Demian | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Demian | Chapter 6 : Jacob Wrestles with God | Summary

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Summary

Emil Sinclair's time learning about Abraxas from Pistorius is another step toward self-realization. Among other teachings, Pistorius advises Sinclair to listen to his most secret dreams and to live them. Sinclair objects, for if he follows all his dreams, he might do violence. Pistorius suggests a dream of murdering someone, perhaps, may be only a "disguise" for the hate the dreamer has for the person; when "we hate a man, we hate in him something which resides in us ourselves." Consequently, even dreams of violence have something to teach.

One evening, a fellow student named Knauer follows Sinclair home, seeking spiritual guidance. Knauer is especially struggling with the temptation of sex and has resolved to remain celibate. Sinclair is unwilling to help him, but the incident leaves him feeling unsettled. That night he begins a painting of his dream-mistress. Finishing in a few days, he gazes at the portrait with intensity, as if to do battle. The face is similar to the other dream portrait, with something of himself and something of Max Demian. The gaze is "full of destiny." Sinclair appeals to it, insults it, and prays to it, feeling like Jacob wrestling with the angel of God: "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." Sinclair feels as though the picture has become part of him, and he hears a roaring sound. He has the impression of recalling memories from earliest childhood, then from a time before existence. Later he dreams he burned the picture and ate the ashes.

When he wakes from the dream, he goes for a walk and has an impulse to go inside a building. Following the impulse, he finds himself in a damp-smelling room. He is shocked to find Knauer there. He tells Knauer he had an impulse to enter the building, so Knauer must have called him. Suddenly it dawns on Sinclair that Knauer has been planning to kill himself. He tells Knauer this is a bad idea and sends him home. After that Knauer becomes in some ways a student of Sinclair's. They drift apart eventually, but each benefits from the friendship.

Painfully, Sinclair realizes the path of his own life is leading away from Pistorius, who has been a faithful mentor to him. He begins to tire of Pistorius's way of looking at religious matters, and one night he tells Pistorius his ideas were "antiquarian." Pistorius is hurt, and Sinclair fells terrible for hurting his mentor and friend. The two remain friends, but not as before. Without Pistorius as guide, Sinclair feels again as though his future were dark. This is the last year of Sinclair's school, and he is to enroll at university after vacation.

Analysis

This chapter focuses on two mentor-teacher relationships. At the beginning of the chapter, Emil Sinclair's mentor and teacher, Pistorius, is still imparting Jungian wisdom. In particular he teaches Sinclair important principles of dream interpretation. Dreams are not literal and do not reveal actual desires of the waking person. Rather, they are symbolic. The characters that appear in dreams are not so much external people but facets of the self that one must integrate to achieve individuation. This explains why, if Sinclair dreams of murdering someone he finds hateful, the dream reveals he hates part of himself. This part of the self is the shadow—the part he suppresses because he finds it unacceptable or shameful.

By the end of the chapter, however, Sinclair is ready to move on from Pistorius. He's learned all he can and feels the time is right to make a break. Although he hurts Pistorius's feelings, he recalls the idea that the bird struggling to be hatched must destroy its old world. Sinclair breaks the relationships with Pistorius because he needs to be free of it to progress.

In the meantime, Sinclair is placed in a mentor role with Knauer, a fellow student who seems quite a bit like a younger Sinclair. In distress, Knauer needs someone to intervene and save him, as Max Demian saved Sinclair from Frank Kromer. Like a younger Sinclair, Knauer feels ashamed of his sexual desires and sees them as an inner tormenter. At first, Sinclair is unwilling to be the mentor Knauer is seeking, but fate seems to prompt him into the savior and mentor role. The interaction with Knauer shows self-realization is a process. Sinclair is closer than he once was, but Demian is closer still. Knauer is only beginning and needs guidance, for he has not learned to heed his inner voice.

The concepts of fate, the soul/self, and God/Abraxas are nearly interchangeable in Sinclair's solidifying understanding. Fate is the name of that "something" inside oneself that knows and orders everything and is also the inner voice and the true self. Sinclair is still struggling with integrating the parts of his self, as illustrated by his interaction with the dream-mistress painting. The dream-mistress has come a long way from her beginning as "Beatrice" and is now a continual, yet uncomfortable, presence in Sinclair's life. In the biblical story referred to in the chapter title—from Genesis 32 of the Hebrew Bible—Jacob grapples with a mysterious man, refusing to let him go and saying "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man tells him "your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." When Sinclair wrestles with his dream-mistress, he is wrestling with fate/self/God. That the dream-mistress is still mostly a female figure suggests she is his anima, or feminine aspect, which he is integrating into his self.

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