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From his initials, his age and appearance, and such references to his personal history as his wife's insanity and the newspaper abuse of him as a pacifist, Harry Haller is considered a portrait of Hermann Hesse, who was struggling out of the same depression as Haller when he wrote the novel. Harry is an intellectual, a poet, and a music lover. He does not work for a living but lives well on an income. He is desperately lonely, without home or family, living a cheerless life in a lodging house. He is full of contradictions. He despises the middle class, is disgusted by a comfortable day without pain or joy in typical middle-class moderation. Yet he chooses to live in a middle-class house and loves its cleanliness and order. He is a sensitive, civilized man but believes that under the surface is a wild wolf of the plains, and that these contradictory selves are continually at war. His adventures in the novel take him into the night world of pleasure, and then through dreamlike experiences in the Magic Theater, where he confronts not only his wolf self but many other selves that make up his personality.
In Harry's first-person narrative he is seen to be changed by these experiences, although reluctantly. At the end you are left to wonder whether he will indeed go on to make a happier life for himself. Do you think Harry is unique, or do other human beings have similar multiple personalities? Can you find examples of this in yourself, your family members, your friends? Does Harry offer a guide for confronting these many selves to make a richer and happier life?
The narrator of the preface is the landlady's nephew, who lives next door to Harry. He is a well-meaning young businessman of conventional habits and typical middle-class tastes, including concerts and art lectures. He is suspicious of the new lodger-who keeps irregular hours and doesn't work for living-and he is made uneasy by Harry's profound sadness. At the same time he is impressed by Harry's obvious financial respectability, and finds himself sympathetic to the eccentric lodger. Years after Harry has left, he is haunted by impressions of Harry that remain with him. Oddly, he was entirely unaware of Harry's excursion into the city's night life until he read Harry's "records." He thinks these adventures may all be fictitious, but decides to publish them anyway. The nephew gives you your only portrait of Harry as seen from outside himself.
The aunt, Harry's landlady, is a middle-class housewife who keeps her house in shining order. She is a motherly woman who listens sympathetically but doesn't ask questions.
The complete opposite of middle-class respectability, this beautiful woman is a prostitute who practices both heterosexual and homosexual love. In a motherly way she takes Harry in hand, looks after his comfort, and teaches him to enjoy pleasure. In this respect she is recognizable as a real person, but one with an aura of mystery. From one moment to the next Harry sees her as a boy, the friend of his adolescence. She understands Harry as though she has known him for years, gives him orders-which he unquestioningly obeys-and warns him that her last command will be to kill her. At this point she reveals touches of herself as unreal and magical, as part of Harry's inner state. In Hermine you see a first example of Hesse's use of names as symbols: Hermine is the feminine equivalent of Hermann, the name of Harry's boyhood friend. You also see in Hermine a literary version of an image in psychoanalytic theory. She is Harry's female side, projected by him onto a real woman.
Hermine introduces Maria, a lovely young prostitute, to Harry as part of his education in pleasure. She is a total innocent who lives for the moment and suffers no guilt. Unlike Hermine, she comes across as an entirely real young woman who serves as Harry's sexual outlet.
Pablo is both a real and a dream figure who changes with Harry's experiences. His reality is as a jazz musician and a dandy, but he also appears to be a young god of love, then a magician who takes on the guise of Mozart, Harry's supreme idol among the Immortals. As a real person Pablo dispenses drugs and leads the Masked Ball, and as a figure of magic from Harry's inner world he opens the way for Harry into the Magic Theater. Hesse concentrates in this character the jazz, sex, drugs, drinking, and dancing of the postwar youth of the 1920s (and again of the 1960s).
Harry meets this old schoolmate on his night of exploration, but the professor turns out to be an example of the rigid, intolerant bourgeoisie which Harry detests.