Beneath the Wheel is a short novel written by Hermann Hesse in 1906, originally in German under the title Unterm Rad. It was first published in English translation in 1953. Now, it is widely seen under the English title, "The Prodigy", which really side-steps the sense of the story and mis-directs reader expectations.
This is the story of an exceptional boy who grew up in a small town in the German state of Schwartzwald (the Black Forest), a town whose only outstanding feature was its extreme mediocrity. Exceptionally gifted in studies, Hans was was pressured by his burgher father, his self-interested schoolmaster, and, indeed, the entire community, into following a path that would lead him into the higher plane of religious academia and life as a cleric.
Under their tutelage, Hans spent all of his time, literally every minute, engaged in grueling and arduous study to prepare for the exam, giving up all of the simple pleasures of boyhood. He places second in the exam and everyone is as pleased as can be.
After being admitted to the academy, Hans faces greater competition, stricter regimen and greater academic pressure. He befriends another prodigy, but one who is quite his opposite--a poet, free spirit, and rebel. His new friend profoundly shakes the values and outlook of the young scholar, and opens for him a window onto a more sensuous world. The headmaster tries to break the young rebel, and tries to break the bond between him and young Hans.
After his friend flees from the academy, Hans is left thoroughly deflated and no longer interested in his studies. He returns home ill and, and after a short but pleasant reversion to the joys of leisurely childhood, begins a new life as an apprentice in a metal shop, where he spends hours filing parts down by hand.
The rest of the book relates how Hans reacts to the new direction of his life. The mysterious and ambiguous end provokes thought, but provides little closure.