Demian | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Demian | Chapter 2 : Cain | Summary

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Summary

Emil Sinclair begins this chapter by saying "deliverance" and "something new" entered his life unexpectedly. He then describes the arrival of a new boy, Max Demian, at school. Demian is older and seems, to Sinclair, to be wise, confident, and mature. One day when the older and younger classes are combined, Sinclair finds himself staring at Demian. Later, on the way home, Demian walks with Sinclair and asks if he liked that day's lesson about Cain and Abel. Sinclair says he did. Demian then reinterprets the story in a new way, saying Cain and his children had a distinctiveness that others considered peculiar. This distinctiveness was likely courage or fearlessness—not a literal "sign." The story about the murder, he explains, was told to explain the distinctiveness. Although Sinclair worries Demian is saying the story was untrue, Demian claims the story could well be true even if it isn't factual. Sinclair is astonished. Demian continues, saying the murder probably did happen but not in the way the story records. It was simply a case of a strong man killing a weak one, and this story got attached to Cain.

After Demian goes on his way, Sinclair concludes that his interpretation is nonsense. When he reads it again later, he thinks looking for new secret meanings are silly. Still, Sinclair continues to think about the story of Cain. He feels he can no longer consider himself an Abel, but rather he is more a Cain because of his "present misery" with Frank Kromer. He thinks Demian must be a Cain as well. Otherwise, why would he make up an interpretation with Cain as a hero, rather than a villain? This reconsidering and confusion about Cain becomes the point at which Sinclair's doubts and search for knowledge originate.

At school rumors about Demian abound concerning his religion, strength, and home life. Meanwhile, Kromer's blackmail plagues and dominates Sinclair's life more and more. He has nightmares. His mother and sisters treat him as though he is sick or possessed and pray for him—to no avail. He knows he could confess everything and be forgiven, but he doesn't think his actions and motivations will be understood.

One rainy day in late fall, Kromer demands that Sinclair bring his older sister to their next meeting. Sinclair feels even more fearful. As Sinclair begins to walk home, Demian approaches him. Having witnessed the interaction between Sinclair and Kromer, Demian can see Sinclair is afraid of Kromer and infers that Sinclair has done something wrong that gives Kromer power over him. Demian tells Sinclair he must get rid of his fear and pledges to help "put things square." Shortly after, Kromer stops bothering Sinclair. Demian says he simply made it clear it was in Kromer's best interest to leave Sinclair alone.

Trying to put the whole Kromer problem behind him, Sinclair rarely sees Kromer and avoids Demian. Although Demian has freed him, Sinclair believes being friends with Demian would require even more of him than his parents required. Instead, he tries to regain the bright world of his parents and sisters. He confesses to his parents, who forgive and embrace him: he is the prodigal son returned home and restored. However, the nagging question of Cain and Abel continues to bother him. He asks his father why some people think Cain was better than Abel. His father says this is a well-known interpretation, but is a heresy: " For, if one believes that Cain was right ... then it follows that God has erred." His father advises Sinclair not to think too much about these ideas.

Analysis

Emil Sinclair is saved from the external threat of Frank Kromer's blackmail and bullying by the inscrutable Max Demian. Demian is presented as a boy who has the demeanor and self-assurance of an adult. The other school children neither like nor dislike Demian but treat him as something "other." Sinclair, however, is immediately drawn to him. He notes that Demian's face holds a strange fasciation for him, and he can't help looking at him, yet he admits his feeling about Demian is not entirely positive, finding him not "really agreeable." Sinclair also observes that Demian tries hard to give the appearance of being like the other boys, even though "the stamp of a striking personality" sets him apart. This aspect of Demian is noteworthy because at other times in the novel he does things just to seem to fit in. The "stamp" Sinclair sees on Demian is a hint of the "sign of Cain," which Demian later explains is not a literal mark but an impression of power, strength, and character.

Although the presence of Demian in Sinclair's life eliminates the external conflict with Frank Kromer, it amplifies Sinclair's internal conflict. Kromer no longer torments Sinclair, but the incident leaves a lasting impact on him. After all, Sinclair still has inside him whatever made him lie in the first place and whatever made him find the dark world so appealing. He still has not accepted his shadow; he has been rid of only one of its manifestations. As Demian notes, the problem is Sinclair's fear of Kromer, not Kromer himself. Sinclair can't progress to adulthood, or self-realization, until his fear is gone.

In addition, even though Kromer no longer menaces Sinclair, Demian himself becomes something of a threat. Sinclair senses this threat, which although different from Kromer's, "also ... bound me to the second, evil, bad world." Consequently, he begins to avoid Demian, or at least not seek him out. He doesn't try to only move forward, but he actually tries to erase the Kromer incident altogether—to travel back in time to the safety of childhood. He places himself back inside the bright world and under his parents' authority. Sinclair acknowledges his belief that a retreat like this is less demanding and easier than continuing to follow the promptings of Demian. While Demian makes him question, doubt, and reconsider his assumptions, his father asks only that he stop giving thought and attention to other ideas or ways of thinking.

Taking a Jungian view of Demian and his relationship to Sinclair is helpful in untangling the conflict in this chapter. Sinclair has begun the process of individuation, or self-realization. He has encountered his shadow, and this encounter has sparked an internal conflict. His mission is to integrate the shadow into the self, but he is afraid because the shadow is the part of him he dislikes. However, Demian appears and acts as a guide. By reinterpreting a well-known biblical story, he presents Sinclair with a new way of looking at the world. This new way threatens Sinclair's previously held beliefs about the world and, more important, about himself. He flees from the discomfort these new ideas bring, trying to hide his head in the sand by not thinking about them, as his father suggests. However, Sinclair can't erase his shadow, after having encountered it. He will have to face it eventually.

Finally, Demian can be viewed as a manifestation of Sinclair's self. In Jung's view the process of individuation, or integrating conscious and unconscious selves, is directed by the self as it seeks to be whole. This understanding of Demian will become clearer as the novel progresses.

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