Demian (1919)

Demian is a novel by Hermann Hesse, an awesome German writer who is obsessed with certain psychological aspects that are repeated in his stories, an introspective path that determines all the main characters he occupies and which I suppose adheres to people (like me and perhaps like you) who tend to talk more to themselves than to others. In this novel, the author reflects on the changes that occur in adolescence and the road to adulthood, something like a “coming of age” novel that even adventures, in its final pages, a kind of meaning for life and good living.

But let’s take it one step at a time, what is Demian all about? The answer is not so easy to find, I say this because, in the beginning of the reading one can get a more or less clear idea of what can happen in the following pages, however, such things do not happen and if they do happen they do so at the end, but in a completely different way than you might expect. I understand, what I have just written does not make sense, I know, but give me a little time to be able to process better what I want to say. Maybe this is something that happened to me because I was more used to cinematic narrative, I guess when I read the beginning of the story I had the idea that the plot would go a certain way, but the story went the other way completely, except for this initiatic idea about the world of light and the world of darkness, I will explain about this later.

For those who have not read the novel, the beginning follows the steps of the main character, Emil Sinclair, a name that was also Hesse’s first pseudonym, and his first reflections (mmm… let’s say innocent) on the differences between his own life and the lives of lesser-privileged people (poor people). The theoretical framework Sinclair uses to make this comparison comes from his father and from Judaeo-Christian thought. Under these parameters, Sinclair sees the world in two great opposites, the world of light, where he is and all good people (people who have sufficient resources). On the other side of the pond are the inhabitants of the dark world, who tend to behave in morally questionable ways, namely, stealing, lying, manipulating, etc. The protagonist begins the story by getting involved with one of these dark beings, Franz Kromer, in an attempt not to appear weak in front of a group of schoolmates, all of whom have already participated (supposedly) in risky and let’s say morally questionable feats. Well, the thing is that Sinclair lies about having stolen some apples to be part of the conversation, finding with it the first seed of what he calls “darkness” inside, but which is clearly a need like the one that leads a person who doesn’t have enough to eat to steal and so on. This darkness within him leads Sinclair to abandon the paradisiacal fictional world of the Christian religion and to begin the search for a framework more in line with reality that he himself can see in front of his eyes and that differs completely from the beliefs taught in his home (which also makes him gradually move away from his family). In order not to tell the whole story, I will only say that the search ends with the encounter of a new deity called Abraxas, a being that represents the duality of opposites (that is to say that the opposites, like light and darkness, are only graduations of something more general).

So far so good, but… why is the story called Demian? Well, the thing is that Demian is a very important character in Sinclair’s story, let’s say he’s his mentor, he’s the person who initiates him into this path of self-knowledge in a very particular way. Using a rational and logical discourse, Demian presents Sinclair with his own theory about one of the biblical stories, that of Cain and Abel. Demian talks about the possibility that Cain is really the good character in the story. His reasoning is that Cain did or does what he has to do, is a pragmatic character, while Abel is simply a blind worshipper, unable to question the words of his master (God). Demian postulates that there are people in the world, who have certain abilities and can see things as they really are, called the “sons of Cain” and that they are the ones who have taken on their shoulders the destiny of all humanity, acting to protect others, the sheep, the Abels of the world (blind worshippers).

So far with the story, which is very interesting, although I have to say that in the middle parts it tends to get a little out of focus, I feel, on Sinclair’s way, that he seems to be listening to others all the time and rarely gets to act on his own. This, in my opinion, makes certain chapters feel less decisive and even derivative. One thing that seems a bit random to me is the way Sinclair meets Abraxas. Let’s say that in perspective it is understood that it is in the moment that the “abilities” of the protagonist are activated (see more than the apparent), but in the way it is described everything seems to me to be half hung up on the general story, or in reality it feels that here another story begins. All of this is fixed at the end, when Sinclair and Demian get back together (they have been separated for much of the story). Especially since Demian’s character is very attractive to read and it makes you want to know how the new Sinclair (the more awakened Sinclair) will stand up to his first mentor, after defeating his previous teacher (who has read the story will understand). The end of the story is crazy, I’m serious, it’s one of the best endings I’ve ever read or seen and it makes the whole story an incredible epic, it reminded me of the end of another extremely interesting story, Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.

In short, I think Demian by Hermann Hesse is an excellent story, one of those stories that alters your life’s path when you read it. For me, these stories have as much power as a religion, they appear as a spiritual path that clarifies many things and opens up new perspectives and possibilities. The characters you meet in the story have all their own forms and truths that come together as layers within your own perception of events and about life itself, which is what good stories are about, what we are experiencing and what changes with every moment. The feeling that comes from finding meaning, perhaps in teleological terms rather than in a present state, a goal, a form of transcendence that allows you to go through life without regret, this and much more you will find in Demian, a fully recommended novel.

The good stuff:

  • The initial conversations between Sinclair and Demian are pure gold.
  • The search for Abraxas and all the ideas that come out of it.
  • The end!

The bad:

  • Some chapters in the middle of the story may seem superfluous.

In short… read it or die!

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