Summary and Analysis Harry Haller's Records: Magic Theater, Gallery 2 (playing chess)



Steppenwolf contemplates several possibilities for his second adventure including transforming into a plant or animal, Kamasutra, suicide, Eastern mysticism, capitalism, art and music, humor, and solitude. Steppenwolf chooses "GUIDANCE IN THE BUILDING UP OF THE PERSONALITY. SUCCESS GUARANTEED." He meets a chess player who resembles Pablo. The chess player offers to show Steppenwolf how to assemble his life, but he requires Steppenwolf's pieces first. Steppenwolf looks into a mirror again and watches his image shatter into miniature multiple selves. The chess player explains that schizomania is a normal state, even though society labels it as madness: "The separation of the unity of the personality into these numerous pieces passes for madness. Science has invented the name schizomania for it." Steppenwolf's pieces are arranged several times on the chess board to demonstrate possible alternate realities.


This gallery is much more satisfying than the last, because it provides opportunity for expiation, as well as control. Steppenwolf can atone for past indiscretions simply by rearranging the pieces of himself. There are endless chances to revise and edit his life through a few substitutions on the chess board, revised strategies, and calculated risks that are not risks at all, because mistakes can always be corrected. Steppenwolf rejoices in the chess board and its implications, namely that death is not permanent, sins can be forgiven, and consequences are not real. In addition, this gallery validates the treatise's notion that the soul is divided and consists of multiple selves. The chess player states, "Just as madness, in a higher sense is the beginning of all wisdom, so is schizomania the beginning of all art and fantasy."

Hesse once again draws on Platonic theory at this point in the novel. Up until this point, Steppenwolf has been operating under the assumption that he has a divided nature, and he cannot obtain peace or contentment due to the division. In addition, his past is defined by moments of regret during times when the wolf and human natures came into conflict. According to Plato, all knowledge can be retrieved from previous states of existence. In other words, Steppenwolf can edit the past — at least within the Magic Theater — and he can change the present and the future by drawing on knowledge of the events. The chess player states,

We demonstrate to anyone whose soul has fallen to pieces that he can rearrange these pieces of a previous self in what order he pleases, and so attain to an endless multiplicity of moves in the game of life. As the playwright shapes a drama from a handful of characters, so do we from the pieces of the disintegrated self build up ever new groups, with ever new interplay and suspense, and new situations that are eternally inexhaustible.


monotonous going on in the same tone without variation.

affinity close relationship; connection.

motif a main theme or subject to be elaborated on or developed, as in a piece of music, a book, and so on.

animation an animate condition; life.