From the very beginning, reception was harsh. American novelist Jack Kerouac dismissed it in Big Sur (1962) and it has had a long history of mixed critical reception and opinion at large. Already upset with Hesse's novel Siddhartha, political activists and patriots railed against him, and against the book, seeing an opportunity to discredit Hesse. Even close friends and longtime readers criticized the novel for its perceived lack of morality in its open depiction of sex and drug use, a criticism that indeed remained the primary rebuff of the novel for many years. However as society changed and formerly taboo topics such as sex and drugs became more openly discussed, critics came to attack the book for other reasons; mainly that it was too pessimistic, and that it was a journey in the footsteps of a psychotic and showed humanity through his warped and unstable viewpoint, a fact that Hesse did not dispute, although he did respond to critics by noting the novel ends on a theme of new hope.
Popular interest in the novel was renewed in the 1960s – specifically in the psychedelic movement – primarily because it was seen as a counterculture book, and because of its depiction of free love and explicit drug usage. It was also introduced in many new colleges for study, and interest in the book and in Hermann Hesse was feted in America for more than a decade afterwards.