Exercise of Demian by Herman Hesse

Exercise of Demian by Herman Hesse


Hermann Hesse was born on July 2, 1877 in Calw, Germany. He grew up in a strictly religious but scholarly household. In 1891, Hesse began studies at the seminary in Maulbronn. Although an excellent student, Hesse was not well suited to the lifestyle of the seminary. After a tumultuous couple of years between the seminary and an apprenticeship, Hesse began work at a bookstore in Tubingen in 1895. Hesse took to poetry furthering straying from views inculcated in him by his parents to a more Romantic and freer system of thought. Hesse moved to Switzerland in 1912. When World War I began in 1914, he was further forced to question his allegiance to his origins—to Germany, his motherland, a country that inspired a national attachment far stronger than those which tend to exist today between people and their countries. Hesse’s decision to write against the war while in Switzerland required breaking a strongly held bond to the German nation. These episodes in Hesse’s life no doubt inform the transformation that he chose to explore in Demian, which he wrote in the midst of the war, in 1917.

Hesse’s Demian dealt with the problem and experience of change. The First World War is often seen as a time during which the world was robbed of its innocence. It was the first truly modern war and was on an immensely large scale so as to affect practically all of Europe. The extent of the destruction and the capacity of the machinery used were of an entirely unprecedented scale. It is against this backdrop that Hesse chooses to explore the inner workings of a young boy as he grows and loses his innocence.

Hesse was profoundly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and many of the ideas expressed in Demian are borrowed from Nietzsche’s work. Nietzsche published Beyond Good and Evil in 1886, offering a radical rejection of traditional societal values. His work argued that moral edicts were unnecessary; the distinction between “good” and “evil” need not play a dominant role in the decisions people make and the actions they perform. For those who could see this, action could and would be guided by a will to power. Man has a natural inclination to rise up, but only a few special men would be able to see beyond the values of their society to be able to express this will. The rest, the herd of bestial men, would simply follow along and listen to the rules with which they had been presented. Nietzsche placed a particularly high value on creative genius and often claimed that the world existed only for a few very special men. He displayed an equally strong loathing for Christianity, which he saw as inculcating moral principles that suppressed that which could make man great. Nietzsche’s ideas captured the imagination of many intellectuals, particularly in Germany, around the turn of the century.

Influences from Hesse’s personal life, world affairs, and intellectual currents all pointed in the same direction. Hesse melds these influences into a compelling tale that explores fundamental questions about what it means to grow up and how best to lead one’s life.





Plot Overview

Demian presents the reflections of an older man on his childhood. In this book, Emil Sinclair recounts the various episodes of his childhood that led to a profound change in his Weltanschauung or worldview. Interspersed in and among these tales are Sinclair’s recollections of what he was thinking at the time in question and some analysis of why he acted as he did in any given situation.

The first episode occurs when Sinclair is ten years old. Sinclair invents a story about stealing some apples and is then blackmailed by an eleven year old thug, Franz Kromer. Not having enough money to pay off Kromer, Sinclair begins to steal and is otherwise subjected to tormenting humiliation by Kromer. A slightly older, but amazingly mature boy, Max Demian, soon enters Sinclair’s school. He approaches Sinclair one day after class and presents him with an inventive interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel. This interpretation contradicts the standard Christian story Sinclair has been fed and the new idea excites Sinclair. Seemingly knowing everything, and with unbounded capability, Demian convinces Kromer to stop tormenting Sinclair. Freed from the source of his tensions, Sinclair abandons Demian and attempts to become a more model child.

After a number of years of only peripheral contact, Sinclair and Demian are reunited in a confirmation class. Though they do not spend much time together at first, their relationship is rekindled after the teacher discusses Cain and Abel in class one day. Demian switches his seat to be next to Sinclair and they spend much time discussing the will and exploring Demian’s uncanny ability to affect how other people act. During this time, Sinclair’s religious faith begins to wane. Demian presents him with the thought that worshipping the God of the Bible is not sufficient. The God of the Bible represents all that is sanctified and good in the world, but, Demian insists, one ought to worship the entire world—the evil parts too. Sinclair is elated that Demian has touched on these thoughts—that the world is divided in two realms—light and darkness, good and bad.

Sinclair enters boarding school, confused and unsure of what he thinks and believes. One day he is approached by an older boy, Alfons Beck, who invites him to a bar. They go off together, drink wine, and chat. This marks the beginning of a rebellious streak and a new group of friends for young Sinclair. He often goes out late into the night, drinking and carousing. However, he refrains from one of the activities popular among his friends: he refuses to go with them when they visit women because Sinclair has a yearning for love, not sex. One day in the park, Sinclair sees a girl who is, for him, the paradigm of beauty. She has some male features, but is surrounded by an incredibly alluring air. Though he never speaks to her, he names her Beatrice, and she becomes a symbol for him, an ideal for whom he acts. Immediately he reforms his behavior and ceases his activities with his friends. Also, he begins to take up painting and paints a picture of this girl. Days later he realizes that the picture is also a picture of Demian.

In class one day, Sinclair finds a note that speaks about breaking free. Also, it mentions a god, Abraxas. Sinclair is certain that the note is from Demian. Only half paying attention to the day’s lecture, Sinclair perks up when he hears his teacher mention Abraxas. The teacher says that Abraxas is an ancient God who contains both divine and satanic elements.

Strolling about town one day, Sinclair hears music emanating from a small, locked church. He is moved by it and sits outside to listen for a while. He does this many times and eventually decides to trail the organist as he leaves after playing on one occasion. Sinclair follows him to a bar and sits beside him. They begin to chat and Sinclair mentions Abraxas. At once, the organist, Pistorius, takes a great interest in Sinclair. This is the start of an intense relationship between the two men. Pistorius becomes a mentor to Sinclair, helping him to learn further things about himself and teaching him a bit about Abraxas.

Knauer, a classmate of Sinclair, approaches him after school one day, seeking guidance. Sinclair feels that he has very little to offer to the boy. Sinclair tells him only that he needs to learn to be comfortable with what his innermost soul wants. Later, out for a stroll one restless night, Sinclair comes across Knauer, who is ready to commit suicide. He saves Knauer, for which Knauer later displays much gratitude and allegiance.

Sinclair begins to see that Pistorius has limitations. He tells Pistorius that he is too “antiquarian.” He brings Pistorius to recognize that he can only teach Sinclair about old gods and ideas of the past—he is not creative enough to invent new ones. Their relationship ends as Sinclair ends his time at preparatory school. Before entering university, Sinclair visits Demian’s old house. There, the new owner shows him a picture of Demian’s mother. Sinclair realizes that she looks exactly like the portraits he has been drawing, and he unsuccessfully searches for her.

Strolling around his college town one evening, Sinclair runs into Demian and they are happily reunited. Demian tells Sinclair that his mother will be very excited to see him; he tells him to come by whenever he is ready to see her. The next day, an excited Sinclair goes to the Demian household. He and Frau Eva bond at once. They speak of the long journey he has undergone to arrive at this point.

Sinclair soon becomes a regular in the Demian household. He is immensely happy to be spending his time with Demian, Demian’s mother, and others of their type who pass through. There is, however, a note of darkness—both Demian and Sinclair have premonitions of evil to come. Talk about a war begins to brew. Sinclair spends that summer with the Demian family, further strengthening his bond with both Demian and Frau Eva. One day he summons his mental energy to telepathically call Frau Eva. She hears his call and sends Demian to him. Sinclair is ecstatic that it works.

War begins and Demian is called to serve as a lieutenant. Before Sinclair goes off to war, Eva tells him that he now knows how to call her and whenever he needs to, he can do so and she will send somebody like her to his side.

Sinclair is wounded in battle. He summons his energy and finds Demian by his side one night in the infirmary. Demian tells Sinclair that if he ever feels like he needs help, he no longer needs to call Demian. He simply needs to look inside himself and he will see that Demian is within him. With that, Demian gives him a light kiss on the lips—a kiss that he says is from Frau Eva—and vanishes into the night.

Character List

Emil Sinclair  –  Sinclair is the protagonist and the narrator of Demian. The book is a chronicle of his intellectual development from the time he was ten until his late teens. An older Sinclair (who is at least middle aged) tells the stories of his youth that played a key role in his personal growth. Demian recounts the story of Sinclair’s interactions with Demian and a host of other characters who are instrumental in his intellectual transformation. This intellectual transformation is one that changes Demian from a religious boy who follows others’ commands to a man who seeks to be aware of, and fulfill the deepest desires of, his soul.

Read an in-depth analysis of Emil Sinclair.

Max Demian  –  An almost unnaturally precocious youth who first meets Sinclair while still in grade school. From early on, he is always seen as out of the ordinary. He is an outcast from society, but an immensely special outcast. He inspires Sinclair at many of the steps along his route to self-discovery. Even when the two are not together, Sinclair often feels Demian’s influence. Demian is, more than anyone else, the character responsible for getting Sinclair to recognize the importance of living for himself and breaking free of societal constraints. Demian, who seems to have all this figured out at quite a young age, mentors Sinclair, remaining present in his life until he has fully matured.

Read an in-depth analysis of Max Demian.

Frau Eva  –  Demian’s mother. An all-encompassing character, she has both male and female features, meant to symbolize her superiority and timelessness. She is not bound by the traditional societal idea of what a woman should be and for this reason she becomes Sinclair’s ideal woman. She is the woman who looks like the portraits Sinclair paints. She is Sinclair’s protector and, for him, the ultimate symbol of love, beauty, and perfection. Sinclair falls deeply in love with her, the combination of a romantic and a motherly figure, even before he meets her.

Read an in-depth analysis of Frau Eva.

Beatrice  –  A girl Sinclair sees in a park by his boarding school. She becomes a symbol of love for him and is the person whom he is inspired to try to paint. She has both male and female physical features and in this way she contains features of two realms that were thought to be opposed. She therefore symbolizes the type of life Sinclair strives to lead—one in which elements from the two seemingly opposed realms of light and darkness come together.

Pistorius  –  An organist at a church in the town of Sinclair’s boarding school. Sinclair stalks him, secretly listening to him play music. They eventually meet when Sinclair follows him to a bar. He teaches Sinclair a lot about Abraxas. Pistorius is a foil for Demian—he is Sinclair’s mentor during a period of time when Demian is absent from his life.

Abraxas –  A God known to mystics in ancient times who contains both good and evil aspects. Abraxas captures Sinclair’s imagination more than the Christian God, who is only a God of the good, the holy. The later part of Sinclair’s preparatory school years are spent in search and study of Abraxas.

Franz Kromer  –  A local bully who blackmails the ten-year-old Sinclair. He is a manipulative figure, who first shatters Sinclair’s innocence. Sinclair is deathly afraid of him until Demian saves Sinclair from Kromer. Throughout the book, Kromer comes up as a reminder of how Demian and Sinclair formed their early bond.

Knauer –  A student who seeks out Sinclair for intellectual guidance toward the end of Sinclair’s time at preparatory school. Sinclair seems to find him mostly annoying and their interaction does not go very far. He is interesting because he tries to make Sinclair his mentor. Sinclair, however, is used to being the one who is mentored and is unable to make this role reversal.

Alfons Beck –  A boy Sinclair meets at boarding school, who first takes him to a bar. He is the character who leads Sinclair into a world of misbehavior during his time at boarding school. He is another in a string of older, more dominating characters to whom Sinclair looks for validation.


Analysis of Major Characters

Emil Sinclair

Demian chronicles the intellectual and emotional development of Emil Sinclair, the protagonist and narrator of the story. Thus, to analyze Sinclair in this book is to analyze his development. Sinclair begins the novel as a mentally precocious ten-year-old boy. He has a jumble of thoughts, but no real sense of what to make of them. He has a sense that there is more to the world than what he learns in school and from his parents. The first steps he makes into the other world occur in his interaction with Kromer. This episode takes from the young Sinclair some of his innocence. However, at such a young age, he is in no way prepared to move into the world of darkness. Similarly, he is enthralled by the types of heretical thought that Demian presents to him concerning the story of Cain. Yet, he doesn’t really know how to deal with this type of thought. He has yet to develop a framework within which to understand and place such radical thought. This explains why, once Demian has freed him from Kromer, Sinclair attempts to return to the security of his parents’ protection. He has had a taste of a world beyond, and tempting as it is, it scares him and challenges him more than he can handle.

As he grows older and interacts with Demian more, Sinclair begins to see beyond the strict system of laws that has been set forth for him. As an adolescent, he is more interested in women than confirmation classes; more importantly, he is perfectly comfortable with this. He is beginning to privilege his desires above the holy.

At the start of his time in preparatory school, Sinclair makes another attempt to escape thinking about the world. He begins going to bars—this is an escape just like living in a sheltered, holy world, but an escape to an opposite extreme. However, he discovers a purpose in life, something to attain to in the form of Beatrice and he reforms his ways. In finding the archetype of the person he wishes to obtain, Sinclair develops an immensely strong desire. This desire begins to drive him to act in completely different ways. This entire experience demonstrates that he has begun to grasp the importance of following the desires of his true soul.

Still, Sinclair has much to learn. The interaction with Pistorius is particularly important in this regard. In Pistorius, Sinclair finds a mentor, whom he eventually outgrows. By seeing himself in the context of Pistorius, Sinclair comes to see that he, himself, is far more original and creative. Through this interaction, he gains more self-confidence, something that is key to his ultimate ability to break free.

Finally, Sinclair meets back up with Demian while he is at university. By now, he has essentially rejected his Christian upbringing and standard societal mores. He is ready to fulfill his greatest desire, in meeting Frau Eva. Here, he finally gets to bask in the glory of a truly welcoming community where, for the first time in his life, he feels at home. However, all this only gives him the basis to strike out on his own. As Demian departs from him for the last time, Sinclair is ready to face the world alone. He is confident in his decision to live, attempting to fulfill the desires of his soul and he no longer needs Demian or Eva to constantly support him.

Max Demian

We get to know Max Demian only through the eyes of Emil Sinclair. Since Sinclair sees Demian as almost divine, Sinclair would not be one to critique Demian, to offer deep insights into his personality, to see how Demian grows and changes. Thus, in Demian, Demian remains a fairly static character. This is just as well—Demian’s function in the novel is to help Sinclair break free of his upbringing. Demian is Sinclair’s guide through life. He watches out for him when he is being blackmailed by Kromer and offers him intellectual excitement. Demian teaches Sinclair to think differently, to discover himself and his desires. Demian is there for Sinclair during the final period of time when he is becoming independent. Finally, when Sinclair has broken free, become an independent being, Demian leaves him. Demian’s purpose is to make sure Sinclair develops. Once Sinclair is equipped to handle the world on his own, to act in accord with his desires, Demian’s purpose is fulfilled, his mission accomplished. He has no more use in Sinclair’s life—he must leave Sinclair alone.

Frau Eva

In addition to Demian, Frau Eva is the other character who has a complete hold on Sinclair’s soul. She is, for Sinclair, what Demian cannot be. Demian is Sinclair’s friend and mentor; Eva acts as Sinclair’s mother and the object of his romantic love. Like Demian, Eva’s primary role is to help Sinclair develop appropriately. Even before they have met, she serves as a goal for him, which he pursues vicariously through his pursuing of Beatrice. Once they meet, she is immensely caring, but also strong and commanding. She loves and coddles Sinclair, commiserating with him about the hard times he had during his adolescence. At the same time, however, she is strong and commanding, exhorting him to become more in touch with and confident of his desires. Eva is a symbol of perfection and completion; she encompasses everything—she is masculine, yet feminine, a mother figure, yet the object of intense romantic love.



Having undergone psychoanalysis, Hesse was particularly interested in exploring the workings of the human mind. This comes through in many aspects of Demian. First, the entire book deals with Sinclair’s intellectual development. Hesse does a particularly good job of capturing the torment that Sinclair feels, as he is pulled by very strong force in opposite directions. Not only does the author take an interest in psychology, but so also do the characters of the book. When Sinclair and Demian are taking Confirmation class together, one of the central topics of conversation concerns understanding the inner workings of other people. Their exploration often centers on Demian’s prowess at getting to know people better than they know themselves and influence how they act.

Good and Evil

This is one of the major themes of Demian and one which derives from Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s book, Beyond Good and Evil, is an exhortation to transcend humanity’s accepted ideas about morality. He urges people not to be so influenced by what is considered good and what evil, but to adopt other metrics of evaluation. This idea is central to Demian . A large part of Sinclair’s growing up is his coming to accept that it is all right to enjoy things from the realm of darkness, things one might refer to as evil. Ultimately, he is even brought to be fascinated by the notion of worshipping such “evil” things, in his study of Abraxas, the god who combines good and evil. Ultimately, Sinclair comes to reject the notion that he should worry about what is good and what evil in deciding how to act. This Nietzschean edict is a vital part of Sinclair’s intellectual development.

The Will

Another central Neitzschean idea found in Demian is the importance of the will. People who have learned to transcend moral categories can, unhampered, express their wills. We see this very clearly as the ideal to which Sinclair aspires and grows, and the ideal that Demian and his mother represent. We see this in Sinclair’s discussion with Knauer, where he tells the disturbed student, that in order to be free he must pursue his soul’s innermost desires—that is to say, he must exercise his will. This point becomes particularly clear in Frau Eva’s goading of Sinclair to seduce her. She tells him that he must truly want her in order to win her. She requires that his will transcend the niggling moral qualms he has retained. The he will have fully realized himself and will be deserving of her as a prize.


One of the more complex ideas that Hesse treats in Demian is the relationship between an author and his subjects. A short prologue, written by the older Sinclair, the narrator of the story, precedes the first chapter of the book. In it, Sinclair chides authors who “tend to take an almost godlike attitude toward their subject, pretending to a total comprehension of the story, a man’s life.” Sinclair admits that, even though the story he is about to tell is his own, he still does not have this type of godlike understanding. This recognition calls into question the entire book. Hesse wants us to be aware that the story we are reading is written by a fallible man. Writing about someone’s motivations can be problematic and imperfect even if they are one’s own. We are constantly reminded of this throughout the novel. While we may get engrossed in a story of a particular episode, Sinclair is constantly interrupting these episodes to present an analysis. This constant interjection reminds the reader that Sinclair, as an older man, is the one telling all of these stories, and that the information we get may or may not correspond to how the younger Sinclair actually thought at the time.


The Mark of Cain

The mark of Cain plays an important role in Sinclair’s development. Demian’s alternate explanation of this mark as one of distinction, rather than shame, is the first serious intellectual challenge ever presented to Sinclair’s Christian beliefs. As an adolescent, Sinclair often recalls this interpretation and the conversation in which it was offered, deriving great comfort from it. This motif extends beyond the biblical mark of Cain, however. Demian often tells Sinclair that he bears a certain mark, though it is more or less visible at different times. Similarly, Frau Eva recognizes Sinclair immediately upon meeting him, presumably because of this mark. This mark is intended to distinguish Sinclair as special, just as Demian interprets Cain’s mark to indicate his superiority. This motif illuminates Sinclair’s character—it sets him up as different and shows that this difference carries very different moral values for different people. Just as a schoolteacher and Demian differ in their interpretation of Cain’s mark, so to do mainstream society and Demian differ in their opinions of Sinclair’s difference.

Mentoring Relationships

The notion of a mentor-mentee relationship is central to Demian. Sinclair does not set out on the road to self-discovery alone. Rather, he is brought there by Demian and led through it by both Demian, Pistorius, and, in the end, Eva. For Hesse, unlike for many others, self-discovery does not mean sitting in a room alone and contemplating. Rather, it can be an interactive activity wherein one person helps another. In fact, these mentoring relationships are valuable to Sinclair not only because they lead him to change his world-view, but also for the friendship and kinship they provide. Some of the strongest emotions Sinclair ever feels are for his mentors—Demian and especially Eva.


The Sparrow Hawk

The sparrow hawk first appears when Demian mentions that he noticed it in the archway above the door to Demian’s house. That Demian takes note of it already sets it aside as significant. Further, it forms a connection between Demian and Sinclair. The meaning of the symbol is not fully realized until later in the work when it becomes a part of Sinclair’s dreams. The bird represents a desire to break free, to be independent. Symbolically, since the bird appears on Sinclair’s childhood house, it shows that this yearning has been with Sinclair from the very beginning. Later, the sparrow appears much brighter, illuminated. This indicates that Sinclair has reached within himself to activate the part of him that longs to be set free.

Chapter 1


Emil Sinclair begins his narration by telling the reader that he will recount an event in his life that took place when he was ten years old. First, he pauses to tell of the two realms, two worlds of which he was aware at the time—one of darkness, and one of light, one of day and one of night. The realm of day was everything “good”, straight, and Christian. The realm of night was the world of scandal and mystery, drunkenness and murder, deceit and illegal activity. The realm of light was the world of Sinclair’s parents and sisters. Though living in the realm of light, he was curious about and attracted to the realm of darkness.

One day Sinclair was hanging out with some of the neighborhood locals, including the large and commanding Franz Kromer. The boys were laughing it up, trying to one-up each other in talking of misdeeds they had done. Pressured by the boys’ chatter, Sinclair invents an intricate story about having stolen a sack of apples from an orchard near the mill. Kromer badgers Sinclair, making him swear to God that the story is true. As the boys are dispersing, Kromer pulls Sinclair aside. Kromer tells Sinclair that he has known about the apple robbery for quite a while and, further, that the owner of the orchard has offered a reward of two marks to anyone who can tell him who stole the apples. Kromer then tells Sinclair that he needs the money and would, of course, rather just get the money from Sinclair and not turn him in. If Sinclair brings him two marks the following day, Kromer will agree not to tattle on him. Sinclair protests that he does not have such money, but Kromer will hear nothing of it. They agree to meet in the market the following day after school.

Sinclair returns home a changed boy. He chastises himself for having been so influenced by Kromer and is certain that this act of deception will lead him to innumerably further misdeeds. He feels like an outsider in his own home. He ponders whether he should confess to his father, but decides against it. His father chastises him for having muddy shoes and this allows Sinclair to fulfill his need to feel punished. At the same time, this is where he first comes to see himself as better than his father—here he was, virtually a hardened criminal, and his father was scolding him for muddy boots!

Sinclair falls ill the next day and is afforded the opportunity to stay home in the morning. Knowing he must meet Kromer at eleven, he decides to crack open a piggy bank his mother keeps for him. He discovers in it sixty-five pfennigs and decides to bring these to Kromer, reasoning that it will be better than showing up with nothing. Kromer angrily accepts the payment, telling Sinclair that he will wait for the remaining mark and thirty-five pfennigs. In the weeks that follow, Sinclair, unable to pay his debt is forced to perform humiliating tasks for Kromer.


Sinclair’s discussion of the two realms and of his conundrum concerning Kromer, sets the stage for the entire work. The dichotomy between good and evil reappears constantly. It plays a central role in Sinclair’s struggles as an adolescent and is manifested in the forgotten god, whom Sinclair rediscovers and seeks out, Abraxas (see Chapters 5 and 6). In introducing the struggle between the two realms at the beginning, Hesse provides a unifying frame through which the entire work can be read. Further, he is showing us that the young Sinclair’s problems started when he was still a child. This is innovative, portraying a deep internal conflict not as something that comes only in later adolescence or early adulthood, but as something that can torment even a young child.

In giving the background to Sinclair’s day gallivanting with Kromer and other neighborhood children, Sinclair presents a dichotomy between the upstanding children with whom he attended the Latin School and those who attended the public school. He comments that he and his chums “usually looked down” at those who were less fortunate. This presents an irony, where the children who are supposed to inhabit the world of light are engaged in a morally dubious activity—looking down on the public school children simply because of their lower class status.

The episode involving Sinclair’s invention of the story about stealing the apples and Kromer’s subsequent blackmailing of him presents both the dark and light sides of Sinclair. On the one hand, Sinclair wants to fit in with and impress a crowd that inhabits the world of darkness—he wants them to think that he has stolen. Yet, having grown up in the world of light, Sinclair is still very naïve—he does not realize that Kromer’s threat to turn him in is empty. Sinclair did not really steal any apples, but he is too innocent to act on this fact.

Religious imagery pervades this chapter. In returning home after being blackmailed by Kromer, Sinclair ponders confessing to his father. This is meant to evoke not simply Sinclair’s earthly father, but also his “heavenly father,” the Christian God. Further woven through this section is the image of the Prodigal son. Sinclair fancies himself a sort of Prodigal son, having gone out and done wrong. Yet, he, unlike the Prodigal son of the Christian tradition, does not return and repent his sins. In choosing not to confess, then, Sinclair is fulfilling a desire he expresses early on in the chapter—”at times I didn’t want the Prodigal son to repent.”

Like many writings of the early twentieth century, Demian shows that it has been deeply influenced by psychoanalysis. First, Sinclair presents himself as having exhibited the phenomenon known as transference. When his father chastises him for having muddy shoes, Sinclair comments that he “could secretly transfer” this beratement to the serious offense about which his father did not know. Second, Sinclair’s satisfaction at feeling superior to his father is an expression of the Freudian idea that sons want to rise up against their fathers—a milder form of the more celebrated Oedipus Complex. The presence of psychoanalytic features is most likely due to Hesse’s own experience undergoing psychoanalysis around the same time that he was writing Demian.

Chapter 2


A new student, Max Demian, appears in Sinclair’s school. The son of a wealthy widow, Demian was a year older than Sinclair, but seemed almost adult. During one of Sinclair’s scripture classes, Demian was forced to sit in and write an essay. After school, Demian approached Sinclair and began to engage him in conversation. They discussed Sinclair’s house, about which Demian seemed to have a bit of knowledge. He told Sinclair that the arch above the doorway contained a coat of arms resembling a sparrow hawk.

Demian then brought up the subject of the day’s lecture—the story of Cain and Abel. Demian then offers Sinclair a way of reading the Cain and Abel story that differs from what he learned in class. Demian argues that Cain’s mark was something more of an air about him—he was a man of whom others were in awe. People, unable to deal appropriately with men of true worth, incorrectly interpreted this sign as indicating that Cain was in some way evil. Scared of Cain and upset because they were scared, people slandered him since it was their only available revenge. The notion that Cain was marked as evil, then, is to be dismissed as a fabrication of the weak. Sinclair, fascinated by Demian’s deviant way of thinking, continued to ponder the matter long after Demian dropped him at his house.

Kromer was continuing to torment Sinclair in ever worse ways. Sinclair was forced to steal to pay the original two marks, but was then further blackmailed since Kromer knew about each of these incidents of theft. Eventually, Kromer demands that Sinclair bring him his sister. Terribly troubled after realizing what Kromer might want to do with his sister, Sinclair walks around for a while. He bumps into Demian, with whom he had not had much interaction since the conversation about Cain and Abel. Demian engages Sinclair in a conversation about his relationship with Kromer. He asks what it is that binds Sinclair to Kromer, suggesting that he could think of no other reason than that Kromer “had something” on Sinclair. Demian insists that Kromer be made to stop even if it were to mean Sinclair’s killing him. Of course, Sinclair does not take well to this idea and they part, Demian promising that something will be done to alleviate the situation. About a week later, Sinclair encountered Kromer randomly on the street. Kromer, visibly scared, simply turned and walked away.

Excited to finally be free of Kromer, Sinclair seeks out Demian to thank him for his help. He tries, but cannot get Demian to reveal how he accomplished this tremendous feat. Soon after, Sinclair admits the whole incident to his parents. He then returned to the comfort of his parents’ home, away from Kromer, but also away from Demian.

Six months later, Sinclair asks his father about Demian’s interpretation of the mark of Cain. His father replies dismissively that it is an old, false heresy.


The story of Cain and Abel continues the parade of biblical imagery to be found in Demian. Further, it presents another traditional contrast between good (Abel) and evil (Cain). The alternative explanation of the story that Demian offers is significant for reasons far beyond the fact that it captures the attention of the young Sinclair. His interpretation attacks the traditional order of things—traditional views of good and evil. This theme recurs throughout the novel as Sinclair is constantly acting against the community’s opinion about what is good and what is evil—about what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

The specifics of Demian’s reading are also vital. He argues that the mark of Cain, rather than being a source of embarrassment, actually singles Cain out as being superior to others. This foreshadows the discussion of the mark that Demian and his mother see in Sinclair, the mark that ties him to them. Interestingly, Demian’s remark that the mark of Cain was a personality trait and his suggestion that Cain might have been more intelligent presents Cain in very much the same terms in which Sinclair presents Demian at the beginning of the chapter. This further emphasizes the significance of the mark of Cain as something worn by the central figures of this work.

Seen through Sinclair’s eyes in this chapter, Demian gains an almost mythic status. Sinclair reports that he and the others believed Demian capable of anything. This point is reinforced by a story of Demian gracefully and effortlessly disposing of a peer who goaded him into fighting. The perspective of the novel is key to this development. It is important to remember that we are seeing Demian through the eyes of an easily impressed pre-teen. This comes out particularly with regard to the Kromer incident. Sinclair cannot get Demian to tell him how he got Kromer to stop bothering him. Further, Sinclair offers the most obvious potential explanations and they are rebuffed. In this way, the reader, like Sinclair, is brought to see Demian as operating in some clandestine, and presumably superior, manner.

The Prodigal son pops up again in this chapter. After the torment has ended, Sinclair confesses his sins and feels that he is being readmitted to the safety of his home, just like the prodigal son on his return. For him, the metaphor is slightly different, however, than in the religious story. His return is not a matter of religious faith, but of returning to the world of light. For Sinclair, his family—and especially his parents—symbolize the world of light.

Sinclair’s family, however, also represents his childhood and his lack of independence. As Sinclair recognizes, in confessing to his parents, he escapes not only Kromer’s torment, but also the individuality that Demian represents.

Chapter 3


The older Sinclair reflects on his childhood and on the influences from the world of darkness that “tore” him from his innocence and his parents. He observes that learning how to navigate the newfound sexual desires of his adolescence and how to balance those against the values of his upbringing proved a miserably difficult task at which he failed.

A few years had passed, during which Sinclair had only peripheral contact with Demian. Then, as Sinclair began to take classes toward his Confirmation, he learned that Demian would be taking them with him. When these classes started, Sinclair purposely avoided Demian—he still felt awkwardly indebted to Demian because of his help in freeing Sinclair from Kromer years earlier.

As Sinclair became less interested in his conversation, he became more and more intrigued by Demian. He still felt a bond with him from years past. One day the pastor taught the story of Cain and Abel. When he began to speak of Cain’s mark, Demian and Sinclair looked at each other knowingly across the room—what the pastor was teaching need not be the final word on the story, they thought. This moment drew Sinclair and Demian back together. Soon after, Demian switched his place and was sitting next to Sinclair.

Sinclair finally began to enjoy confirmation class. A glance from Demian at a point during the lesson could get him to question what the teacher said. Further, he watched Demian play all sorts of psychological games with the students and the teacher. Demian seemed to exert a remarkable power over others’ actions. Sinclair questions him about the way in which he seems to be a puppet master over others. Demian responds that by concentrating hard enough he can learn to read people’s thoughts. Further, if one wills something enough, and it is possible, he will accomplish it. Demian uses these two principles to explain how he moved his seat next to Sinclair’s and how he is able to affect what the teacher does by staring at him.

Sinclair’s religious faith begins to wane. However, unlike classmates who completely denied the truth of all Christianity, he respected the value of a religiously observant life. Rather than reject the bible and Christian belief entirely, Sinclair took to offering different, perhaps more fanciful, interpretations. One day after a class in which they had discussed the crucifixion, Demian offers Sinclair a radical suggestion. Sinclair feels the need to reject Demian’s suggestion as too radical—something must be held sacred. But, Demian pushes on—the God of the Bible may represents all that is good and honorable, but, he insists, there is more to man. One must either also worship the devil or worship a god who embodies both good and evil.

Sinclair is elated that Demian has touched upon his deepest thoughts about there being two realms. He tries to bring it up, but Demian brings the conversation to an abrupt halt, telling him that he does not yet understand the full significance of what he is saying.

As confirmation approaches, Sinclair and Demian drift apart. Confirmation day comes and Sinclair learns that after vacation he will be sent to a boarding school.


Rather than telling stories at the beginning of this chapter, Sinclair makes some general comments about life and growing up. Additionally, he encapsulates the years of his life in between episodes. This little interlude allows the author to indicate the passage of time without deviating from the central thrust of the story—Sinclair’s personal development. Further, this extended passage reminds the viewer of an important point about the perspective of the novel—all the stories being told are filtered through someone who is not an omniscient narrator. The older Sinclair does not know the inner thoughts of the characters. Sinclair is certainly telling the stories differently now than he would have at the time they occurred.

The view of Demian presented in this chapter is, as before, one of awe and admiration. Demian is presented toying with other people psychologically, having an almost superhuman degree of understanding and ability. Sinclair is still very impressionable and willing to follow whatever Demian tells him. This informs the view we get of Demian from this time. As the book progresses, we will see that as Sinclair becomes more independent, he ceases to elevate Demian to divine status.

Demian’s suggestion that it is preferable to worship a god of both good and evil foreshadows Sinclair’s later infatuation with Abraxas, a long forgotten creature of ancient times who is conceived of as such a god by those who worship him. Further, this raises for Sinclair again his thoughts about the two realms. In arguing to Demian that certain things are forbidden and that “we must renounce them,” Demian reveals that he is still caught between the two worlds. He has not learned to think himself entirely beyond the notion of evil. His will has not fully developed and he has not transcended common conceptions of evil, to think entirely for himself. He has not yet realized that his will can be far more powerful than mere moral edicts. This is why Demian cuts him off and tells him that he does not yet understand the full implications of what he is saying. He is right to see that both worlds, the realms of good and evil, are necessary and important. Yet, he has not realized the full force of this idea—that ultimately, it can free him from ever calling something absolutely forbidden.

In the very last paragraph of this chapter, we see how significant a transformation Sinclair has undergone to date. Though he talks of his mother doting on him, he says that “Demian was away on a trip. I was alone.” Demian has replaced his mother as the central figure in his life. Metaphorically, since Demian represents the world of Darkness and his parents represent the world of light, this paragraph portrays Sinclair as having moved from the world of his parents, to the world of Demian, from the “good” and noble toward the “evil” and irreverent realm.

Chapter 4


Sinclair heads to boarding school at a place known to the reader only as St.3/43/4. At this time, he is aware of the loss of his innocence, but is deeply ambivalent about it. He is glad to be away from home, but upset that he has been unable to find joy under the protective watch of his parents. He misses Demian, but also resents him for having contributed to his tormenting intellectual state.

About a year after entering the school, Sinclair is wandering about town one day when he is approached by Alfons Beck. Beck invites Sinclair to join him for some wine in a local bar. Sinclair has very little tolerance, so his tongue soon loosens. He begins to talk about Cain and Abel and the alternative explanation of the story he learned from Demian. Beck tells him about consorting with women, allowing Sinclair into a world of pleasures of which he could not imagine partaking.

This first drunken escapade leads to many others. Sinclair falls in with a crowd that often goes to bars and sneaks around with women. Sinclair, however, never joins them on any of their sexual escapades. He has a yearning for a true, emotionally fulfilling love and cannot bear the thought of simply engaging in the physical act. Yet, Sinclair’s debauchery was well known around school—he was often in trouble and on the verge of expulsion. Sinclair’s father comes to visit him at school, twice, to try to get him to shape up and he is threatened with expulsion. His visit home that Christmas is particularly unpleasant. Sinclair begins to care less and less about his failure and to accept his doomed fate.

One day in a park by school, Sinclair takes note of a particular girl. Though he never approaches her, never talks to her, he becomes infatuated with her. He gives her the name Beatrice and almost begins to worship her. Sinclair’s behavior changes at once. No longer does he go to bars. He takes a greater interest in school. His behavior becomes more “serious and dignified.” Most importantly, Sinclair begins to paint. Sinclair putters around for a while and one day paints the face of a girl to which he responds very strongly. The face has male and female features and seems to Sinclair almost to be the picture of a God. Days later, he realizes that, though it does not look entirely like he does, the picture is of Demian.

The older Sinclair speaks of how this picture made him miss Demian. We learn that, at the time, Sinclair ran into Demian while on holiday vacation back home. Walking along the street, they bump into each other and Sinclair invites Demian to join him at a bar. The conversation is unpleasant and slightly antagonistic. Demian seems to disapprove of Sinclair’s newfound drinking hobby.

One night Sinclair dreams about Demian and the coat of arms in the arch above the doorway of Sinclair’s house. He sets out to paint the sparrow hawk that was in this coat of arms. Then he mails the painting to Demian.


The name of Sinclair’s boarding school has been conspicuously generalized, but we are given the relevant information about the school. It is a Christian institution, since its name has “St.” in it. On the one hand, Sinclair (as narrator) may have chosen to delete the name in order to de-emphasize the school’s specific name and heighten the importance of its religious characteristics. He could have been at any Christian boarding school and his experience would have been the same—there was nothing spectacular or distinguishing about the school itself beyond its religious function. On the other hand, perhaps Sinclair has really forgotten the name of the school. In this case, the name would convey just how plain and uninteresting the school appeared to Sinclair, who could recall only that it was called St. something-or- other.

Sinclair often looks for validation in his interactions with older, authoritative children. Reflecting on his initial conversation at the bar with Beck, Sinclair writes: “When he called me a damned clever little bastard, the words ran like sweet wine into my soul.” Just as he was seeking approval from Kromer and Demian, Sinclair wants Beck to think highly of him. As a result, he garners immense pleasure from the complement.

Beatrice is a human parallel to many of the ideas developing in Sinclair’s head. Sinclair describes Beatrice as having some boyish features. As his paradigm of a woman, she is not entirely female. Just as he is beginning to see that he wants to lead a life that involves partaking of some of the things that traditionally are seen as evil, so too his ideal woman is one who is not exclusively female, but one who partakes of both “realms”—the male and the female.

Sinclair’s dream at the end of the chapter is full of symbolism. The sparrow hawk, described as a “triumphant bird,” represents the element of Demian’s personality that is striving to break free. Sinclair cannot, however, break free on his own. He needs Demian’s help. Demian’s forcing him to eat the keystone represents the role Demian plays in fostering Sinclair’s development—helping him learn to transcend his upbringing and be independent. Further, Sinclair comments at the end of the dream that he felt that the bird “had begun to swell up and devour” him. This represents the increasing independence on his part. By the end of this chapter, Sinclair has come much closer to forging his own path and truly breaking free of his childhood.

Chapter 5


One day in class, Sinclair finds a note has been left for him. It says, “The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born first must destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God’s name is Abraxas.” Though the letter is unsigned, Sinclair is sure that it is from Demian. Sinclair is distracted from the lesson, but perks up when he hears the teacher mention Abraxas. Abraxas, the instructor explains, can be thought of as a “godhead” who represents a unification of the divine and the satanic.

About this time, Sinclair has a recurring dream. In it, he returns to his parents’ home and sees the sparrow hawk, illuminated above the house. His mother approaches him, but as he reaches to hug her, he sees that it is not his mother, but rather someone who looks like Demian and his painting.

Realizing that he will soon enter university, Sinclair thinks about his future. He sees that he does not have a set plan as those who are sure they want to become Doctors, Lawyers, or Businessmen. Rather, he wants to simply “live in accord with the promptings” of his “true self.” He wonders why this is so difficult to do. As the months progress, Sinclair becomes lonelier, though more and more confident in his relations with his peers.

Walking around town, Sinclair occasionally notices a small church from which organ music emanates. One day, passing by the church, Sinclair hears the music and stays outside to listen. He does this many more times in the following weeks, secretly listening to the organist play. One night he decides to follow the organist as he leaves the church. Sinclair trails him to a bar and sits down with him, uninvited. They begin to talk and Sinclair brings up Abraxas. Pistorius, the organist, takes a great interest in hearing this and questions Sinclair about how and what he knows about Abraxas. Sinclair tells him briefly of his experience and of the note he recently received from Demian. Pistorius invites him to come sit inside the church and listen to him play.

At their next encounter, Pistorius takes Sinclair to his home. He explains that he used to be a student of theology, but that he had since stopped and was something of the rebel of his family. They then meditate by the fireplace. On their next encounter, Pistorius presents Demian with an idea about human personalities. He says that people define their personalities too narrowly, taking note only of the traits that deviate from the norm. In fact, he argues, our personalities contain a vast wealth of information, containing all “that once was alive in the soul of men.”

The older Sinclair comments that his conversations with Pistorius never introduced him to radically new ideas. However, they did help him see things a bit more clearly and think a bit more independently. Often, he says, he would tell Pistorius of his dreams and Pistorius would help him understand their significance. Pistorius was helping him to further break free.


The note Sinclair receives from Demian at the beginning of this chapter ties together the imagery of the sparrow hawk with the theme of the two realms. In the note, the bird is portrayed as flying to Abraxas. As we learn later in the chapter, Abraxas is a god of both good and evil. Since the bird represents that aspect of Sinclair that is yearning to break free, this image recommends that in order to be truly free, Sinclair must embrace and exalt all of the tendencies of his personality—both those that people consider “good” and those they consider “evil.”

Demian’s dream is laden with important imagery. The “heraldic bird” glowing above his house represents an awakening of the drive to break free. It is important that the bird is on his parents’ home because it is this home from which he is breaking free. That his mother morphs into a figure that looks like Demian signifies that he is replacing his mother with someone else. His parents and their world of light are being supplanted by the ideals of Demian’s world, where good and evil come together and all elements of the world are celebrated.

When Sinclair admits that he wants to “live in accord with the promptings” of his “true self,” he has noticeably reached a very important stage in his intellectual development. He cognitively recognizes that he wants his desire—his “true self,” rather than religion or his parents’ world of light, to determine how he acts. Though he has not yet fully actualized this way of living, the fact that he recognizes his attraction to this way of life is an important first step in leading that life. Intellectually, he has broken free.

Even though Pistorius represents yet another character to whom Demian looks for guidance and approval, his relationship with Sinclair differs significantly from Sinclair’s relationship with Demian. Pistorius is the closest thing in the book to a foil for Demian, as he teaches Sinclair and helps him to develop. Though Sinclair takes an interest in both Pistorius and Demian prior meeting them, Demian approaches the boy Sinclair, whereas Sinclair seeks out Pistorius. By the time he is nearing the end of preparatory school, Sinclair has grown substantially more independent and willful.

The discussion about human personality toward the end of the chapter bears interesting connections to other ideas that are developed in Demian. First, it is in the same spirit as the notion of Abraxas, the all-encompassing God that Sinclair has been pondering. Here, instead of God, it is Sinclair’s idea of human personality that is being enlarged. Just as he came to see that there is more to God than holiness, here he is coming to see that there is much more to the human personality than merely quirky, random characteristics. Man is powerful and he can do anything so long as he can tap into the right part of his personality. Demian has counseled Sinclair that if someone wants something enough, he will be able to accomplish it. If man’s personality conforms to Pistorius’ description, then this provides a mechanism whereby man could accomplish many great things—namely, he would have to reach back into the vast untapped resources of his personality.

Chapter 6


Sinclair reflects on his personality at the time of his interaction with Pistorius. Isolated from his peers, he nevertheless engages in a time of growth and self-discovery. Pistorius becomes a type of encouraging role model, who always listens to what Sinclair has to say and who tries to help him further scrutinize his thoughts. Together, they “worship” Abraxas and discuss dreams, desires, and the world. Pistorius tells Sinclair that he “can’t consider prohibited anything that the soul desires.” Sinclair, still not convinced of this, counters Pistorius’s assertion, saying that, for instance, one must not kill someone simply because one doesn’t like the person. Pistorius responds that even this, under certain circumstances is acceptable. Sinclair is struck by the kinship between this statement and the things Demian has said to him.

Walking home one evening, Sinclair is approached by Knauer, one of his classmates. Knauer speaks to Sinclair of certain spiritual exercises that he performs. Knauer reveals that he is celibate and he insists that in order to live a spiritual life, one must remain celibate. Knauer admits that he thinks about sex and this makes remaining celibate all the more difficult. He confesses that he needs help—he is having a hard time suppressing his desires. Sinclair says that the only advice he can offer is that Knauer ought to learn to accept who he is and to act so as to fulfill his desires. Knauer throws a fit, telling Sinclair that he is a pig.

Sinclair returns to his room, absorbed in his dream of the sparrow, his mother, and the woman who looks like Demian. He paints another painting of the woman and notices now that the woman also has some features that resemble Sinclair himself. Sinclair’s inner world becomes violent. He reacts very strongly to the painting. Unable to sleep, he takes a bath in the middle of the night and goes for a walk. Meandering about, he ends up in an alleyway. He sees Knauer, who wonders how he has gotten there. Knauer confesses that he was about to kill himself.

Sinclair’s last few weeks at school are spent with Pistorius. He gains answers to all of his questions by concentrating intently on the ideal woman of his picture. Knauer begins to attach himself to Sinclair and to follow him around, but eventually they fall out of touch.

Sinclair begins to realize Pistorius’s limitations. He no longer sees him as an immensely wise man, a mentor on which to model himself. Sinclair begins to feel like much of what Pistorius tells him is not very relevant. He feels like Pistorius is giving him a dull, impersonal history, not a lively, personal experience. He says as much to Pistorius and chides him for being “antiquarian.”

Pistorius takes Sinclair’s criticism very personally. It seems to deflate Pistorius. Their interactions become irremediably altered. In a later conversation, Pistorius acknowledges his limitations—that he is not the man who can actualize the ideas they have been discussing, a man who can bring Abraxas to the world. Sinclair feels as though he has lost a “guide” and is unsure of how to proceed. It is decided that he will enter the university after vacation and begin with the study of philosophy.


The notion of killing someone comes up often in the novel but it is especially notable at the beginning of this chapter in connection with a conversation between Sinclair and Pistorius. Murder is generally seen as the most wrong action one can commit. So, it makes sense that this example would be used, to make clear just how radical the position Pistorius (in this chapter) or Demian (in other chapters) is arguing. This motif appears a number of times in the novel, first in the introductory chapter when Sinclair suggests to Demian that Kromer must be stopped even if it means killing him.

The fact that Sinclair’s latest painting of his dream woman partially resembles him is highly symbolic—a further indication of Sinclair’s development. Since the earlier painting of this woman did not resemble him, we can tell that in the interim, he has become more like this woman. This woman, however, represents his ideal, all-encompassing woman. This picture, then, signifies that Sinclair is moving closer to this ideal—so close, in fact, that some of his features are recognizable as these ideal features.

Sinclair’s relationship with Knauer is an interesting literary construction. Throughout the Novel, Sinclair finds himself in the position of seeking somebody else’s guidance. Demian and Pistorius, and to a lesser extent, Frau Eva and Beck serve as mentors to Demian. Knauer wants Sinclair to be his mentor. He seeks out Sinclair’s guidance and help. Further, when Knauer contemplates suicide, he calls Sinclair. Though Sinclair does not recognize it, he is brought to Knauer in much the same way that Demian or Pistorius is often brought to him when he needs one of them. This episode gives us a chance to see what Sinclair is like in a different role. It also underscores his immaturity at this point—he does not do a particularly good job of mentoring Knauer. This also shows him as a particularly selfish person—he takes very little interest in helping Knauer in the way that Demian and Pistorius have helped him.

Some imagery in this chapter is worth noting. After Sinclair has levied his attack on Pistorius, they sit around “in front of a dying fire.” The fire is dying, just as their relationship is dying. Pistorius’s name is symbolic in itself. “Pistorius” sounds like an ancient Greek name. Sinclair discovers that Pistorius can only teach him about the past, but cannot come up with anything original. His name, as opposed to the more modern sounding “Demian”, emphasizes the limitations of Pistorius’s capabilities.

At the end of the chapter, Sinclair writes that he “cannot take another step alone.” He contemplates sending this message to Demian but decides against it. This reflects a high degree of uncertainty on Sinclair’s part. After all, why write this thought down so succinctly if one does not intend to send it? Sinclair is both scared to be on his own and scared to admit to Demian that he is scared to be on his own

Chapter 7


Sinclair recounts an episode in which he visits the house in which Demian used to live. The current owner can offer him no help in finding the Demian family, but does show him an old photo album containing a picture of Demian’s mother. Sinclair recognizes her as the woman he has been drawing, the woman who has captured his imagination and who has been the subject of his dreams and desires. This photograph leads Sinclair on a failed journey to find Demian’s mother before he begins his university study.

One evening, while walking around town, Sinclair overhears a familiar voice. He recognizes it at once as Demian’s. Sinclair follows Demian and his companion until Demian drops his companion at home. Sinclair and Demian are then reunited. They walk and talk, sharing the ideas that bond them, speaking of “the herd instinct” that degrades humanity. Demian shows Sinclair to his current house and invites him to come to visit whenever he wants. Sinclair returns home, filled with emotion and excitement&mdahs;he will finally have the opportunity to meet Demian’s mother.

The next day, Sinclair makes his way to Demian’s house. As the maid shows Sinclair in, he recounts many of the significant events that have marked his life and his relationship with Demian. He meets Demian’s mother, who recognizes him at once. They speak of the emotion Sinclair is now feeling and of the journey that has finally brought him to her—the picture Sinclair had mailed to Max, Sinclair’s bar-hopping school days, and his interactions with Pistorius. Demian’s mother invites Sinclair to be one of her very dearest friends and to call her ‘Frau Eva.’ Sinclair then goes out to a garden behind the house to see Max. Sinclair sings Eva’s praises to Max. Pausing to think for a moment, Demian congratulates Sinclair, saying that he is the first person to whom Demian’s mother has told her name during their first encounter.

The older Sinclair views this initial visit to the Demian household as a watershed event. Afterwards, he says, he freely went to and from the house “like a son or brother—but also someone in love.”

Sinclair begins to center his life around the Demian household and around those who, like himself, “wear the sign in their faces.” Many people pass through his circle, people of different interests and beliefs. Sinclair and Demian do not take seriously the religious beliefs of their acquaintances. Rather, they concern themselves with each individual’s self-realization. Often, they discuss a premonition that the world cannot continue for much longer as it is, that society’s ideals will be revealed as bankrupt because they will ultimately lead to war.

Amidst this environment of rogue thought, Sinclair’s relationship with Eva grows stronger. She seems to understand his every thought and desire; she confronts Sinclair about his love for her and tells him that he must allow it to fully manifest itself in order to win her over. Sinclair spends two weeks at home over Christmas, allowing him time to think more about Frau Eva. Still, when he returns to her, he is not fully ready to make his move. A scene follows in which Sinclair finds Demian in the house passed out. He then wanders out into a storm and sees, in the clouds, the sparrow hawk that has played a central role in his dreams. He returns to Demian’s house to find that he to has experienced an ominous sign in the form of a dream, though Demian refuses to reveal to him all of the details.


Nietzsche’s influence is evident in this chapter. Sinclair and Demian’s discussion of “the herd instinct” that saddles most men may as well have been lifted straight out of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886). There, Nietzsche advances the view that only a very few men have the courage to express their will. The rest, the herd, simply follow rules that have been set forth for them by others or by religion. A special few transcend these rules to be able to express their will. Demian and Sinclair, in calling the rest the herd, mark themselves as among those few supermen (Übermenschen).

When Sinclair meets Frau Eva, she comments that she recognized him immediately, implying that he bears a certain sign, the sign borne by all people of their type. This sign explains why the pictures Sinclair has been drawing in previous chapters look like Demian, Frau Eva, and Sinclair himself. Earlier in the chapter, Demian notices this sign as well. He tells Demian that it is their sign, the thing they used to call “the mark of Cain.” This mark or sign is a touch of mysticism running throughout the novel. It is never quite explained what it is or how the characters recognize it. This is not uncommon for Hesse, who often employs mystical elements in his writing.

During their initial conversation, Sinclair addresses Frau Eva as “dear mother.” This emphasizes one aspect of their relationship—she watches over and protects him. Yet, it also highlights their highly unusual and multi-faceted relationship. After all, Sinclair is in love with Eva. This confluence of romantic and maternal love in their relationship points toward a further disregard for societal norms and taboos.

The storm at the end of the chapter offers multiple layers of symbolism. First, we are presented with the symbols that the characters themselves discuss. The sparrow hawk that Sinclair sees forebodes a freedom, but yet tumult; its coinciding with Demian’s dream indicates to both of them that something big is about to happen. Second, this whole scene is laden with symbolism that the characters do not recognize. The scene takes place in the context of a storm. During the storm, Demian is passed out and Sinclair sees the sparrow hawk in the clouds. Hesse uses the storm to present these happenings to the reader as ever more chaotic. When the “gleam of sunshine burst through,” Sinclair returns to find Demian awake. The end of the storm brings with it a calmer, more serene moment for the two boys, in which they can reflect and discuss.

Chapter 8


Sinclair spends the summer at the town in which his university is located. He passes his days with Demian, Eva and others in the garden near the river. He feels peaceful and relaxed, though this produces conflicting emotions in him—sometimes happiness, sometimes melancholy. However, at these times, he finds comfort in Frau Eva.

One day, Sinclair is overcome with dark feelings. He tries with all his might to summon Frau Eva. Soon, Demian comes running in and informs Sinclair that war with Russia is imminent. Demian takes this to be the sign of the coming of a new world. Sinclair learns that Demian is a Lieutenant and will likely soon go off to war.

Demian tells Sinclair that he must have called either himself or Frau Eva that day. Sinclair admits that he called Frau Eva. Demian reveals that Frau Eva had sent him. Sinclair is ecstatic that Frau Eva heard his call. Later, at dinner, Frau Eva assures Sinclair that any time he needs her, he can call her and she will send someone who is just like her.

War begins and Demian goes away. Soon after, Sinclair is sent into battle. One night, standing guard over a farm, Sinclair begins to enter a dream-like state. He recalls the images of Frau Eva and Demian. As he looks across the night, he sees Frau Eva in the sky, with the mark of Cain illuminated on her forehead. From her mark, stars spring forth and one of these stars hits Sinclair. Sinclair is later found wounded and unconscious on the battlefield.

Sinclair is taken care of, but, for the most part, is left to lie around in a state of semi-consciousness. He manages to muster all his energy to strive to get what he wills. Eventually, he is brought to a facility for wounded patients. In the bed next to him lies Max Demian. Demian asks Sinclair if he remembers Franz Kromer. They exchange a smile. Demian then tells him he must go now, but that at some point, Sinclair might need him again. When such an event happens, Sinclair must look deep into himself and he will realize that Demian is within him. He tells Sinclair to close his eyes and gives him a kiss from Frau Eva.


The deep swings in emotion to which Sinclair alludes at the beginning of this chapter recall earlier moments in the novel. Earlier, Sinclair often finds himself subject to mood swings—extremely happy at one moment, nearly suicidal at another. Here, however, the emotional shifts tie in with the broad theme: understanding and expressing one’s true self. Just as the world is not simply noble and decent, man does not have only one type of emotion. Sinclair allows himself to express the full range of emotions natural to man. In having a full experience of being human and in truly expressing himself, then, he cannot suppress any of these emotions and is subject to a large variation in mood.

The many stars springing forth from Eva’s forehead coincide with an enemy attack. The star that hits Sinclair is a bullet from this attack.

Hesse positions the war at the end of the novel in order to contrast Sinclair’s development into a willful and independent human being with the horrors of the world, here a direct reference to World War I. By the end of the book, Sinclair has finally broken free. He is now prepared to face the challenges, and sometimes horrors, of the world. Additionally, he is now prepared to battle with those who would try to keep him and others to the old order of things, to a good Christian life. The war, then, is a metaphor for the struggle that Sinclair will face in the world as one who attempts to fully express all aspects, both good and evil, of his personality. That the book ends with the war unresolved indicates that it is not at all certain to what extent Sinclair will, or can, succeed in his struggle. (It is also likely that Hesse did not want to discuss the outcome of the war in Demian because he was writing this book in 1917, while World War I was still raging. He might not have wanted to resolve, in the book, an uncertainty that had not for him yet been resolved.)

In the final scene, Sinclair’s initial yet unresolved discomfort with Demian is finally alleviated and he finally becomes his own man. He has always felt odd about the fact that Demian saved him from Kromer. Demian brings the incident up in such a way that it is like an old childhood memory, an episode that can now be forgotten. Sinclair is now fully independent. This is signified by Demian’s telling him that he will no longer physically come to Sinclair. Rather, Sinclair carries within him now the means to take care of anything for which he usually would have needed Demian. He simply needs to look inside himself and use his own resources to solve whatever problems arise. Sinclair’s transformation has been completed.

Key Facts

full title ·  Demian

author ·  Hermann Hesse

type of work ·  Novel

genre ·  Bildungsroman (a coming-of-age novel about education or moral development)

language ·  German

time and place written ·  1917, Switzerland

date of first publication ·  1919

publisher ·  S. Fischer

narrator ·  Emil Sinclair

climax ·  Sinclair’s discovery that the woman he has been painting is Demian’s mother

protagonist ·  Emil Sinclair

antagonist ·  Society in general—those who do not bear the mark

setting (time) ·  A span of ten years prior to World War I, roughly 1905–1915

setting (place) ·  Germany—Sinclair’s hometown and the cities in which he is educated

point of view ·  An older Sinclair, looking back at his childhood

falling action ·  Demian runs into Sinclair, who invites him by his house to meet Eva.

tense ·  Past

foreshadowing ·  Since Sinclair is writing about his own experience after the fact, he is able to constantly foreshadow his future developments; this happens often with regard to ways he will think in the future, but also with events, for instance, the war

tone ·  Contemplative and analytic; psychological

themes ·  Psychology; good and evil; the will; narration

motifs ·  The mark of Cain; mentoring relationships

symbols ·  The sparrow hawk

How to Cite This SparkNote

Full Bibliographic Citation


SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Demian.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. Web. 20 Oct. 2010.

The Chicago Manual of Style

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Demian.” SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/demian/ (accessed October 20, 2010).


SparkNotes Editors. (n.d.). SparkNote on Demian. Retrieved October 20, 2010, from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/demian/

In Text Citation


“Their conversation is awkward, especially when she mentions Wickham, a subject Darcy clearly wishes to avoid” (SparkNotes Editors).


“Their conversation is awkward, especially when she mentions Wickham, a subject Darcy clearly wishes to avoid” (SparkNotes Editors, n.d.).


The Chicago Manual of Style

Chicago requires the use of footnotes, rather than parenthetical citations, in conjunction with a list of works cited when dealing with literature.

1 SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Demian.” SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/demian/ (accessed October 20, 2010).


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