Steppenwolf | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Steppenwolf | Section 12 : The Magic Theater: All Girls Are Yours | Summary



Inside the door labeled "ALL GIRLS ARE YOURS," it is a lovely spring day from Haller's youth. He stands atop a hill overlooking his boyhood town, overwhelmed by the sights, smells, and sounds around him. The world is radiant with color and magic, and Haller feels young again, a teenage boy with unkissed lips. He is full of energy and passion, his soul enlivened, his head full of poetry and art. Above all he feels the call of sex and desire. Haller realizes he is reliving the day he met his first, unrequited love, the beautiful Rosa Kreisler. Thirty-five years ago, she had crossed his path on that very hill. On that day Haller had shyly removed his hat, a stiff greeting she returned with "a smile that was quite grown-up." Rosa had passed him by as he looked longingly after her.

Now, though, as Rosa approaches, Haller knows instinctively she likes him, too, and he offers her a different greeting. Eagerly he cries out how much he loves her. Blushing deeply, Rosa responds joyfully, neither passing him by nor putting on grown-up airs. The light in her eyes makes Haller realize he has botched his entire love life ever since he first let Rosa pass him by. With this rewriting of the past, though, everything changes. Haller and Rosa stroll hand in hand, discovering an awkward, shy, and incredibly sweet first love. They are too shy to even kiss, yet their innocent love is blissful. They speak of marriage and exchange gathered violets, then sadly part for home, each carrying their secret love within their hearts. Throughout the spring they meet, have their first kiss, and learn together what it means to love.

After this idyllic encounter Haller relives all of his former loves, "but under happier stars." Haller loves and loses many a girl, each teaching him lessons and helping him climb the "ladder of love." Even girls who once turned him down now find love in Haller. It then occurs to him he is the boy he had earlier seen enter this room, his younger self, a distinct part of his personality. He is living that personality "to the full," and it can grow unhindered by the other aspects of himself. He is lover and only lover, and with each girl he receives and gives gifts only they can give one another. Haller drinks in all the love he has missed in his life, having sexual interludes with countless women. "I was a child in the stream of sex," he notes, realizing how many rich opportunities he has missed out on as the Steppenwolf. Haller surrenders to every experience, seduced even by Pablo and enticed into scenes of group sex. As these interludes run their course, Haller grows wise in the ways of love, feeling "ripe for Hermine." She is the last lover to come before him, but Haller at once snaps himself out of "this fairy tale of love." He wants to be with Hermine for the first time in the real world and as his whole self, not in this fantasy world of discovery.


Inside this room of the Magic Theater Haller has a chance to relive every love affair he has ever had or missed out on. Only this time he can rewrite each scenario with an ideal, happier resolution. Haller has started to understand how to use the Magic Theater to create his own reality. In the unreality of the Magic Theater he is the master of the game and has nothing to lose. This allows him to make moves he did not dare to make in real life at the time the events actually happened. Haller journeys back in his past to replay previous games, practicing his skills at moving the pieces of his life. He is both delighted and amazed to discover how wonderfully his life can unfold when he follows his heart and takes emotional risks. His entire life Haller has been preventing himself from living fully by not taking emotional risks. Much of his unhappiness has been his own fault because he has played by the rules too strictly or because he has feared rejection.

This is markedly demonstrated in his rewritten encounter with Rosa. As an insecure teen Haller had followed the rules of society in his polite greeting to Rosa when he had really wanted to confess his love to her. His conservative gesture of doffing his cap was met by her cool, "grown-up" reaction. Both had put on a false display based on how society has taught them to act rather than acting on their true feelings. This changed both the course of their summer and of Haller's subsequent love life. When Haller takes a risk by confessing his love in the Magic Theater, though, Rosa's reaction is childlike and genuine. Haller sees she, too, had only been pretending at being grown-up those many years ago. She had wanted the same magic and love Haller did, but they had missed out on it in real life.

Haller's openness to exploring all facets of his sexuality in the Magic Theater shows he has made strides in self-exploration and acceptance. However, he makes Hermine the exception to these sensual triumphs in unreality. While he now feels "ripe" for her in experience and understanding, a part of him rejects the Magic Theater as a "fairy tale." In this he treats the playing piece of Hermine differently from the other pieces of the game.

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