Ideas for Group Discussions
As a preparation for the discussion of this novel, some study of depth psychology, particularly the work of Freud and Jung, would be helpful, as would attention to the literary device of symbolism (with perhaps a review of the Symbolist Movement in literature).
1. Which of the main characters exerts the most significant influence on Emil Sinclair? Is that influence totally beneficial, in your view?
2. Does Sinclair's somewhat sympathetic attitude, in the final chapter, toward war seem too "forgiving"? Should Hesse have condemned war more overtly and forcefully?
3. Which of the symbols seems to be the most striking and meaningful in Emil's development? Is the symbol really appropriate for that which it represents?
4. Does the fact that several characters are founded on real people (Demian, perhaps, on Hesse himself, Beatrice on Eugenia Kolb, and Pistorius on Joseph Lang, for example) detract from the literary quality of the text, especially as to characterization?
5. Is there any merit in the claim, advanced by some scholars, that Hesse intended Demian to be a challenge to Christianity? Does the work really contain anti-Christian elements?
6. Can Existential aspects be readily detected in the text? If so, what are they, and how do they contribute to the philosophical depth of the novel?
7. What does Hesse mean when he causes Demian to say, in the penultimate chapter, "Men fly into each other's arms because they are afraid of each other.... And why are they afraid? You are only afraid if you are not in harmony with yourself"? Does the passage indicate the author's prescience about conditions in Europe after the war?
8. Is there too high a proportion of philosophical reflection by the narrator and not enough demonstration of the ideas that are discussed? Could Hesse have enlivened the book by providing more action and less talk?