We see Harry’s dramatic change from an ascetic intellectual to a passionate hedonist in the changing way he relates to a crowd. Harry’s momentary disgust with the wild, crude merrymaking around him demonstrates the extent of his change. It is only Hermine’s intervention that enables Harry to merge with the crowd, becoming one with them in a communal frenzy and fervor.

Harry likens the release he feels when he merges with the crowd to the innocence of a child. Hesse draws this idea—the child as symbolic of sensual pleasures—from the theoretical systems of the nineteenth-century German thinkers Friedrich Nietzsche and Emile Durkheim. Nietzsche’s famous work Thus Spake Zarathustra sets up a three-part categorization of the spiritual evolution of individuals: the third and final stage is that of a child, whose role is to say the “sacred yes” in innocence and wisdom. Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life identifies a very important mode of social behavior, the carnival, in which all restrictions are overturned for a specified time; the carnival serves as a release valve for a society’s pent-up, repressed energy. Durkheim notes the feeling of “collective effervescence” that occurs when the individual at such a gathering feels submerged in a state of union with the larger social mass—exactly the feeling Harry has at the climax of the ball. Just as it conforms to elements of Durkheim’s analysis, Harry’s dissolution in the larger mass signals that he has learned the lessons of the Treatise and shattered his sense of himself as a singular unit into a thousand different souls.

As Harry becomes increasingly similar to Hermine, it becomes clear that she is nearing the end of her project of teaching him. Harry will soon have to kill Hermine according to their original agreement. This situation strongly suggests that that Hermine is not real but only a reflection of some part of Harry’s self. Hermine’s appearance at the ball—so well disguised as “Herman” that Harry does not even recognize her—foreshadows her eventual disappearance. Harry has described Herman as a boyhood friend, a poet of ecstasy and transcendence, without ever mentioning what happened to Herman or how such a close friend fell out of his life. By now, we sense that “Herman” actually represents the innocent, pure, life-loving part of Harry that has been buried and warped by so many damaging years. Arriving at the ball in the guise of “Herman,” Hermine unmasks herself as a fiction of Harry’s inner self. Hermine unmasks herself because she is no longer needed; once recognized as part of Harry, the only possible next step is for her to disappear.