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Published in Germany in 1915, Knulp is a novel written by Hermann Hesse. It was Hesse's most popular book in the years before he published Demian. The novel is split up into three separate tales which are centered on the life of the main character: Knulp. Knulp, who was once a gifted and promising youth, is depicted as amiable vagabond that perpetually wanders from town to town staying with friends. He is well-liked by almost everyone he encounters in the novel for his manners and cheery demeanor—despite his being a vagrant drop-out. Because of this, he is accepted gratefully by those he stays with and often receives charity from those sympathetic with him.
The first tale, titled "Early Spring", follows Knulp just after he had been discharged from a hospital due to his waning health. An old friend of his, a tanner named Emil Rothfuss, shelters him while Knulp spends his days aimlessly. During the tale he gains the affection of the tanner's wife, but resists her advances. Instead he attempts to court a girl named Barbra Flick who had recently arrived in the town as a household servant. The chapter culminates after Knulp convinces Barbra to abandon her post in the night and dance with him. In the last words of "Early Spring", Knulp decides to leave the town despite a commitment with the tanner and his wife scheduled the following day.
The second tale, "My Recollections of Knulp", is told from the point of view of another vagrant who is not identified by name but could possibly be regarded as Hermann Hesse himself. The story focuses on his interactions with Knulp as they wander through the forests and meadows of Germany. The second half of the section takes place during a day which unfolded as joy-filled and carefree. It ends, however, on the following day when Knulp has abandoned the narrator. The narrator believes that Knulp left him out of disgust due to his excess celebration and drinking during the previous night. He is left alone and bitter, stating that the experience has never left him entirely.
The Third tale, "The End", follows Knulp as he is taken in for a growing illness by Dr. Machold—an old friend of his from Latin school. Dr. Machold, now grown to be a respectable individual, nurses Knulp as he prepares to send him to a hospital in a nearby town. Instead, Knulp, knowing that he has little time left to live, requests that he be sent to a hospital in the town he grew up in. However, upon arriving, Knulp neglects to check himself in to be treated. He wanders his home town, attempting to locate the places he knew and friends he once had. He speaks with people from his past about matters of the present and memories of their times together before leaving the town. As he departs, he is greeted by a stone-breaker who, after recognizing Knulp from his childhood days, questions why he never put his gifts and abilities to good use. He mentions that Knulp will have to answer to God for wasting his life away.
Towards the end of the novel a disillusioned and weak Knulp goes into the forest where he begins a conversation with God. In this conversation, Knulp asks God why he, Knulp, has not done anything of consequence in life. He states that he could have been a successful doctor or artist; he could have married and peacefully settled down. Knulp questions God and asks him about the purpose of his existence. During the conversation, Knulp begins to hear God's reply. God states that he did not make Knulp to be any of these things, rather that he wanted him to bring joy into the lives of people and make them feel a "homesickness for freedom." Upon receiving this answer from God, Knulp experiences a sense of peace. The novel ends with Knulp accepting his final passage from this world with a sense of purpose.