Herman Hesse’s Demian is a novel about search for meaning and transformation. Emil Sinclair, the protagonist of the novel, goes through multiple internal and external transformations, which change his personality and vision of reality. The novel has two modes of narration. External events are reflected in the inner world of the main characters and influence them. Surrealistic elements of the novel serve as additional means to express Hesse’s ideas. Despite Demian is not a typical journey-to-maturity novel, it has some elements which describe Emil’s becoming as a personality.
First-person narration helps the readers to penetrate into thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. At the beginning of the novel Emil is described like a ten-year-old boy, who has a lot of questions about the world around him and who tries to find his own way. He has plenty of thoughts in has head but does not know what to do with them. He is not satisfied with information he gets in school and from his parents but at the same time he does not know where to get knowledge which would have satisfied him. This is the first stage, stage of innocence, where Sinclair lives and harmony with the world around him and believes everything he is told.
Next stage, or loss of innocence and expel from symbolic Eden Garden, makes Emil to discover dark part of the soul. Interaction with Kromer gives him important experience and becomes the first step to the unknown world. Sinclair experiences his first transformation thanks to Kromer. Kromer discovers that there is a world of darkness. Being too young Sinclair can not understand everything that Kromer tells him but at the same time he looses his naive way of thinking. Now he realizes that he has changed forever and the world around him will never be the same again.
During the entire novel Emil is caught in conflict between good and evil but this conflict has different manifestations during different stages of his development. In his childhood innocence good and bad is defined by social norms and standards. He takes for granted good and bad in the way parents and teachers explain these notions to him. After some time he starts looking for true meaning of these notions and it took him long time before he uncovered true sense of good and bad inside of him. In the beginning of the novel Emil regards his home as incarnation of heaven, where he can feel free and safe.
He thinks of angles, as they are presented in Christian teaching and wants to be like them. For him angles possess nature everybody should strive for. This state of childhood innocence is very often broken by the reality of life. Kromer breaks his innocence and expels him from his safe and comfortable existence. Despite Emil regards this intrusion like terrible tragedy and regrets his lost innocence he finally realizes that all these events were necessary as they gave push to his development and spiritual quest. Biblical story about Cain has an important meaning in the novel.
It has special meaning for Sinclair as it uncovers unstableness of good and bad and an ability of these two notions to transform and supplement each other. Stealing apples from Eve’s garden becomes a symbolic gesture, which stands for eating fruit from Biblical tree of Good and Evil, which symbolizes the loss of innocence. After this happens, Sinclair starts seeing things in new perspective and starts questioning the origin of events and things he sees around himself. Meeting with Demian becomes an occurrence, which completely changes Sinclair’s personality.
Free way of thinking, particular to Demian, becomes absolutely new for Emil and it takes him some time to get along with ideas presented by Demian. For example he is hard to perceive new version of Biblical story about Cain and Abel. As Sinclair comments about doubts concerning this story: “A stone had been dropped into the well, the well was my youthful soul. And for a very long time this matter of Cain, the fratricide, and the ‘mark’ formed the point of departure for all my attempts at comprehension, my doubts and my criticism” (Hesse, 78). New version of story about Cain, told to him by Demian changes his perspective completely.
He feels that he also has that mark of Cain and realizes his freedom as a destiny which can not be escaped. New thoughts and feelings enter his life but he still does not know how to deal with them. Max Demian is half-mystical figure, which becomes one of the main reasons of Sinclair’s transformation. In the novel Demian is described only through Sinclair’s eyes. He perceived Demian as mysterious and divine creature and such status can be explained by great influence which Demian had on Sinclair’s inner transformation. It is Demian, who teaches Sinclair to be free from social norms and traditions put in him by his teachers and parents.
Demian is free from any kind of norms and traditions and he gives this precious experience to his friend. For certain period of time Demian becomes Sinclair’s guide in his life and spiritual search. As soon as Demian frees Sinclair from Kromer’s threats, Sinclair makes an attempt to come back to his routine life, where he feels comfortable and protected. He fails to do so partially because of the glimpse of new experience he got from his new friend, and partially because of his inner desire to know more than ordinary people do.
Demian teaches him to think differently, helps him to uncover his true moves and desires. This meeting results in great transformation, which makes Sinclair free and independent. As soon as this transformation occurs, Demian leaves Sinclair knowing that he will be able to continue his life and search without him. His spiritual message makes Sinclair remember about “another” world, which stands beyond standard way of thinking and perception. As Demian states: “You knew all along that your sanctioned world was only half the world and you tried to suppress the second half the way the priests and teachers do.
You won’t succeed. No one succeeds in this once he has begun to think” (Hesse, 132). This new realization make Sinclair see more than ordinary people do and helps him to take decision of his own. Now Sinclair understands that God, who has created everything good and pure, which exists on this earth, has also created everything bad and ugly. This stage comes next to protest against evil things, which surround us. Seeing evil as a part of divine plane and Cain as a person chosen, but not cursed by God, becomes a difficult realization but it changes Sinclair’s life completely.
As he states, “I mean we ought to consider everything sacred, the entire world, not this artificially separated half” (Hesse, 51). These new realizations brings him perception of things and people, that surround him and, what is more important, this new knowledge helps him to perceive his own nature and its evil part. New understanding of Cain story, when he is treated like a person selected and marked by good uncovers Sinclair’s new interpretation of religious doctrines and relationship between good and evil. Hesse turns to Abraxas as a god, who possesses both, good and evil parts.
Sinclair comes to this sudden realization when trying to make a picture of the hawk: “The bird is struggling out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wants to be born must destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The name of the God is called Abraxas” (Hesse, 113). This metaphor is very symbolic as it describes Hesse’s idea of person’s self-discovery and stages each person should undergo in the process of discovering true self. Only after the person’s world is destroyed he is able to see get true vision of self. That is exactly what happens to Emil Sinclair.
Only after this transformation Sinclair gets the ability to uncover real world around him. Now he is able to see things and events the way they are but not the way social opinion describes them. This new vision enables him to see the beauty of the world around him. With the help of Demian and his personal strength Emil learns how to deal with his evil nature. Protest against social norms and traditions becomes particular characteristic of this stage. This protest makes Emil to look for some higher truths, which finally results in the self-quest and self-discovery. Now Sinclair is able to see through strict social order.
He receives some inner justice, which directs all his actions from now on. Sinclair makes new attempts to escape reflections on the fundamental questions of reality. He tries to find peace in meeting women and drinking but he finally fails. First experience of self-discovery and realization of the necessity to look for the true self are the main characteristics of the next stage. The image of Beatrice becomes a symbol of human soul, which gives sense for human life and Sinclair spends much time and effort before he realizes that beautiful image of Beatrice is not an unachievable ideal, but the part of his true self.
After the appearance of Beatrice, he finally realizes that he can not escape his way of questioning everything in the world. As he describes this meeting: “Suddenly, a new image had risen up before me, a lofty and cherished image. And no need, no urge was as deep or as fervent within me as the craving to worship and admire. I gave her the name Beatrice” (Hesse, 157). This meeting becomes a push to next transformation. Sinclair finally gets an idea about the type of person he would wish to be. This inner motive becomes dominant, which conditions all further behavior of Sinclair.
Meeting with Beatrice helps Demian to have glimpse of impression, which appears when person meets with his own soul and this experience forms such a strong longing that Sinclair dedicates all his further life looking for this experience. Meeting Pistorius is also important because it also gives new push to Sinclair’s development. Pistorius becomes his mentor, he did not find in other teachers he met on his way. After some time Sinclair overcomes Pistorius and can move further without his help. Despite they finally end their communication; Sinclair gets a lot of useful experience from Pistorius.
He becomes more confident in his own choices and gets more courage to act as a free person. All meetings and people are not occasional in the novel. They have deep meaning and help Sinclair to make steps on the way to his true self and discovery of his true personality. He gains enough courage to doubt social standards put in him by his parents and question Christian values. As he states about his true desires: “We who bore the mark, felt no anxiety about the shape the future was to take. All of these faiths and teachings seemed to us already dead and useless.
The only duty and destiny we acknowledged was that each one of us should become so completely himself, so utterly faithful to the active seed which nature planted within him, that in living out its growth he could be surprised by nothing unknown to come” (Hesse, 117). Only after much effort Sinclair is able to approach ultimate goal of his life and meet Frau Eva. This woman becomes his next step in the way to his self-discovery. She manages to show inner qualities, motives and features Sinclair would not be able to discover alone.
Being strong and carrying, Eva plays many roles in her relations with Sinclair. She becomes his lover, his mother and friend. Frau Eva becomes incarnation of those qualities, which Sinclair lacks and wants to discover firstly in people around him and finally inside his own soul. Eva helps Emil to achieve new stage of transformation. His romantic feelings towards this woman finally grow into impersonal love, which is widespread to everything around him. After long period Sinclair meets Demian again and their communication brings him new push for inner quest.
After some time Sinclair is finally able to continue his journey alone and experience he got during his transformation gives him courage and confidence to live according to his inner moves and follow the way of his soul. His final meeting with Demian in the last scene of the book is very symbolic. Sinclair finally realizes that his transformation is over now and he can find divine origin, same as roots of evil inside of his own soul. “Perhaps you’ll need me again sometime, against Kromer or something.
If you call me then I won’t come crudely, on horseback or by train. You’ll have to listen within yourself, then you will notice that I am within you” (Hesse, 213). Now he does not need to look for somebody’s help and ask for somebody’s advices. Series of transformations uncover his true nature and now he knows that all answers appear inside of him and all his changes and self-discovery was nothing but a way to learn to look for these answers.
Hesse, Hermann. Demian. Trans. Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck. N. Y. : Bantam, 1966