Quote 5

I understood it all. I understood Pablo. I understood Mozart, and somewhere behind me I heard his ghastly laughter. I knew that all the hundred thousand pieces of life’s game were in my pocket . . . I would traverse not once more, but often, the hell of my inner being. One day I would be a better hand at the game. One day I would learn how to laugh. Pablo was waiting for me, and Mozart too.

These are the final lines of the novel. Pablo has just packed up his hallucinatory Magic Theater, including the slain Hermine, who shrinks to the size of a figurine. Pablo has also informed Harry that although he has failed this time, he will no doubt perform better on a future visit. As we see here, Harry instantly comprehends the meaning of the Magic Theater—of Pablo, of laughter, of the pieces of his personality. Whether we as readers have “understood it all” is another matter. The novel’s sudden ending leaves us with a sense of frustration and suspense. Harry declares that he understands, but his understanding does not help us as readers. If anything is clear, it is that, in Harry’s view, Pablo has been elevated to the status of a wise sage. Part of Harry’s newfound respect for Pablo may be due to his acceptance of Pablo’s assertion that laughter is the key to life and insight.

Our last glimpse of Harry shows him as having failed in the very instant of his transcendent epiphany. He does not leave the novel a successful hero. In fact, Harry still looks forward expectantly to fresh periods of inner hell. Since these periods sound suspiciously like the periods of despair Harry experiences after first reading the Treatise, we might wonder what Harry has gained since the beginning of the novel. He has gained understanding, renewed spirit, and the possession of those tools such as laughter that make it possible to take up life’s challenge.