(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Emil Sinclair, an innocent ten-year-old child of strict, pious German parents, lives in a world of kindness, good behavior, and love. Desperately wanting to be liked, he relates a boastful tale among a group of friends. The tale is about the time he and a friend stole a sackful of apples. Realizing the story to be a lie, bully Franz Kromer approaches Sinclair, claiming nevertheless to know the person from whom the apples were stolen, and demands money to keep quiet. Sinclair gives Kromer the few pfennigs he has, but Kromer renews his blackmail threat and extends his power over Sinclair. Terrified, Sinclair steals from his mother to pay Kromer.

Soon, a new boy in school, Max Demian, perceives the nature of Sinclair’s problem and somehow removes him from Kromer’s influence. Almost immediately, Sinclair, despite having recurring nightmares—the worst being his murderous assault upon his own father—regains his place in the security of his family’s sphere. In confirmation class, his automatic acceptance of the traditional view of the story of Cain and Abel is challenged by Demian, who sees Cain as a marked man of genius and, therefore, the target of jealous individuals. In another confirmation class, Demian impugns the story of Jesus’ crucifixion between two thieves by paying tribute to the unrepentant thief as a man of character and labeling the repentant thief as a “sniveling coward.” Demian’s insistence that, inasmuch as God belongs to his godly followers, a God for the world’s other half—the evil half—is necessary for balance, strikes a chord with Sinclair, whose memory of Kromer’s introduction into a world opposite that of Sinclair’s family is still painful.

Sinclair goes away to boarding school in Stuttgart and becomes friends with an older student, with whom he begins visiting bars and...

(The entire section is 754 words.)


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Demian narrates the life of its protagonist, Emil Sinclair, from the age of ten until past the age of eighteen from the viewpoint of an older Sinclair looking back upon his youth. Essentially a Bildungsroman with heavy emphasis on psychology, the novel focuses on persons and experiences that contribute to the protagonist’s development and to his uniqueness as an individual. In his preface to the novel, Hermann Hesse emphasizes the significance of the individual human being, who “represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again.”

At age ten, Sinclair belongs to a comfortable, secure middle-class German family that includes his parents and two older sisters, yet he stands on the verge of troubling and sweeping changes in his life. One day at school, in an effort to impress other boys, he invents an account of stealing apples from a local orchard and swears to its truth. This false confession leads to distress when Franz Kromer, an older boy, informs him that the orchard owner has offered a reward for information about the theft and then blackmails Sinclair over a period of months.

During this time, a boy named Max Demian enrolls in the school and notices Sinclair. Sensing Sinclair’s anguish, Demian learns its cause, and soon afterward Kromer’s intimidation ceases, though Sinclair never learns how. Demian, who thinks for himself and seems to possess unusual psychic powers, interprets the story of Cain and Abel to Sinclair in such a way that Cain becomes the hero. Thereafter, Sinclair recognizes the mark of Cain on himself and others as a mark of distinction. Demian also assures him that although an individual does not have free will, he can achieve anything upon which he concentrates his entire will and effort.

Once freed from Kromer, Sinclair, like the prodigal son, returns to the secure and ordered family life that had been strained by his ordeal. After seeing little of Demian for several years, Sinclair encounters him again in confirmation class. The rapport between them is restored when the teacher alludes to the...

(The entire section is 891 words.)