Steppenwolf | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Steppenwolf | Section 11 : The Magic Theater: Taming of the Steppenwolf | Summary



Haller is next enticed by a flashy poster that advertises "MARVELOUS TAMING OF THE STEPPENWOLF." With some trepidation at stirring up the life he has left behind, he opens the door to find a sinister carnival show. A cruel animal trainer who bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Haller is leading around a starving, pathetic wolf on a leash. Haller is both fascinated and disgusted by the beast's obedience as the man leads it through a routine of tricks. The wolf carries in his mouth food he may not eat and fetches the whip the trainer uses on him, entirely submissive. When a live rabbit and a white lamb are placed before him, he drools with desire but doesn't touch the animals. On command he lies down between them and even appears to hug them; his reward is a piece of chocolate he eats from the man's hand. Haller is horrified at the spectacle but is equally horrified at what comes next.

The performers switch places, with wolf becoming master and man becoming animal. The wild side comes out of the wolf joyfully, and he commands the man to tear off his clothes with his own teeth. The man performs tricks and moves about on all fours, the wolf riding him and holding the whip over him. The man stoutly ignores a beautiful girl who rubs up against him, scaring her off with a snarl, and he refuses a treat of chocolate. When the rabbit and lamb are placed before him, though, he tears them apart with his bare hands and teeth, feeding on their live flesh. Haller runs out the door, feeling that "this Magic Theater was clearly no paradise." Even here he can't escape from the horrors of life. Fearfully he scrambles around the corridor, tasting blood and chocolate in his mouth, trying to call fairer pictures into his mind instead of such distressing ones. With great relief he recalls the door with the sign "ALL GIRLS ARE YOURS," and he quickly escapes into this new world.


In this room of the theater Haller sees clearly how unnatural his former life has been. The two aspects of his previous personality take turns subjugating the other in a gruesome spectacle. When the man is in charge, the wolf must suppress its true nature, feeding on inappropriate food that has little life-sustaining value (chocolate). Meanwhile, it is prevented from consuming what it really wants and needs—meat—which is the natural food of wolves. This represents how Haller's inner animal has been starved and made to obey the rules of society, never receiving the rightful sustenance it needs. Haller has denied himself many pleasures that would feed his animal/sensuous nature, from unhindered sexual expression to foods that satisfy and indulge the palate.

Conversely, when the wolf gains the upper hand, the man must perform acts abhorrent to society and unnatural to his civilized, intellectual side. He tears apart and eats animals raw, a horrific act that disgusts the observing Haller. The man's humanity is stripped away by the wolf, causing him to snarl at an enticing woman, who runs away. This echoes how Haller has been unable to maintain a civil, loving relationship with the women in his life. Meanwhile, the man refuses the chocolate offered by the wolf, although chocolate is a civilized, socially acceptable indulgence many people enjoy. The wolf disdains civilized indulgences, which is reflected in Haller's disdain of jazz, sumptuous dinners, and so forth.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Haller's visit to this room of the Magic Theater is that he has chosen to enter it. He did not have to walk through the door and could have chosen a different door instead. As Pablo had stated earlier, "behind each door exactly what you seek awaits you." Perhaps what Haller was seeking was a true, unvarnished look at the terrible nature of the Steppenwolf, a personality that has offered him only suffering. By confronting the awful truth, Haller can plainly see how it is an existence he no longer wishes to continue. The room serves as a reminder that unless Haller can turn away from his old personality, it will continue to dominate his life, bringing misery. He shows his determination to leave the Steppenwolf behind by trying to conjure happier pictures in his mind and by escaping into a room that beckons far more pleasantly.

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