“There is much that I could say about the happy and tender incidents in my childhood days, the sense of security which I enjoyed with my parents, my childish affections and carefree, irresponsible existence in a gentle and affectionate ambience. But my interest is reserved for the steps that I took in my life towards self-realization. All the pleasant points of repose, islands of happiness, paradises whose magic was not unknown to me can remain, as far as I am concerned, in the enchanted distance; for it is not a world that I have any particular desire to re-enter”
Demian: The Story of *Emil Sinclair’s Youth (1919)
(*peudonym of Hermann Hesse)
Demian is the story of a boy, Emil Sinclair, and his search for himself. Emil was raised in a good traditional home at the turn of the century in the young nation of Germany. His family is rather wealthy and they have a reputation as an upright, godly family. As a boy, Sinclair views the world within the walls of his home as representing all that is good, pure, innocent, and godly. But starting at a young age he feels a constant inner conflict between this world, which he refers to as the “world of light” and the outside world, or “forbidden realm” which represents sin, lonliness, deceit, and insecurity. And although his mother, father, and two sisters remain within the “world of light”, he constantly feels drawn to the outside realm and is in this way somewhat estranged from his family and their sphere of security. He ends up vacillating between both and not belonging to either.
- Emil Sinclair is the protagonist of the novel. Sinclair is confused as to what his life is, and is going to be, and constantly seeks mentorship throughout the novel. He tends to need validation by an older figure, and finds mentors in figures such as Pistorius, Demian, and Eva.
- Sinclair’s mother and father are the symbols of safety toward which Sinclair first finds refuge, but against whom he eventually rebels.
- Franz Kromer is a bully, whose psychological torture leads Sinclair to meet Demian.
- Max Demian is a childhood friend and a mentor of Sinclair. Demian leads Sinclair to his eventual self-realization, and may be considered Emil’s daemon.
- Alfons Beck is the “sarcastic and avuncular” oldest boy at the boarding house where Sinclair enrolls after his confirmation. Beck serves as a minor mentor to Sinclair, and introduces Sinclair to the joys and pitfalls of alcohol.
- Pistorius is a rector, an organist at a local church, and a temporary mentor for Sinclair. Pistorius teaches Sinclair how to look inside himself for spiritual guidance.
- Frau Eva is Max Demian’s mother. She steadily becomes Sinclair’s ideal characterisation in life, first in his pictures and visions, then in person.
One of the major themes is the existence of opposing forces and the idea that both are necessary.
The novel refers to the idea of Gnosticism, particularly the god Abraxas*, showing the influence of Carl Jung’s psychology. According to Hesse, the novel is a story of Jungian individuation, the process of opening up to one’s unconsciousness. (*idealizing the harmonious union of all that is good and evil in the world. Demian argues that the Christian God is an insufficient god)
Women in Demian
Women play a vital role in the Jungian interpretation of Demian. At the beginning, Sinclair looks up towards his sisters and mother, and even his house maid. While he was in school, he sees a beautiful woman whom he calls Beatrice, and towards the end of the novel, when Sinclair is an adolescent man, he discovers Demian’s mother, Frau Eva. These women do not have major roles in the story, but Hesse uses them symbolically as facets of the depths of Sinclair’s mind.
Photography: ©Reinfried Marass
Series: “Blitz Familie” (Unpublished photos)
“The things we see are the same things that are within us. There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.”
“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
“The things we see,” Pistorius said softly, “are the same things that are within us. There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself. You can be happy that way. But once you know the other interpretation you no longer have the choice of following the crowd. Sinclair, the majority’s path is an easy one, ours is difficult.”
“Each of us has to find out for himself what is permitted and what is forbidden.. Forbidden for him. It’s possible for one never to transgress a single law and still be a bastard. And vice versa.”
“I live in my dreams — that’s what you sense. Other people live in dreams, but not in their own. That’s the difference.”