Course Hero. "Demian Study Guide." Course Hero. 4 Oct. 2019. Web. 1 Aug. 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Demian/>.
Course Hero. (2019, October 4). Demian Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 1, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Demian/
(Course Hero, 2019)
Course Hero. "Demian Study Guide." October 4, 2019. Accessed August 1, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Demian/.
Course Hero, "Demian Study Guide," October 4, 2019, accessed August 1, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Demian/.
Demian is a coming-of-age novel, also called a bildungsroman. A bildungsroman focuses on a character's growing from childhood toward adulthood. Typically, the character experiences an emotional or a spiritual awakening that causes them to see the world differently than they did as a child. Traditional bildungsroman novels have two key concepts: protagonists must struggle against society to shape their identities, and they must successfully integrate, or settle into, their adult lives.
At the beginning of Demian, narrator Emil Sinclair sees that the world is divided into two: a bright world and a dark one. The bright world contains all the things he has been taught that are good and moral. The dark world contains the scandalous, the immoral, and the passionate. Sinclair learns to accept and integrate the two worlds, finding them both to be part of a whole he can embrace. This process happens both internally, as he learns to integrate and balance the dark and light inside himself, and externally, as he accepts the dark and light in the world around him. This way of looking at the world and at himself is part of Sinclair's journey toward self-realization.
Some scholars also see the novel as an example of künstlerroman, a type of bildungsroman. A künstlerroman traces an artist's journey to maturity. In contrast to the typical bildungsroman, in which the protagonist enters society and becomes more or less a conventional adult, the protagonist of a künstlerroman novel often rejects conventional society at the end of the novel. Emil Sinclair's life story can be considered a künstlerroman because his spiritual awakening and journey to self-realization are accomplished through intuition, through dreams, and through painting. In the end, he does not become part of the moral, conventional world, which he rejects in favor of a new way of living in and understanding a dual world, both light and dark.
Hermann Hesse struggled with depression throughout his life, attempting suicide at age 15 and spending several months in a mental asylum. His depression recurred during World War I (1914–18), causing him to seek help from therapist J.B. Lang, a doctor serving under the famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875–1961). Jung helped develop the field of analytical psychology after his university graduation in 1900. Hesse had more than 70 sessions of psychoanalysis, which helped him move past his mental crisis. Many of Jung's psychological concepts found expression in Demian:
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), a German philosopher, questions the foundations of society. Nietzsche regards with skepticism societal institutions and belief systems, including religion. According to his notion of perspectivism, there is no one way of looking at life and no one "correct" truth. Each person's experience of life (their reality) is unique because they see the world from only their own perspective. This perspective includes the beliefs they have adopted, the time and place into which they are born, and the aptitudes and health of their physical body. Nietzsche argues that institutions and belief systems try to mold people into one way of understanding the world. To him this goes against man's essence as an individual with a unique perspective. In Demian Emil Sinclair is raised in a family that teaches a religious view of the world. He learns one set of moral rules, one interpretation of biblical texts, and one way to seek wholeness after transgressing the moral code. As he steps into the darker world of what his family would call immorality or sin, and as he learns new ways of seeing biblical texts, he moves away from this rigidly religious worldview. This shift allows him to progress along the path of self-realization.
In Nietzsche's 1886 work, Beyond Good and Evil, the philosopher critiques the morality of Western Europe and the way it encourages mediocrity as normative. Nietzsche asserts that humanity must move beyond the absolute concepts of good and evil to bring about progress. Nietzsche's view, which is reflected in Demian, is that the traditional understanding of the world and of morality is full of opposites, such as moral and immoral or truth and lie. He rejects these opposites because truth, as such, does not exist as an objective thing. He also suggests that free spirits unburden themselves of these notions of good and bad and embrace all of life, even the parts others dislike. These free spirits often end up isolated and lonely as a result of their pursuit of reality. In contrast, the herd morality encourages people to submit to communal values such as consideration and moderation. He criticizes placing one's faith in the herd and wants the free spirits of the world to prevail so that a better humanity can emerge in the future. Demian is heavily influenced by these views, and Max Demian is clearly the model of a free spirit, calling Emil Sinclair away from the herd mentality and into a worldview free of traditional notions of good and evil.
Georg Friedrich Philipp von Hardenberg (1772–1801), a German Romantic poet and philosopher, went by the pen name Novalis. Novalis wrote on topics such as religion, science, nature, and art, and has been called a mystic for his ideas on achieving union with God through self-knowledge. In Novalis's view man is but one part of a universal consciousness that may be called God and which includes all of nature. Man was originally separated from God and nature to explore individual consciousness. Knowledge of individual consciousness, in turn, helps the universe understand its own nature as a whole. Man can return to God consciousness through this same process of self-exploration.
In Demian Emil Sinclair notes the influence of Novalis's work on his ideas, quoting this statement: "Fate and soul are the terms of one conception" (standard translation: "Fate and character are the same conception.") This phrasing is another way of saying that character determines fate. In the novel this destiny drives all of Sinclair's actions, reactions, dreams, and longings. Novalis's influence can also be noted in Emil Sinclair's need to integrate both light and dark worlds into one whole—all of nature—and suggests that this whole is divine. Aligning with Nietzsche's understanding of good and evil, these ideas provide the key to Sinclair's self-realization.