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.)