Themes and Meanings
In the penultimate chapter of The Demons, entitled “The Fire,” Doderer not only brings the historical events of the novel to a conclusion but also brings the major characters to a critical conclusion in their lives. Leonhard’s story is one of success, because he has not been encumbered by a “second reality.” He is a free man who has become self-sufficient as a human being; he has not fallen prey to the ideologies, misperceptions, and demons that haunt most of the other characters.
On the day that the Palace of Justice burns, many members of “Our Crowd” experience some sort of shock which enables them to apperceive the world in which they live. Kajetan has given up his mania for fat females and will begin again as a novelist; Rene von Stangeler will marry because he is now established as a historian; Quapp realizes that she has no talent for playing the violin and—now that she is also rich—will marry Geza von Orkay, who will be an important diplomat for the Hungarian government in Basil. Geyrenhoff, now that he has exposed Levielle as an embezzler and sent him into exile, will marry the wealthy Friederike Ruthmayr.
Doderer sees the day of the fire not as the idyllic moment that the individual characters experience but as the “Cannae of Austrian freedom.” The annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany and World War II became for him and his country a terrible time of living in a “second reality.” It was only with the collapse of Nazism and the passing of the great conflagration of World War II that a “first reality” was regained. Doderer is by no means naive enough, however, to think that totalitarian ideologies cannot return. It is only through a constant apperception of all aspects of one’s world that the demons of the “second reality” can be exposed and that life in a “first reality” is possible.