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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Germany: 1871–1918
Demian is set in Germany, beginning approximately ten years before the start of World War I. The period of German history from 1871 to 1918 is known as the era of the German Empire. The German Empire was formed in 1871 from the combination of Prussia and three other German states. The government was ruled by an emperor, but also had a constitution and an elected legislative body. In Demian, Sinclair’s school years are set during the reign of the emperor (also called the Kaiser) William II, which lasted from 1888 (when Hesse was ten or eleven years old) until the end of World War I (1918). William II also served as king of Prussia (the largest of Germany’s five states).

Germany in World War I
World War I (also known as the Great War, or the First World War) began in 1914, when a Serbian nationalist assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. The war that grew out of this conflict pitted the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey) against the Allies (France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and the United States). The war was initially popular among German citizens, who rallied together in a rush of nationalist pride. However, as the war progressed, German citizens on the home-front suffered the consequences of severe food shortages which led to massive malnutrition as well as starvation.

The War ended in 1918 when the Central Powers suffered defeat at the hands of the Allies. The Armistice of 1918 was followed by the Paris Peace Conference of 1919–1920, during which the Treaty of Versailles was drafted and signed. The Treaty of Versailles outlined specific principles for the restructuring of relations between the nations involved in the conflict. This included the call for a restructuring of Europe to create several independent nation states from the former empires of Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Turkey. The Treaty of Versailles also required extensive war reparations to be paid by Germany.

Germany in the Post-War Years
German soldiers returning from a war in which they were defeated came home to find widespread hunger, high unemployment rates, and outrageous rates of inflation. Over 11 million German men, about 18 percent of the population, had fought in the war effort, which resulted in some 2 million casualties. To make matters worse, a flu epidemic spread throughout Germany in the aftermath of the war. Civil discontent resulted in revolution, and in 1918 the emperor William II was forced to abdicate from the throne, making room for the formation of a new democratic German republic, unofficially known as the Weimar Republic. The Weimar Republic included a newly written constitution that called for a popularly elected president and provided women the right to vote for the first time. The Weimar Republic lasted until Adolph Hitler rose to power in 1933.

In the 1920s, during the early years of the new Weimar Republic, the German economy suffered. The Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I after German defeat, required Germany to pay enormous war reparations. In addition, Germany had gone into massive debt from wartime expenditures. The consequences of these conditions, and Germany’s response to them, resulted in massive inflation in the early 1920s, reaching its peak in 1923. In that year the German mark fell rapidly by the minute, rendering the amount of a life savings almost worthless. After this point the German government initiated reforms and policy changes which allowed the economy to recover.

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Narrative Voice Demian is written in the first-person narrative voice. Emil Sinclair is both the narrator and the protagonist of the story. Hesse’s choice of first-person narration is central to Demian, because Sinclair is describing his own inward journey toward selfknowledge and the formulation of his personal identity. Critics have noted that Demian does not have a strong or complex plot, because the novel is concerned with a...

(The entire section is 3,313 words.)