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A Summary Of Hermann Hesse’s Demian

Kathryn Byrnes Winter 1998

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 As a boy, Sinclair

reputation as an upright, godly family.

views the world within the walls of hishome 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 constantlyfeels 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. This struggle between Sinclair’s two worlds manifests itself when Sinclair is about 10 years old. While playing

one day with some fellow schoolmates, an older boy, Franz Kromer, joins them. In an effort to impressthe older boy

and his schoolmates, Sinclair makes up a story in which he and another unnamed accomplice stole a bag of apples from a fellow neighbor. Although the story is untrue, Kromer

threatens Sinclair with exposure if Sinclair does not pay him off. Unable to pay the full amount, Sinclair is forced

to become Kromer’s slave, ultimately sending Sinclair into depression and paranoia.Sinclair feels trapped by Kromer,

forced to live within the “forbidden realm”, which in turn exiles him from the “world of light” because he has defiled himself by lying and committing sinful acts for Kromer. This experience is traumatic for Sinclair and he is often haunted by nightmares, he is unable to eat, and he becomes withdrawn and sullen. His personality alters as he tries to cope withthe bondage of his slavery to this lower-class, troublemaking kid, but he sees no escape and reluctantly succumbs to what he believes to be his fate. The arrival of a new kid in town, Max Demian, is noticed by everyone due to the strange aura that surrounds him and his recently widowed mother. From the start, Sinclair feels a type of fascination for Demian, a confusing feeling filled with both loveand hate. “He was in every respect different from all the others, was entirely himself, with a personality all his own which made him noticeable even though he did his best not to be noticed; his manner and bearing was that of a prince disguised among farm boys, taking great pains to appear one of them.”1 The first encounter between Sinclair and Demian occurs one day after school as the two boysare walking home. Sinclair had learned the biblical story of Cain and Abel

from the book of Genesis that day in class.

Demian starts a

conversation about the story and challenges Sinclair to look at the story from a different perspective. Demian proposes

that Cain carried a mark of distinction because he was feared by others due to his strength and that Abel had been killed simplybecause he was the weaker one of the two. Sinclair is impressed and at the same time overwhelmed by this radical perspective which in fact challenges all the traditions and teachings with which he had been raised. He

therefore denounces the idea as absurd, as a means to protect himself and all that he knows to be true. It is not for some time later that Sinclair once again comes in contact withDemian. It is on a rainy day in the

town square after Sinclair had a troublesome meeting with Kromer, who still plagues his life, making him constantly miserable. Through mere observation, Demian asseses the

situation between Kromer and Sinclair, and Demian confronts Sinclair about his fear of Kromer. Angered by Demian’s

accurate insight, Sinclair rudely brushes Demian off out of fear and...
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