The Symbol of the Magic Theatre in the Novel Steppenwolf
The novel Steppenwolf is philosophical and sophisticated. Thus, so as to better understand the variety of meanings that it hides, it is necessary to explore the layers of its symbolism. Hereby, the image of the Magic Theatre, which is one of the most crucial symbols in the composition of the novel, enables the readers to reach the most fundamental levels of sense that the author has encoded. Magic Theatre is a tool that makes it possible to cast light on the inner life of Harry Haller and at the same time to grasp the philosophical conception of Hermann Hesse about the genuine essence of life.
The mystical events that happen to Harry Haller in the Magic Theatre play a decisive role in his destiny. The symbol of Magic Theatre helps me to understand that the author stresses that the human personality does not have only two dimensions. With the help of the Magic Theatre, Harry comes to the conclusion that he is not just a human being but at the same time a Steppenwolf. Due to the fact that his life cannot exist as the line between two extremes, it leads to the eternal inner struggle for the victory of one of them. The essence of life has to lie in something more profound and at the same time plural. Therefore, the metaphor of the Magic Theatre contributes to the readers’ understanding of Harry’s hundreds and thousands of possible faces. Taking into consideration this fact, Harry can experience the all-embracing universe. In order to make it possible, the author introduces the construction of the Magic Theatre in the novel. If to understand it right, the gist of the whole literary work becomes more plausible and evident for me.
The Magic Theatre is a symbolic place, where fantastic mystical events happen. In my opinion, for Hesse, it is a symbol of transcendent dimensions of human life. The whole scene of the story directs at the Magic Theatre, which makes unreal events accessible to individuals and gives them a chance to feel everything themselves. However, not everybody is able to comprehend it because “price for admittance is your mind” (Hesse 78). Therefore, the Magic Theatre is a symbolic place, where rational reasoning is not significant because the irrational magic intellect comes into force after the loss of consciousness under the influence of drugs. As a result, the doors into the eternity and infinity open.
In the Magic Theatre, Pablo as the mediator meets Harry and helps him to see in the mirror not a Steppenwolf, but a person with many faces. Thus, with the help of the magic place, Harry attains an opportunity to get rid of his previous personality, which is not genuine. As Pablo tells him, “we are in a magic theater; a world of pictures, not realities. See that you pick out beautiful and cheerful ones and show that you really are not in love with your highly questionable personality any longer” (Hesse 84). Moreover, Pablo himself expresses his personality in many images being a naïve saxophonist and an envoy from the kingdom of the immortals. In fact, Pablo wants to show this world to Harry and transform his personality so that he could become one of the immortals and get rid of the tragic feeling of life.
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In order to realize this aim, Pablo makes Harry relieve his complexes. Pablo makes Harry understand that only his soul embodies all the answers to the existential questions. In order to reveal them, he guides Harry to the corridor with a lot of doors, behind which there are possible worlds with different performances that represent various sceneries of Harry’s life taking into account distinct traits of Harry’s personality. Thus, this metaphor enables me to understand the essence of Harry’s liberation because it reveals the narrowness of Harry’s self-perception. Consequently, Harry comes to the conclusion that his personality has become a prison, which he has constructed. The polytonality of Harry’s personality opens him a new world and borders of mind.
In the Magic Theatre, Harry gets acquainted with other Harries, who are familiar and strange as well as sees himself in all ages and statuses. The magic place makes him understand this plurality and at the same time integrity, which underlies the self. The Magic Theatre that is the embodiment of the mystical time and endlessness inspires Harry to dream about possible penetration into it. However, it is difficult to reach this purpose because so as to become one of the immortals, the person has to get rid of the seriousness and master laughter. Harry is extremely happy to understand that
For the first time, I understood Goethe’s laughter, the laughter of the immortals. It was laughter without an object. It was simply light and lucidity. It was that which is left over when a true man has passed through all the sufferings, vices, mistakes, passions and misunderstandings of men and got through to eternity and the world of space. (Hesse 73)
Therefore, the metaphor of the Magic Theatre helps me to understand the general gist of the novel, which is the idea that all human beings have to make efforts so as to possess a philosophical outlook and not perceive everything too seriously.
Thus, the laughter in the novel is the symbol of immortals, enlightenment, and eternity. For Harry, humor is the instrument to overcome time that he uses so as to reach transcendence. Furthermore, the highest laughter starts in the irony with respect to oneself. Apparently, that means that Magic Theatre reveals the ultimate truth about the significance of the things in the world. Harry comes to the conclusion that it is necessary to have a serious attitude only toward those things, which deserve it, while others have to become the object of laughter. Hereby, that means that only those things that a person considers to be substantial and meaningful deserve the suffering. On the contrary, those things that are not dependent on people have to be perceived as jokes of life that provoke people’s ironic reaction.
At the same time, the Magic Theatre is an ominous symbol, while irrational and highly emotional actions may contribute to the frightening consequences. For instance, Harry kills his fair one Hermine. Thus, I perceive this metaphor as a symbol of the ambiguity of humans life. The court of the immortals, where Mozart is the Supreme Court justice, blames Harry for the abuse of the Magic Theatre because he does not see the difference between reality and its reflection in the mirror. According to the court’s decision, Harry has committed the fictitious crime because he has used the reflected knife. The Magic Theatre is imperturbable, while the verdict of the court is tragic for Harry. He has to continue his life in the eternal perspective, becoming an object of laughter of the immortals. Therefore, Harry is doomed to listen to the radio music of life and learn how to laugh. Mozart explains the court’s verdict,
You wanted to be executed and to have your head chopped off, you lunatic! For this imbecile ideal, you would suffer death ten times over. You are willing to die, you coward, but not to live. The devil, but you shall live! It would serve you right if you were condemned to the severest of penalties. (Hesse 101)
Apparently, such words contribute to thoughts about the essence of life and the ultimate purpose of humans’ existence. The metaphor of the Magic Theatre has influenced my reasoning behind this issue. I have come to the conclusion that the author wants to demonstrate the whole life as a tragicomedy, where the person has to decide what is true and worth sufferings and what is a joke of destiny.
Harry does not reach the level of immortals, and his personal evolution is not over. He has to wander in the world of riddles and sufferings, steppe wolves and painful transformations. However, due to the Magic Theatre, Harry has understood the essence of his mistake; thus, after the court, Harry knows the right strategy. He wants to endeavor this magical game one more time and wants to play again at the Magic Theatre to experience the pain and suffering, to be terrified with his foolishness, and to wander in the caves of his soul.
In my opinion, the author of the novel uses the symbol of the Magic Theatre to illustrate the sufferings of the Steppenwolf owing to the narrowness of his personality and show the possible development of humankind to the image of the ideal people, who are immortals. The metaphor of the Magic Theatre is their kingdom, which becomes the purpose of Harry’s personal transformation. As opposed to the real, normal, and ordinary life, Hesse suggests the genuine, eternal, and meaningful world, namely the transcendent universe, which is the world of immortals. At the same time, the metaphor of the Magic Theatre is a symbol of a challenge that an individual has to overcome. It helps to consider the novel as a history of an attempt that everybody makes with the purpose of making the life better and experiencing happiness. Thus, I perceive this symbol to be capacious because it embodies the author’s conception concerning the meaning of life and struggle.
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To summarize, in the analyzed novel, the author does not suggest the algorithm of the problem’s solution, but he only shows the possible variants. The work of fiction comes to its logical conclusion, stating that it is life that brings relief, while death is powerless. In order to learn how to live, it is necessary to start to understand and accept every personal trait, laugh at the nonsense and banality of the world, and laugh at oneself. Therefore, only via these stages, a person can attain inner harmony, appreciate the world, and reach the kingdom of immortals. These truths become evident for Harry only in the Magic Theatre, which embodies the absurdity of life and at the same time hints at the necessary actions for the person so as to cope with it with the help of wisdom and laughter. Thus, this metaphor is the most crucial in the novel because it reveals the gist of this literary work and enables the readers to understand the author’s idea.