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Why do you
suppose Hesse places such emphasis on the Magic Theater? What is
the relation between magic and spectacle in the novel, and why should
this relation be of interest to Hesse?
One way of understanding the Magic Theater
is as the stage upon which Harry can encounter or give life to all
the different manifestations of his personality. Pablo introduces
Harry to the Magic Theater by saying that all he will do is make
the world of Harry’s soul visible. After the self-dramatizing spectacle
in the splintering mirrors of the Magic Theater, Harry will be put
back together again in a new, rejuvenated configuration.
Magic, magical thinking, and the role of the magician
are important in Steppenwolf. Magical thinking
is a kind of inspired vision that borders on madness, which is why
the Magic Theater is advertised as being “for madmen only.” Madness
and magic involve the ability to arrive at a deeper truth by transcending
the material and the everyday. To Hesse, madmen are those who have
seen through the morass of social and moral conventions, penetrating
to the realm of eternity of the immortals. The figure of the magician
is key, because the magician allows a transition into the madness
and magic of heightened perception. While Pablo and Hermine are
the novel’s most obvious magicians, Hesse himself is also such a
magician. After all, the power of the author to use symbol and metaphor to
give voice and vision to interior life is a kind of analogous magic.
2. Think of all
the ways in which mirrors function in the novel. What significance
do they have in the Steppenwolf’s quest for himself and the writer’s
quest for artistic form?
Reflection is one of the novel’s main concerns.
The image of the city is reflected in the wet asphalt streets in
the opening scene, and as we proceed in the story, reflections and
mirrors become increasingly important. Hermine uses a pocket mirror,
Harry sees himself and his doubles in mirrors, and the novel climaxes
in Pablo’s Cabinet of Mirrors, the Magic Theater. In addition, characters
also mirror one another: Hermine describes herself as Harry’s looking
glass. Even the text employs complicated reflections, mirroring
both Harry and itself. The “Treatise on the Steppenwolf” is a verbal
mirror held up to Harry’s psyche, and the editor’s preface is echoed
by Harry’s records, which themselves reflect the words of the Treatise.
Each time a mirror is presented, it does not merely reflect
a pure mirror image but corroborates, extends, or draws out other insights.
Mirrors are ever-present to remind us of the possibility of double
perception, apprehending doubles and opposites at the same moment.
This notion of the double or opposite is a useful device for portraying
the mind-body split with which Hesse is concerned. Mirrors also
raise the question of the writer’s role—especially in a novel such
as Steppenwolf, in which characters such as Harry
and Hermine are clearly reflections of the author.
3. Using Steppenwolf
as evidence, why do you think Hesse was so popular with the hippie
counterculture of 1960s America?
Hesse’s novels, particularly Steppenwolf, resonate
with groups of people who find themselves struggling against a system
to which they feel they do not belong. As the landlady’s nephew
expresses in the preface, Harry’s illness is not “the eccentricity
of a single individual,” but instead the illness of the era itself,
a “neurosis” of Harry’s generation. It is not surprising, then,
that the hippies, who felt the stress of the cultural crisis in
the 1960s, saw Hesse as a countercultural
sage. A key figure in the movement, Timothy Leary, called Hesse
his hero and encouraged his followers to read him—especially the
Magic Theater segment of Steppenwolf, which Leary called
a “priceless manual”—before embarking on a hallucinogenic LSD trip.
Evidently, Leary felt that he and Hesse had the same mission to
achieve a “transpersonal, unitary consciousness.”
Ace your assignments with our guide to Steppenwolf!