s 1932 short novel The Journey to the East reads much like a trial run for what would be his final novel, The Glass Bead Game, published in 1943. Journey explores themes of service, leadership, the contemplative life, and the difficult tasks historians face—set against the backdrop of a mystic journey whose destination becomes increasingly unclear. The narrator is a man known only as H.H. It is believed that H.H. stands for “Hermann Hesse” and that H.H.’s project is a metaphor both for Hesse’s life and for his writing, including the novel in which H.H. appears.

The novel begins with H.H. announcing his intention to recreate in writing a fabulous “Journey to the East.” He undertook the journey as a member of what he calls the League. The aims of the League are vague, and H.H. is bound by a vow of silence: he cannot divulge the League’s purpose. Nevertheless, he is determined to give an accurate historical account of the Journey.

After describing his initiation into the League and the formation of the group with which he would travel, H.H. quickly grows unsure of himself and his writing. As he tries to remember what befell the group, he describes the story he has to tell as incomprehensible and gibberish. It is more difficult to remember what happened than he had anticipated, despite his constant assertions that the Journey was the most precious—and unforgettable—time of his life.

Although it is called the Journey to the East, the group’s destination is unknown. As they travel, there is initially a sense that the group is moving eastward, but H.H. is soon claiming that the Journey takes them through time and space, as well as geography. The group meets figures from Hesse’s novels, characters from other works of fiction—such as Don Quixote—childhood friends, and people who have died. H.H. states that each member of the group has a different goal, but the pursuit of each goal will lead to the success of the group’s ultimate goal: the East.

The group’s first difficulty proves to be its last. A servant named Leo vanishes. As soon as he is gone, each member of the group places more and more importance on Leo. He is quickly viewed as essential to the quest now that he is no longer present. The group begins to blame each other for his disappearance, and H.H. starts to doubt the purpose of his quest.

The group disperses and H.H. returns to life outside of the Journey to the East. Despair and doubt overtake him as unforeseen difficulties meet his attempts to recreate the Journey in writing. He convinces himself that his life has no purpose, and that the League is disbanded, if in fact, it ever existed. Late in the book, a chance encounter with Leo leads to H.H. being summoned before the High Throne in order to be judged. It is revealed that Leo is a servant, but also the President of the League. He tells H.H. that when Leo disappeared from the Morbio Inferiore, it was a test of the group’s faith, and the group failed the test and disbanded. He acquits H.H. of desertion and requires him to perform a test of faith: he must read about himself in the League archives and learn the truth about himself. When Leo does this, he realizes that he must disappear in order for Leo to grow. As the novel concludes, H.H. is looking for a place to lie down and sleep.

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Chapter 1