Demian | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Demian | Chapter 7 : Mother Eve | Summary



Home during the summer holidays, Emil Sinclair goes to visit the house where Max Demian had lived. When an old woman living there shows him a photo of Demian's mother, Sinclair is shocked to see how strongly it resembles his dream-mistress. He then began his vacation trip, a journey to find her, as he travels from place to place. Though he has a sense of being led by destiny, he also feels great impatience and finally returns home unsuccessful. He begins university shortly afterward.

Finding university life dull and disappointing, Sinclair takes solace in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, believing that the philosopher followed his destiny relentlessly, despite great loneliness. One autumn evening Sinclair is walking through town, noticing how groups of people herd together in taverns. When he overhears two men discussing how rare it is to find someone who does not follow the herd, Sinclair is amazed to recognize one of the men as Max Demian. Demian seems unsurprised to see his old friend. He says he recognized Sinclair earlier by the "sign"—the mark of Cain. He notes the mark is becoming clearer, adding that his mother would be glad to learn Sinclair was in town.

The two converse about university life. Demian believes the herd-like behavior of the students and others in Europe is born of fear. It is not a good kind of community, based on understanding among individuals, but one that is rotten on the inside. He expresses concern about troubles ahead, though maybe those troubles will free the world from its old chains.

On his way home, Sinclair is buoyed by Demian's words and eagerly anticipates meeting Demian's mother. The next day he wakes with a sense of celebration. Feeling no fear, he walks to Demian's house, where an old servant greets him. As he waits, he looks around the front hall. On the wall hangs his painting of the dream-bird. When Demian's mother enters the room, it is just like his dream, like a homecoming. He reaches out his hands, and she takes them, greeting him warmly. Seeing the sign of Cain on her, he feels fulfilled.

She tells him how her son came home from school all those years ago and said, "There's a boy who has the sign on his forehead, he must be my friend." She expresses sympathy for his difficult journey. Sinclair tells her it was hard, until the dream came. She cautions him not to cling to any one dream because each dream sets a new one free. Fate came to him, he tells her, like a mother and a mistress. She tells him to be true to his dream as long as it remains his fate.

Then she tells him some people call her Mother Eve, and he is free to call her that as well. From that point on, Sinclair becomes like part of the family—a family that, he learns, includes a number of others of all types and religions. He considers the Demians' home a haven of love and dreams and becomes more aware of the "sign." Mother Eve is Sinclair's spiritual guide, helping him recall and interpret his dreams. He struggles with sexual desire for her, however, and she is quite aware of his feelings. One day she tells him a fairy tale about a young man in love with a star. The man sprang upward to the star but then was overcome with doubt and fell to the ground. Mother Eve then tells Sinclair, "Love ... attracts. As soon as you attract my love, I shall come."


In Chapter 7 Hermann Hesse draws from ideas of Carl Jung and from Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil (1886). In this work Nietzsche claims most people in Western, or European, society have been conditioned into a herd mentality. Those who have the courage to follow their own wills, who do not conform to the idea of putting the group's or others' needs above one's own, are the future of humanity. This idea is introduced at the beginning of the chapter. Emil Sinclair's dissatisfaction with the university and his observations of how people gather, herd-like, in taverns and cafés brings attention not only to the "herd" behavior but also to the changes he has undergone. He no longer tries to fit in by going to taverns and drinking with his peers, as he did in boarding school. Indeed, Max Demian later expresses Nietzsche's ideas, saying, "What is now called community is merely a formation of herds" based on fear. Instead of this false kind of community, a true community will one day "arise anew from the mutual understanding of individuals, and ... the world will be remodeled." After Sinclair joins Mother Eve's household, the novel presents the author's idea of what a true community, one not based on fear, would look like.

The idea of the herd mentality, and the suggestion of its origins in fear, likely appealed to Hesse's concerns about war. Hesse wrote the novel in the midst of World War I, and in this chapter the war is imminent. The connection between the formation of herds based on fear and war is suggested in Demian's description of the state of Europe: "For a hundred years and more Europe has simply studied and built factories. They know exactly how many grams of powder it takes to kill a man." Other intimations of war appear in the chapter. Demian claims he can sense troubles are coming, and people may die—even he and Sinclair. He suggests the present world may perish, but some of the people like them will survive to continue enacting the "will of humanity." These comments foreshadow the war and express Hesse's hope that despite the war's horror and death, something better for humanity will come about in the future.

Demian also connects the fear that inspires the herd mentality to the Jungian idea of self-realization or individuation. People are afraid when they are not at one with themselves, "afraid of the unknown in themselves." Sinclair, of course, has gone through this exact struggle—and in some ways he is still struggling. He has begun to accept his anima, at first a terrifying dream figure, as a part of himself, but now an external manifestation of the dream-mistress—Mother Eve—confronts him. Like other characters in the novel, Mother Eve can be viewed as both a character separate from Sinclair and an aspect of Sinclair's self. In the novel she seems to emerge from his painting into real life.

One important aspect of Mother Eve is that in his original dream, she began as his own mother and became a lover. She still retains the role of mother, even though he has sexual feelings for her. Jung had ideas about incest dreams, suggesting incest fantasies could be interpreted as the self's quest for wholeness. A sexual longing for Mother Eve might represent Sinclair's longing to be unified and whole.

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