Demian | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Demian | Chapter 4 : Beatrice | Summary



Emil Sinclair goes off to boarding school. Because he has been feeling indifferent toward his family for a while, leaving home is not difficult. Outwardly scornful and arrogant, and inwardly sad and miserable, Sinclair is not well liked at the new school. By November he has formed a habit of taking meditative walks, and on one of these he meets Alphonse Beck, an older student. Beck invites Sinclair to go to the tavern for a drink. Drunk for the first time, Sinclair enjoys the euphoric feeling in the tavern but loses it when Beck escorts him home. When he wakes up in the middle of the night with a headache and smelling of vomit, before his eyes is a vision of his parents' home and that bright world. He feels totally separate from it and is filled with regret. Yet even these feelings of torment are welcome, because he has gone so long without feeling.

Over the next several weeks he gets drunk many more times and gains a reputation as "a devil of a good fellow." However, he is still lonely. His drinking and partying cause him to do poorly in classes. Having heard how his son is doing, his father visits and tries to reason with him. Sinclair sends him away, and the Christmas holidays at home are tense.

Back at school Sinclair observes a girl in the park to whom he is attracted. She is beautiful and mature, and he gives her the nickname Beatrice, after Italian medieval poet Dante's unrequited love. Although Sinclair never approaches her, she takes hold of his imagination, and he begins to mend his ways. He takes up painting so he can paint her. Instead of painting the living "Beatrice," though, he paints from his imagination, and the resulting portrait looks nothing like her. When he looks at it, the face seems to be that of a god—ageless and genderless, yet familiar. He hides the finished painting and gazes at it morning and night in a ritualistic fashion. His dreams begin to include the painting. One day he realizes the painting is actually of Demian. Later, he realizes it is also a painting of himself in some way.

Looking at the "Beatrice" painting, Sinclair recalls something Demian told him when they met by chance on a school break: "It is good to know there is one in us who knows everything!" Suddenly he is able to connect the painting with the "one" inside himself that knows everything. Other things Demian said to him also fall into focus and take on new, clearer meaning. Sinclair remembers their first conversation, when Demian noted the old crest above the door to Sinclair's home. He'd said it was a bird. The night after remembering this conversation, Sinclair has a dream in which Demian holds the crest in his hands, and though it changes in size and colors, it is always the same. Then Demian forces Sinclair to eat the crest. Sinclair feels as though the bird on the crest is alive inside his body, consuming him. He wakes up in terror and is relieved to escape from the dream. Getting up to close the window, Sinclair finds his painting on the floor. It is wet from rain coming in the window, and he sets it out to dry. In the morning the paint has run a little, and the painting looks more like Demian.

Sinclair begins a new painting that day, depicting the bird on the crest. He doesn't have a clear picture in his mind, but he keeps on anyway. The finished painting shows a bird of prey with a hawk's head. The bird's lower body is stuck in a dark globe and struggling to break free of this globe, a giant egg. Sinclair carefully packages up the painting and sends it to Demian.


This chapter has two main sections. The first addresses Emil Sinclair's difficulties at his new school. He is terribly lonely and depressed, and these feelings make him unpleasant to be around. His unpleasantness means he can't make friends easily—a vicious cycle. A solution seems to present itself: join the others in drinking and partying. His first experience with drink is enjoyable, though it leads to regret and a sense of losing, once again, the bright world of his parents. Over time, the drinking helps him become more accepted among his peers, but this solution is ultimately unsatisfying. He can't fully enter the world of his peers because he is looking for love, not just sex, and doesn't find a true friend among his drinking buddies. His inner life and outward persona are at odds.

The second part of the chapter shows how Sinclair gradually gets through this crisis. As before, Max Demian plays a part. His words—that something inside oneself knows more than the conscious self and ultimately controls everything—are a key that unlocks something in Sinclair's self. However, another force is introduced in this chapter—one that also guides Sinclair's journey of self-realization. This force is "Beatrice." In the story Sinclair does in fact base Beatrice on a real girl he encountered one day. However, the Beatrice who emerges and has a positive effect on Sinclair's life is not a real person but something that comes from inside Sinclair himself. He never reveals the real girl's name, for she is so quickly superseded by the Beatrice figure.

The nature of Beatrice is revealed in Sinclair's painting. He paints her not from his observation of the real girl but from someplace inside himself. After many tries, he feels satisfied with the result. Unlike the real girl in appearance, the image looks something like an androgynous Demian. Sinclair says it was a face he had already dreamed of, a face that "seemed to have something to say to me, it belonged to me; its look was rather imperative, as if requiring something of me." Later, he realizes it also looks something like himself—"something of my inner self, of my fate or of my daemon." Thus, three figures play a part in the painting, which seems to spring straight from Sinclair's unconscious. One figure is the feminine Beatrice, one is Max Demian, and one is Sinclair himself. The three merge into one figure in the painting. A Jungian look at them would identify the Beatrice that emerges onto the painting—not the real girl Sinclair calls Beatrice—as Sinclair's anima. The anima is the feminine part of a man, and in the process of individuation a man must acknowledge and integrate his anima into his whole self. Max Demian is Sinclair's guide to self-realization. He is also, as it is revealed in this chapter, a part of, or manifestation of, Sinclair's self.

Sinclair continues to dream and paint—both ways used by Carl Jung to recognize and integrate his own self. Sinclair dreams of the bird on the crest above his home and then of being forced to eat it. The bird on the crest begins to devour him from the inside. This dream bird becomes the subject of Sinclair's next painting, though in the painting it is struggling free of an egg, not devouring a human. Still, the visual images are similar. In both, the bird is doing something violent yet necessary—eating and being born—and destroying something in the process. This symbol begins to take shape as representing the process of self-realization. As the self moves forward in a necessary and natural process, the old habitat and old identity must be destroyed. This symbol will lead Sinclair into his next phase of self-realization.

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