Harry’s determination to try to learn how to laugh suggests that a great, transcendent life is not out of mortal reach. Indeed, in much of the Magic Theater episode, Hesse laughs at his own writing in the same way that his characters suggest Harry should laugh at his life. Hesse’s painfully earnest story of a tortured, gifted man may make the author seem humorless. But there is a strong element of self-mockery in the Magic Theater episode that reveals Hesse’s sense of humor.

Hesse’s self-mockery is most obvious in the embedded titles of some of the doors in the Magic Theater. Doors along the corridor promise things such as “delightful suicide,” “the wisdom of the East,” “transformation from time into space by means of music,” “downfall of the West,” “laughing tears,” and “solitude made easy.” These titles are a catalog of Hesse’s own obsessions, the ideas that appear throughout Steppenwolf and Hesse’s other works. That Hesse can list his obsessions so plainly shows that he is fully aware of his own inclinations. Furthermore, the fact that Hesse reduces his obsessions to unceremonious phrases, thrown out helter-skelter in the fantastic Magic Theater, is an indication that he can laugh at them, that he does not take them too seriously. The door titles imply subtly that Hesse has arrived at a fuller reconciliation of his own multiple selves and has learned the lesson of humor that Harry glimpses at the novel’s conclusion.