Steppenwolf | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Steppenwolf | Section 9 : The Magic Theater: Jolly Hunting | Summary



Pablo takes Haller and Hermine to a small room upstairs, where they rest before entering the Magic Theater. Haller is disoriented, imagining he is seeing his own soul look back from their eyes. Pablo gives them a strange, uplifting elixir to drink and long cigarettes that fill the room with smoke, and they feel peaceful and light. Pablo declares himself their host for the Magic Theater, remarking how Haller has longed to escape the world and to find the world of his own soul. It lies within himself, and there must he go "to make your own world visible." Pablo takes out a small mirror, in which Haller sees his tormented self and within that, the form of the sad, beautiful Steppenwolf. Pablo then shows them the theater, which has a long corridor with countless doors opening into theater boxes. "Behind each door exactly what you seek awaits you," he explains. To enter Haller must temporarily surrender his current personality, which will only hinder him, for it is the very prison he seeks to escape.

Haller and Hermine will enter separately, with Haller going first. Pablo instructs him, "Without fear and with unfeigned pleasure, enter our visionary world," where the purpose is to learn to laugh and be jolly. He holds up the mirror again and asks Haller to erase its current reflection of himself, which he does by laughing at it. The image clouds over, vanquished, and Pablo tosses away the mirror with a laugh, congratulating Haller. "You will learn to laugh like the immortals yet," he says, cautioning Haller must make sure the Steppenwolf remains dead. This suicide is only a temporary one because they are in "a world of pictures, not realities." Haller must pick out happy, beautiful pictures in the theater to reinforce he is no longer attached to his former, dismal personality. When he feels the Steppenwolf rising up again, he need only look into a gigantic mirror on the wall of the theater. As Haller looks into it, hundreds of selves emerge from the glass, varying from young to old, from naked to impeccably dressed. One (a young man) leaps into Pablo's arms and they go off, while another (a teen) disappears through a door that says "ALL GIRLS ARE YOURS."

Haller is now alone in the theater, and he begins to read the inscriptions on the doors. He enters the first one that catches his attention: "JOLLY HUNTING / GREAT HUNT IN AUTOMOBILES." He has entered a war zone between men and machines, with burning cars, gunfire, and dead bodies strewn in the streets. Posters urge people to destroy the machines and rich plutocrats who profit from them, or conversely to help maintain order and the status quo. Haller sees how both sides are valid, but also how civilization must be destroyed to save the earth, so he "joined the battle joyfully." His wild, eager school friend Gustav appears, who shoots a driver and steals the car, allowing them to escape the city to a cliff overlooking the sea. There they hole up in a lookout post and shoot indiscriminately at all cars that pass by, killing several passersby.

From one shot-up car emerges a pretty girl, Dora, with her seriously injured employer, Attorney-General Loering, still inside the car. Gustav explains politely to the old man they are destroying all machines and people in an effort to alleviate overpopulation. He then asks how a person could be a public prosecutor and send people to their deaths. Loering replies he was only doing his duty, and Gustav himself is also killing people and wouldn't understand duty anyway. Gustav objects, saying he once did his duty in the war, doing horrible things because he was ordered to do so. Every man is born into the guilt of doing their duty in society, he says, and he is now resigned to kill people, to destroy the world, and to die himself. Loering respects this and tells him to get on with it then and kill him. Meanwhile, Dora faints and another car approaches. Gustav forces the car to stop and orders its occupants to take Loering to a nearby town for treatment.

Dora comes to and joins the pair in their lookout, and they continue to shoot passing cars. Gustav admits their actions are irrational and childish, "just as war is childishness on a gigantic scale," but given the situation decreasing the population is needed. Haller agrees their actions are mad, but probably "good and necessary" anyway, and overthinking solves nothing in an irrational world. Even rational systems such as those of the Americans or Bolsheviks are oppressive, so "madmen like us" may as well act. They enjoy the beautiful view as they continue to shoot people, though Dora cries and asks, "Have we all got to die then?" A pedestrian who happens by loots the crashed cars of wine and a snack, then sits down on the wall overlooking the water to enjoy the meal. He is too happy and innocent for the shooters to kill, and suddenly they are ashamed of the blood they've spilled. They decide to climb down to look for food, and as Haller kisses Dora's knee she laughs and the scene falls apart.


The text suggests Haller takes drugs from Pablo through the elixir and the cigarettes, making the scenes that follow feel like a psychedelic trip through the mind. Pablo tries to prepare Haller for this and give him instructions on how to have a "good trip." He points out the Magic Theater is "a world of pictures, not realities," and the reality Haller longs for is solely inside himself. Though the beautiful pictures of the theater are not real, they can still teach Haller how to cope with reality and to laugh at its absurdities, if he will learn the lesson. Pablo also cautions Haller will find only what he seeks and advises him to seek pleasure and fun. Haller being Haller, though, his old personality emerges to create a "bad trip" at many times during the experience.

The mirror as a symbol of self-examination is prominent in the Magic Theater. The pocket mirror Pablo presents to Haller shows a small portion of Haller's personality, the Steppenwolf. Haller is able to commit the "trifling suicide" of setting aside this personality, which then allows him to try on other aspects of his personality without interference. The giant mirror in the Magic Theater holds infinite possibilities for Haller to test drive. It is telling that the first inner selves Haller sees are most interested in love—one goes off with Pablo while another teenage version enters the "ALL GIRLS" room. This suggests what Haller wants most now is love. What he chooses in his first room, though, isn't love, it is violence and death, the nightmare war he dreads will come true. Evidently he needs to experience and work through this issue first before he can move on to more pleasurable experiences.

The "jolly hunting" Haller embarks on expresses his wish for the current world to be destroyed so a better world can emerge: a world in which humans care for the earth and use common sense to avoid overpopulation and war. It is also a release of aggression Haller has suppressed. In the Magic Theater he is free to kill with impunity, and he embraces this impulse with glee. Again Haller uses a mental prop to condone his actions, this time in the form of his childhood friend Gustav. Gustav provides Haller the opportunity and reasoning to act out his own lust for violence. This is an inclination the civilized part of Haller shrinks from in real life and that he abhors in the war-mongering society around him. Haller must get to the bottom of this shadow aspect of himself; he must experience and accept it in order to move past it and grow. Haller proves himself up to the task when, at the end of the sequence, he irreverently kisses Dora's knee and she laughs. This shows Haller sees the absurdity of this part of his personality, and he chooses to blast the unreal violence (that exists only in his mind) to smithereens through the playful kiss.

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