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Countless works of literature have discussed and analyzed the concept of will and power, especially those that concern a superior individual. Two examples of such works are Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Hermann Hesse’s novel, Demian. Zarathustra centers around a prophet who wishes to bestow his knowledge upon students about the “overman”, the superior individual, while in Hesse’s novel the superior individual instead directly interacts with society and culture and the main character. For the characters in both texts, the concept of a Will to Power directly influences their actions and philosophies. This Will to Power is a central philosophical idea that Nietzsche discussed throughout his works. The influence of his writings upon Hesse is not only evident, but also Hesse admitted to the influence of Nietzsche in his literature. In both Zarathustra and Demian, the will to become a superior individual and to achieve that power directs and influences the actions and beliefs of Zarathustra, Max Demian and Sinclair.
Friedrich Nietzsche originally developed the Will to Power in response to one of his philosophical influences, Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer emphasized a “will to live”; that every living creature was driven by an unshakeable desire to live that was more important and fundamental than being. Nietzsche disagreed with this premise and instead came about his own idea: the will to power, or Wille zur Macht; that every living creature was driven by a desire to achieve greatness and overcome others. The will to power alongside the death of God and the “superman” are some of the most important central ideas in Nietzsche’s philosophies and play a major role in his explanation of humanity and superior individuals (Gillespie, 49).
Nietzsche’s superman resonated profoundly for many authors including Hermann Hesse who utilized the will to power as well as dualism in his novels (51). In Demian, especially, dualism and the desire to overcome the others and become a superior individual plays a major role in the creation and shaping of Sinclair, the main character, and his relationship to Max Demian. In fact, one of the most important themes throughout the novel is Demian’s power through his will and his teaching of this will to Sinclair. Also included is the theory that some people are truly “better” than the others are. Their goal, then, is to infiltrate society and bring their ideas and beliefs to the non “superior” individuals.
Dualism is represented throughout the novel through the realms of dark and light and in the comparison of female to male. Sinclair, the main character, states that when he was younger he saw only the realm of light due to his family but that everywhere he turned he “perceived the other world” (Hesse, 4). This life of light ends abruptly when he tells a tall tale of committing a robbery and is indebted to the school bully who has promised he will not tell of Sinclair’s mistake if Sinclair pays him. At this moment in Sinclair’s life, Max Demian is introduced and life changes dramatically for Sinclair. Demian represents the will to power throughout the novel and until his introduction to Sinclair, there is no superior individual, only pillars of “good” like Sinclair’s father. Demian is beyond a pillar of good and light, he is a superior individual and recognizes the potential, or the mark, that he has that Sinclair shares with him.
This mark on Sinclair and Demian stems from the story of Cain and Abel from the Bible. Demian gives a completely unorthodox retelling of the story to Sinclair who ultimately recognizes that he, Demian and Cain all bear the same mark and that it was “not a mark of shame and that because of [his] evil and misfortune [he] stood higher than [his] father and the pious, the righteous” (26). This mark separates Sinclair and Demian from the rest of society and propels them to higher and greater planes of intelligence and action. The mark is the most tangible difference between the superior individuals in Demian and the non-superior individuals since only they have the mark and can see it on others. The experiences with Demian and his story of Cain and Abel lead Sinclair to take his first steps towards the path of self-awakening no matter how terrifying that thought may have been. As Sinclair states early in the book, “I realize today that nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself” (38).
Zarathustra also sees the difficulties in taking the path that leads to him as he finds hostility in others while trying to spread the word of the overman. Zarathustra has a distinctly negative outlook on humanity and sees them as mere embarrassments to the overman. Man is poised directly between two polar opposites: the superman or the beast. Like the tightrope walker, humanity is precariously poised on a rope that characterizes the infinite possibilities and the hope that they will turn to the superman (Gillespie, 54). Due to his negative speeches to the villagers during the beginning of his teaching on the overman, the villagers who see his loner ways as threatening and unusual constantly harass him (Niezsche, 7). These speeches to the villagers just show his “contempt for contemporary humanity and the need for contemporary humanity to despite itself” (Gillespie, 53). He knows that he is “not the mouth for these ears” and that instead of telling the world of the overman, he must find followers to teach (Nietzsche, 10).
Zarathustra not only wishes to teach his followers of the overman, but also foster the learning of his students so that they can overcome him in their knowledge. With their knowledge, Zarathustra also hopes that a new era will come about of those who break the previous laws of the land (14). These lawbreakers, like the overman, are the “creative” ones and will bring about a new era that is more successful than the past. This will to power felt by Zarathustra is apparent in not only how he feels about the overman but also how he feels about his followers’ progress. Both Demian and Zarathustra deal with law breaking and the creation of a new order and laws due to their authors views on society. Hesse was worried about the slaughter and destruction of World War I while Nietzsche was dedicated to cultural renewal and believed it was “essential to rescue European humanity from the consequences of the death of Godâ€¦ nihilism” (Gillespie, 53). For Nietzsche the old order had to be destroyed in order for the new order to be created, a mentality shared by not only Hesse but also his characters in Demian (Loeb, 72).
Free will and the will to power also make an appearance in Demian. Max Demian states that humans do not have free will and that instead what is the most powerful and influential in life is one’s will to power and to acquire whatever one desires (Hesse, 46). This is seen most clearly when Demian explains to Sinclair how he was able to ultimately sit next to Sinclair despite the alphabetical seating in their classroom. Demian says that if he wanted to go to the North Pole, to achieve it he would “have to desire it strongly enough so that [his] whole being was ruled by it”, for him the will to achieve and accomplish is what rules and motivates all superior individuals (48). The “will” can control the actions and circumstances that surround one who is superior enough to control this will to power. Demian was able to sit by Sinclair because his will opposed that of the teachers and despite the teacher knowing something was wrong with Demian moving, Demian had a stronger will to achieve his desires (49).
Zarathustra and his outlook on the progress of his followers when teaching them of the overman directly influence this sentiment. Zarathustra knows that and even tells his disciples “Alone I go nowâ€¦ You also should go now, and alone! Thus I want it” (Nietzsche, 58). He believes that a teacher is only truly successful if he is able to propel the student beyond his own knowledge. Zarathustra believes that “one repays a teacher badly if one always remains a pupil only” (59). Like Pistorius and Sinclair, Zarathustra knows he cannot help his students by making them eternal pupils. Knowledge cannot be learned solely through a teacher but must instead be experienced on a personal, subjective level. The pupils had found Zarathustra before they had been able to find themselves and like how Pistorius helped Sinclair find his own spiritual awakening and his own inner self, Zarathustra helped his students find themselves (59). Their desires and needs are now personalized instead of just being Zarathustra’s desires and needs.
The desires and needs of the superior individuals are also recognized in Demian’s explanation to Sinclair about how superior individuals and non-superior individuals view laws. For the superior individuals, laws are sensed within themselves and acted upon due to the sense of what is necessary and what needs to be accomplished. For those “too lazy and comfortable to think for themselves”, obeying the law of the land is the only rational choice (Hesse, 54). The superior individuals in Demian see laws as malleable and subjective, they are things to be sensed, not things to follow blindly. A true superior individual makes his own path and “stands on his own feet” (54). Obviously, to live in this manner is difficult (and Sinclair does understand that). He wonders even why was “that so very difficult” to live in accord with the “promptings which came from [his] true self” (83). The path to spiritual awakening and being a true superior individual is often difficult and filled with obstacles, according to the premise of Demian, but like other superior individuals Sinclair never is able to give up and is constantly in the companionship of someone capable of propelling him to a higher plane.
Demian is one of the most influential teachers in Sinclair’s life but he is not the only one Sinclair encounters. Sinclair also encounters negative and positive role models and mentors like Alfons Beck, who leads him away from the path of the superior individual, and Pistorius, an organist at a local church who shows Sinclair how to look inside himself for guidance. Pistorius is an important and unique mentor since he and Sinclair recognize the limits of his teaching, providing an opportunity for Sinclair to grow and learn beyond his master, or guide (107). Pistorius also focuses on the god Abraxas in order to teach Sinclair a lesson on dualism. Abraxas, an ancient god, was capable of being both “god and the devil at one and the same time” (87). Abraxas symbolizes the duality experienced within Sinclair’s life (light and dark), how there must be destruction before creation, and how Sinclair was both superior and non-superior while on his path alongside Demian. Before Demian, he had the mark of the superior individual but only with the assistance of his mentors and teachers was he able to achieve the level of a superior individual. It was always within him, but he needed the impetus and motivation to find within himself the desire to achieve that goal. Despite the danger, Sinclair is capable of achieving his goal and as Pistorius says to him, “most people shed their wings and prefer to walk and obey the law. But not you. You go on flying” (93).
For Demian and the superior individuals in Demian, the ultimate goal is to live out the ideas that they live for since those are the only ones with value. They also wish to bring about a new order and new laws since the “collapse of the old word is indeed imminent” (135). With the onset of World War I in the novel, Demian and Frau Eva understand how “nothing can be born without first dying (136). This will to power and desire to bring about new laws and new law bringers through the superior individual and the destructive of the old order parallels the desires and hopes of Zarathustra in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Even the statements Sinclair says after hearing about the new order and the desire to work from within himself is that “this went straight to my heart”, a statement that closely resembles those made by Zarathustra
Unlike Demian and Sinclair, Zarathustra wishes to “go down”, not necessarily go up or fly as Sinclair has done (Nietzsche, 3). Initially, Zarathustra wishes to tell society of the overman and wants the world to understand the power of this superior individual (5). For Zarathustra, the overman is what an ape is to a human, a “laughing stock or a painful embarrassment” (6). Zarathustra believes that humanity is “polluted” and must rise above its inadequacies in order to know and understand the overman (6).
Nietzsche’s influence on Hermann Hesse’s work is clear when reading the novel Demian. It is apparent that the theory of a superman and the will to power, two ideas clearly outlined and discussed in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, are just as important to Hesse. Max Demian symbolizes a Zarathustra to Sinclair, capable of teaching Sinclair to look within himself and then leaving him in order for Sinclair to truly find himself and grow as a superior individual. Pistorius also allows Sinclair to grow beyond his teaching and develop his own spiritual awareness. Like Zarathustra, these teachers know their limits and make sure their pupils mature beyond their lessons. The will to power and the creation of a new order are also apparent in both works. Both works have individuals who are invested in the creation of new laws and belief that the superman or superior individuals will bring about the new laws due to their more awakened presence. Nietzsche played a direct role in Hermann Hesse’s literary work and influenced the plot and characters philosophies throughout Demian. Without Zarathustra, there would have been no Demian and no destruction would have occurred in order for a new order to be created.
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