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Demian Herman Hesse


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Many species are capable of living alone while others that if you live with other or with a group, you can share many aspects of life thus being safe are prevalent. Humans, of course, are one of those species who thrive in groups and is impossible to live alone. “No man is island,” so goes a saying which is true all throughout. Belonging with a group, small or large, have its costs and risks and abiding with the agreed rules should be observed because one cannot just do whatever one wishes or else there would be chaos. Evolution has shown, however, that the benefits far outweigh these costs, and we are now pre-programmed with a deep need to belong that drives us towards forming and joining tribes. Belonging is one of the more basic needs in Maslow's Heirarchy where it comes just above health and safety. This low level indicates how fundamental this need is. Being below esteem shows how we first want to join a group, and then gain its esteem.” The sense of belonging includes love, affection, care, patience, and so many other characteristics and values in the list. People are known to choose to belong in a low social position in a group rather than leaving and finding another group to belong to. The sense of belonging is stronger than 'esteem' need. Furthermore, influencing each other in the group in inevitable as interaction through communication is a common act. It is not, therefore, surprising that people in a group would share the same thoughts, feelings, aspirations, beliefs, and activities which further bind the members closer despite individual differences.

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Hermann Hesse's “Demian”

Herman Hesse (1887- 1962) is a German writer who coveted Nobel Peace Prize in Literature in 1946. He is a poet, writer, and a painter. He wrote the novel “Demian” under the penname Emil Sinclair in just three weeks. This book was first published in 1919. In this book the name of the narrator is Sinclair but later, Hesse was known to be its author. The name “Emil Sinclair” was picked by the author since he was a friend of the poet Novalis whom he admired so much.

Emil Sinclair, in the novel, is a teenage boy was raised in a rich and aristocrat family. Throughout this novel, Sinclair was influenced with the company of his classmate Max Demian, who later made the former realize as he revolted against the superficiality of the world.

The main characters in this book are Emil Sinclair who is the protagonist. He is a confused about his life and does not know where he belongs, what he will be, and is always seeking for advice in this story. Franz Komer is the bully who frequently harasses Emil which led to the latter to be acquainted with Demian. Max Demian is a childhood friend of Sinclair who also serves as his advisor and mentor. Their acquaintance and closeness lead to Sinclair's realization of himself. Then there is Frau Eva, Demian's mother who also became the character who Sinclair considers his idol.

Since the beginning of Sinclair's life as a young man, he refers to many women as his ideal person. As a young person, he compared his sisters with the maid who serves his family. This maid seems to be living a double life. When Sinclair attended school, he saw a pretty woman and considered her to be his ideal lady. She became his inspiration “that he used to pull himself out of a moral and spiritual decay.” Then, as a young adult, he got to know Frau Eva

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who he considered to be the penultimate of everything that he has ever lived and wished for. All these female characters are shown as symbols than real persons which shaped Sinclair's views of what is ideal.

One of the themes that this novel portrays is that of the sense of belongingness that a person is naturally in want. Sinclair is a young person who was confused and when he became acquainted with Demian and the other significant characters in the story, they filled the gap of his (Sinclair's) need to belong thus realizing who he really is.

Reflections on “Demian”

Herman Hesse is one of the very brilliant writers of the time. However, some people opined that Hesse has very “weird” way of portraying the characters and plots of his works. Perhaps he is just misunderstood and the way he portrays his characters and what they symbolize. This book describes some insights into what it is like growing up from a child to adolescence then to adulthood. Sinclair is not really entering a normal world but he is just leaving one behind. As Sinclair and Demian's relationship deepened, it is just evident that they have to belong to a normal world where individuals become part of certain group, share individualities and just accept the realities of life. Demian introduced Sinclair to a new world where persons who are intellectuals are merged together. The people who are deemed different, who prefer to live alone and refuse to be part of group are what Hesse calls as ubermench. This novel is not really focusing about growing up or understanding how things function. The author's work is not really for just reading for fun or leisure or for passing time. This book will be understood by those who can empathize and can see themselves as individuals instead of part of the mass.

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Furthermore, “Demian” is not really focused on the theme of belongingness. Blind following is really detrimental to any person as one who hungers this sense of belonging to a majority almost always lead falsely. Hesse shows that the forces that shape external events are the same forces that exist within us, but it is up to us as individuals to deal with them in our own way. Hesse as a novelist shows this process of becoming an individual with his character Emil. Emil is probably on the road to becoming just another member of the middle class when he meets Demian whose significant presence to Sincalair is something very attractive. Their friendship leads Sinclair down a very interesting path, one of self discovery. Demian, the character, to me represents art, and philosophy and religion and all things which inspire man to resist the status quos influence and strike out on his own. In great part the process by which Sinclair discovers himself is an internal one so the reality in the book often feels skewed as things described are highly subjective. Demina's mother is a very glaring character in this story. She is portrayed to be very beautiful, smart, and artistic. There are images of destruction and creation and Hesse attempts to synthesize these great forces into an integrated whole in the character of Sinclair. As always though in Hesse the journey is an ongoing one and his message is not to dictate to you the course your own journey should take, just that you should take one.

This novel is a product of a well thought of plot, although it was written in such a short time (three weeks) yet it provides the readers of many insights and ideas into the psyche of a young person who is being “tortured” with the need to belong, to be loved, and to self discovery. Sinclair is found in the middle of the worlds of light and darkness and it is with this that Demian showed him the right way.

The book is really an easy read, but as aforementioned, it needs understanding and a more critical mind as it is spiced with some psychology. Furthermore, the book is full of

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symbolism which some are not really clear. Some critics of this book say it is “cryptic and enlightening at the same time.”


The novel presents one of the finest depictions to be found in all of literature of a certain sort of conflict: the struggle between the individual, whose spiritual growth posits him as an Outsider to bourgeois society and the herd, the common run of humanity who seek not growth but unreflective contentment. At the same time, it is also important to remember that while Hesse depicts the progress of one individual, he is also speaking for his own generation--specifically, that of Germany on the eve of the first World War--and indeed, upon first being published, the novel did resonate with a large portion of the young German reading public, who identified with Sinclair's striving for Self and his battle against conformity. At times the book may seem difficult to understand if one is not familiar with certain biblical references, which are quickly remedied with short reads yielding absolute clarity on such subjects. This is a good book because of the writing style and the speeches of Demian but the relationship between the boys doesn't ring true and the overall point of the book if there is a point eludes me. Additionally, with a character like Demian serving as an effective and mysterious catalyst for the story, this work proves to be a fairly short read and leaves much food for thought. Always present in one way or another throughout the book, the unique character of Demian, as he captures Sinclair, equally mystifies and enthralls the reader. Today, some parts might verge on cliche and others might seem a little heavy handed, yet overall, especially when one takes into account the difficult subjects Hesse has decided to touch on in this small work, it is a very enjoyable and worthwhile read.


Baumer, Franz. Hermann Hesse. Modern literature monographs. New York: Ungar, 1969.

George, Amber Elizabeth. Interpreting Dislocation Gathering a Sense of Belonging. 2007.


Hesse, Hermann. Demian, The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth. New York: Harper & Row,


Ziolkowski, Theodore. The Novels of Hermann Hesse; A Study in Theme and Structure.

Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965

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