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Demian | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Demian | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram



As the novel opens, Emil Sinclair addresses the reader directly, explaining his intent to describe some important events from his life—events that were milestones in his development. As a child, he says, he sensed the existence of two worlds: a bright, light world of stability, morality, and order and a dark world of disorder, immorality, and violence. His parents and sisters were firmly part of the bright world, and he felt his home was a safe haven of order amid the chaos of the world. Still, he also saw that the two worlds bordered each other and even intersected at times.


The first formative event he recounts is an incident that occurs when he is about 10 in the small German town where he lives. Sinclair goes to a private school, but he often spends time with the other neighborhood boys, one of whom is Frank Kromer. A nasty bully, Kromer likes to be in charge of younger children and often has them do tasks for him. One day, several children are helping Kromer scavenge for pieces of metal and other useful trash, and Kromer boasts of his exploits. To impress him, Sinclair impulsively makes up a story about stealing apples from an orchard. Kromer then uses this story to blackmail Sinclair, saying he will report the theft. Sinclair cannot admit to lying, nor does he want his father to believe he is a thief. As a result of Kromer's extortion, Sinclair steals money from his home and does other "favors" for Kromer. Living this way torments Sinclair, making him feel he is less and less a part of the bright, orderly world and more a part of the dark, chaotic one.

After some weeks, the mysterious Max Demian, a new student at Sinclair's school, helps free Sinclair, equally mysteriously, from Kromer's bullying and blackmail. Demian also challenges some of the school's religious teachings. Although Sinclair appreciates Demian's help, the two boys do not remain close. However, the situation changes when the two end up in the same confirmation class a few years later. Sinclair is drawn to Demian, who seems to have a great deal of insight for his age as well as an almost mystical power over others. During the course of the class, Demian and Sinclair have many discussions. In one of them, Demian shares his idea that some things are considered "good" and others "evil," but in his mind all things are part of the world and should be appreciated and worshipped. Sinclair immediately connects this concept to his own sense of the light and dark worlds, and Demian's idea provides a possible way to look at them differently.

Boarding School

Emil Sinclair goes off to boarding school and for a time loses touch with Max Demian. Lonely and depressed at school, Sinclair begins drinking heavily and doing poorly in his studies. When he does have contact with Demian, his friend seems to disapprove of his lifestyle. Sinclair's dejection begins to change when he meets a girl. Although he takes only a slight interest in the actual person—whom he calls Beatrice, though this is not her name—an imaginary version of her captures his imagination. He begins to change his delinquent ways as a result of her positive influence. He also begins to paint. Through his painting he begins to access his imagination and inner self in new ways. He paints an image of Beatrice that looks something like Demian and even a little like himself. He paints a hawk struggling to hatch from an egg-like orb. He also begins to have significant and recurring dreams. One dream is of a woman who is like both a mother and a lover and inspires in Sinclair feelings of passion and guilt.

In his final year at boarding school, Sinclair meets Pistorius, a church organist. Pistorius teaches him about the god Abraxas, both heavenly and demonic. After mentoring Sinclair, Pistorius and Sinclair remain friends, but the intensity of the previous relationship is lost. Their ways eventually part, as Sinclair leaves.


The summer before he goes to university, Emil Sinclair visits his hometown and decides to go to the house in which Max Demian had lived. The new resident has a photo of Demian's mother, whom Sinclair has never met. Looking at the photo, Sinclair is shocked to see she looks just like the mother-lover woman in his dream. He begins to search for her, though his search is erratic. Ultimately, he leaves for university without finding her. To his surprise, however, he runs into Demian in the university town. Demian still lives with his mother, and the two seem to be expecting him. Invited to Demian's home, Sinclair meets Demian's mother, who tells him her name is Mother Eve. Sinclair is soon accepted as a member of a group of like-minded people associated with Demian's mother and her household. Sinclair develops a bond with Mother Eve and Demian that allows them to communicate mentally.


Demian and Sinclair both sense, through dreams and visions, that something big and terrible is about to happen. This event turns out to be World War I, in which both Sinclair and Demian serve. When Sinclair is wounded, he reaches out mentally for Demian, who soon arrives beside him. Giving Sinclair a kiss from Mother Eve, Demian tells Sinclair he is able to look to himself for guidance now and that he, Demian, will always be with him. As Sinclair listens to his inner voice, he learns it is Demian.

In the present, Sinclair acknowledges that when he looks in the mirror of his soul, he sees Demian.

Demian Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Emil Sinclair becomes aware there are two "worlds."

Rising Action

2 Frank Kromer bullies and then blackmails Emil Sinclair.

3 Max Demian frees Sinclair from Kromer's control.

4 Sinclair goes to boarding school and drinks heavily.

5 With Beatrice's inspiration, Sinclair turns his life around.

6 Sinclair paints an important picture of Beatrice.

7 Pistorius teaches Emil Sinclair about Abraxas.

8 Sinclair has a recurring dream of a mother-lover figure.


9 Sinclair meets the figure from his dream, Mother Eve.

Falling Action

10 Mother Eve invites Sinclair to be part of her community.

11 When war arrives, Demian and Sinclair must serve.


12 Sinclair learns he can look to himself as a guide.

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