When he comes to, Harry returns to the final door. He opens it to see Hermine and Pablo sleeping on the floor naked. Harry immediately thrusts the knife under Hermine’s left breast, the spot where Pablo has left a mark. Pablo awakes, smiles, hides Hermine’s wound with a corner of the rug, and leaves. Mozart enters, now in modern dress, and begins fixing a radio set. When Mozart turns on the radio, Harry is horrified that Mozart has sided with this terrible, modern, and mediocre bourgeois machine. Mozart laughs, explaining that the radio displays the battle between the real and the ideal, between humanity and divinity. Criticizing Harry for having done such a foolish thing as to kill Hermine, Mozart sends Harry to “HARRY’S EXECUTION.” In a bare yard enclosed by four walls, Harry is indicted for misusing the Magic Theater and for having no humor. A frightening, otherworldly laughter descends upon him.

Harry comes to again, and Mozart is there to tell him that he cannot die. He says that Harry must live on to “listen to the cursed radio music of life” and that he must go on to “live and to learn to laugh.” When Harry threatens refusal, Mozart offers Harry a cigarette and suddenly transforms into Pablo. Pablo, referring to Hermine, is disappointed that Harry has made such a mess of the Magic Theater. Pablo picks up Hermine, who shrinks into a toy figure, and packs her into his waistcoat pocket. Pablo tells Harry that he will do better the next time.

At this point, Harry understands everything. He understands that “all the hundred thousand pieces of life’s game were in [his] pocket,” and he is determined to start the game anew. The novel closes with the optimistic words: “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.”

I understood it all . . . . I knew that all the hundred thousand pieces of life’s game were in my pocket.

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Analysis: The Magic Theater

The episode of the Magic Theater questions the boundary between life and art. The worlds Harry discovers inside the doors are highly stylized representations that match up to an emotional or psychic reality rather than depicting a physical reality. They remind us of theatrical arts as well as visual ones: Harry is in a theater, and his actions are actually a performance. Pablo himself declares that the Magic Theater is a place of pictures rather than reality. We are entirely in the realm of art or magic. Critic Ralph Freedman suggests that the scenes behind the doors symbolize the transformation of life into art, and that the mirror of art transforms what is ambivalent in real life into images and motifs. Freedman argues that Hesse’s sense of being both wanted and rejected is manifest in Harry’s “pilgrimage among alternating motifs: those depicting pleasure, a unified vision, humor, or transcendence contrasted with others which depict isolation, failure, betrayal, and despair.”

The Magic Theater scene clarifies the importance of laughter, one of the novel’s key concerns. From the start, Pablo explains that the Magic Theater is a school of humor. Pablo laughs constantly and encourages Harry to laugh at his own personality and life. When Harry encounters Mozart, the composer also states that Harry takes life too seriously, and he laughs the beautiful laughter of the immortals. In this regard, Mozart resembles the jocund Goethe of Harry’s dream at the Black Eagle.

The nature of the laughter that these characters discuss, however, is complex. It is not the kind of laughter that results from a propensity to see the sunny side of life. Rather, in Steppenwolf laughter is seen as a response not to the amusing but to the dreadful. The laughter of the immortals belongs to them because it transcends the dramas and worries of human life. Though Harry does not learn the lessons of the school of humor right away, at the end of the novel he optimistically believes that he will.