Demian | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Demian | Chapter 1 : Two Worlds | Summary



Emil Sinclair says he is going to begin by telling about something that happened when he was about 10 years old. Before he begins, however, he describes two worlds that, as a child, he observed in his life. He was aware of the two different worlds coexisting in his home. One was the world of his parents: a familiar world of love, cleanliness, duty, Bible texts, and school. From this well-ordered world, the path to the future was straight. The other world was the world of the "servant girls and workmen, ghost stories and breath of scandal." This other world extended into the places outside his home, too. The slaughterhouse, prison, tramps, drunken wife-beaters, and all manner of other terrible and passionate things were part of this second world. The borders of the two worlds were very close. Sinclair says he belonged to the first world, but the other world was present all around him, and he lived in it. Sometimes he even liked the second, forbidden world better.

Sinclair realizes he wanted to grow up to live in the bright world, like his parents, but he knew the path to this future was long and might wind through the darker world. He also knew of the danger of getting stuck in the darker world. Sinclair explains that his sisters seemed to belong to the bright world even more than he did. Sometimes when they played games together, Sinclair would become angry and say mean things but then later apologize.

Sinclair then turns to the story. As a child he goes to a private school, but his friends include neighborhood boys who go to the public school. One day when he is 10, he goes out with two of these boys, and another boy of about 13 joins them. This boy, Frank Kromer, is from a family with a bad reputation. Kromer leads the younger boys to search in the stream under a bridge and find things that might be of value. Kromer is in charge, keeping any useful objects, and the other boys obey him. Finally, the boys all sit down and began bragging about their pranks and other shenanigans. Wanting to fit in, Sinclair makes up an elaborately detailed story about having stolen a bag of apples. Afterward, when Kromer asks whether the story is true, Sinclair swears it was.

The story does impress Kromer, but not in the way Sinclair expected. Kromer corners Sinclair and threatens to report Sinclair's theft. Sinclair is terrified. Kromer demands that Sinclair bring him money the next day. Sinclair feels like the prodigal son of the Bible, who spends all his money and returns home in shame. He is no longer a part of the bright world. He knows he has sinned, and the devil is pursuing him. His path is destined to have one misdeed lead to another and another. Sinclair considers confessing his crime to his father but decides against it. The secret makes Sinclair feel superior because he has knowledge his father did not have. The adult Sinclair reflects that this was the first crack in the pillar of his childhood. Still, toppling the pillar of childhood is necessary to achieve self-realization.

Throughout that evening young Sinclair feels as though his world is saying good-bye and disappearing into the past. As the family says evening prayers, Sinclair can't make himself take part, for God's grace is no longer with him. As he falls asleep, he sees and feels the presence of an ugly, devilish enemy beside him. In the morning he steals some money from his house and gives it to Kromer. This becomes the first of many such transactions. The guilt and stress take their toll, and Sinclair becomes withdrawn and sickly at home.


The first formative event in Emil Sinclair's life has a lasting influence and as such is given its own chapter. It is significant in several ways. First, it is a clear transgression from the moral standards by which Sinclair has been raised. His story about the apples is a blatant lie, completely and elaborately fabricated. Second, it is Sinclair's first foray into the dark world that, until now, he has been aware of and tempted by, but not part of. Sinclair devotes considerable time to explain the "two worlds" he perceived as a child. He does this because his understanding of "two worlds" is the fundamental worldview he received from his parents, the church, and society. As such, it is the childhood world that will have to be destroyed or left behind for Sinclair to move toward self-realization.

From Sinclair's description of the two worlds, readers may note that even before the crisis of Kromer's bullying, Sinclair felt drawn to the second, dark world. He would sometimes behave badly toward his sisters. Fascinated by stories of prodigal sons, he loved reading them, especially the parts about the "wicked and profligate" lives the prodigals lived before they returned home and received forgiveness. These stories were based on the pattern of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, found in the New Testament, in which a son takes his inheritance and squanders it on immoral living before returning to his father's home to beg for forgiveness. To the son's surprise, his father welcomes him with love and forgiveness. Sinclair thought "it was really often a great pity that the prodigal repented and was redeemed," even though he knew this idea could not be spoken aloud.

Thus, even before his external conflict—the lie and its aftermath—Sinclair has already been struggling with his inner conflict. He desires both the light and the dark worlds and, therefore, belongs fully to neither one. When he becomes embroiled in the situation with Kromer and begins a series of lies, secrets, and thefts, he takes a step into the darker world. This step upsets the delicate balance between dark and light in which he had been living and sends him into chaos. Looking back on this childhood experience, Sinclair sees it as the point at which the "pillar" of his childhood began to crack. He felt as though a chasm had opened between him and his family—who are still firmly in the bright world. His strong feelings and reaction to this experience show the significance of this turning point in his life.

The influence of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875–1961) and his particular brand of psychotherapy is evident in this novel, and this chapter touches on several important ideas. One is the presence of the shadow. In Jungian thought, the shadow is a part of one's own self that one finds unacceptable or unpleasant. This shadow can appear in dreams or visions as a frightening or monstrous figure. For example, Sinclair senses a devilish figure near him as he goes to sleep the night after his lie. The shadow can also be projected onto other people—that is, one can have an intense dislike for a person who seems to have those characteristics one dislikes in oneself. In this chapter Kromer appears as a manifestation of Sinclair's shadow. Jung believed a person needed to integrate their shadow into their self. This integration is part of the process of individuation, which Sinclair often refers to as "self-realization." Further, in this chapter Sinclair's struggle with his own shadow is described through his descriptions of his emotions, through the presence of Kromer, and through the dream or vision of the devilish figure. To achieve self-realization he will have to accept and integrate his shadow into his self.

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