In this novel of development, Hesse writes a confessional novel about the struggles of Emil Sinclair, a sensitive young minister’s son growing up in a small provincial German town sometime before World War I. Sinclair discovers the duality of life through the experience of being bullied by Franz Kramer, who extorts money from him until a strange new boy, named Max Demian, intervenes and rescues him. Demian (daemon, or “guiding spirit”) has something timeless and unusual about him, perhaps the “mark of Cain,” which sets him apart from the other boys. He befriends young Sinclair and teaches him to listen to the voice within himself.
Sinclair meets Demian again periodically throughout his adolescence, usually at some moment of crisis, when Demian offers encouragement and reassurance. Away at private school, Sinclair abandons himself to drink and dissipation until the memory of his friend calls him back to himself. He remembers how Demian had pointed to a heraldic emblem above the door to his house and said that it represented a sparrow hawk breaking free of its egg, a symbol of Sinclair’s own struggle to find his destiny.
Later at the university, Sinclair meets the divinity student and organist Pistorius, a fellow seeker, who offers companionship until Sinclair finally rejects his sterile antiquarianism. Sinclair, still uncertain of his vocation and future, turns once again to Demian for advice, embarking on a search to find Demian and his mother, Frau Eva. Sinclair’s infatuation with the beautiful and timeless Frau Eva suggests other unresolved psychological needs of which he is not fully aware.
Hesse’s novel offers a fictionalized account of his own experiences with Jungian psychoanalysis and his struggles to become a writer. Clearly, Max Demian is something of an alter ego or “double,” a dimension of the protagonist’s personality that must be reintegrated in order for him to mature. Frau Eva perhaps suggests the narcissistic quality of Sinclair’s self-absorption. This novel has a dreamlike quality in which both scenes and characters assume a vague symbolism. The characters may be read as external projections of struggles within the protagonist as he develops from child to adult.
Boulby, Mark. Hermann Hesse: His Mind and Art, 1967.
Field, George Wallis. Hermann Hesse, 1970.
Mileck, Joseph. Hermann Hesse: Life and Art, 1978.
Otten, Anna, ed. Hesse Companion, 1977.
Ziolkowski, Theodore. The Novels of Hermann Hesse: A Story in Theme and Structure, 1965.