Hermann Hesse's Demian
The biblical story of Abel and Cain was deeply rooted in this novel.
This theme was used to explore the life of a young man growing up in Germany.
Compared to the novel Siddhartha, Demian had a more surrealistic quality to
it. Some of the physical events that occurred would not have been possible in
reality. In Siddhartha, only the mental events were surreal. The theme of
self-discovery was explored with a Jung approach. Hermann Hesse was obviously
under the influence of Dr. Carl Jung when he wrote the novel.
The story was told as a lookback into the past. By the end of the first
couple of pages, Emil Sinclair explicitly revealed this fact to the reader.
The development of the two worlds of good and evil took place early in the
novel. Sinclair's home and his family symbolized the good of the world, while
almost everything else outside of the household was considered the evils of
the world. Max Demian was a strange being because he seemed to be an all-
knowing character. He was the wise one, similar to the river in Siddhartha.
As the story developed, the narrator (Sinclair) became lost in his dreams and
the boundaries between reality and fantasy were frequently mixed up. Because
of his troublesome dreams, Sinclair slowly lost control of his life and was
controlled by them.
The paintings done by Sinclair were one of the most symbolic of all
symbols. His paintings transformed from one figure to another, right before
his eyes. Some times, they were two of more figures at once. For example,
his painting transformed from a picture of Demian, to Demian's mother, to
Beatrice, to himself, and to the bird. There were periods when the painting
showed all four of these figures combined. In some every strange way it
represented all of them. This idea still shocks me today. Demian's mother
represented some kind of mother figure. This could be traced to the
influences of Jung.
A major image was the fires that Sinclair and Pistorius stared into. The
bright yellow and red colours brought on the images of the devil and evilness.
When Sinclair stared into the fire, he was exploring the dark world.
In general, the author believed that in order to discover oneself, one
must first destroy the world around them. It must then be built up again,
slowly and painfully. This belief was symbolized in the images of the bird
breaking away from its egg. Sinclair was consumed by this thought. He
dreamed of it, painted pictures of it, and had seen it in this town. From
suffering comes redemption and this was the only way to experience life. The
author brought out the feeling that the symbolic bird was eating Sinclair from
the inside out. In the story Demian forced Sinclair to swallow the picture of
the bird. Sinclair had felt the bird inside himself. Sinclair was consumed in
Sinclair shifted several times from the good world and the evil world,
trying to find his place in society. By the end, he discovered that the world
must have both of these worlds. With the help of Demian, he developed a new
kind of God that was both good and evil. He was called Abraxas. This final
idea was caused by a new interpretation of the story of Abel and Cain. Cain
had a mark on him because God had thought of him as unique and not evil. Cain
was the stronger of the two brothers and his actions were justified. Though
Demian had corrupted Sinclair by teaching him how to interpret the bible,
Demian was like a father-figure to Sinclair. Demian had lifted Sinclair out
of his ruined life and had given him freedom. Demian was some kind of free
spirit, almost like Christ.
Similar to the story of Siddhartha, at one point in the novel Sinclair
discovered the beauty of the world around him. Sinclair became as wise as
Demian by the end of the novel. In the final page, the death of Demian
signified the achievement of his goal. He had gained experience in life. He
had discovered himself. Demian had moved on to another world when he saw that
Sinclair no longer needed his help.
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