Book Review: Demian by Hermann Hesse

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“He too was a ‘tempter’ and moreover my link with the second, evil world with which I never wanted to have anything more to do.”

These were the words of the protagonist, Emil Sinclair, regarding a longtime friend and an idol-like figure of his, Max Demian.

Emil Sinclair initially describes himself as a well-rounded, distinguished young boy. He constantly mentions the two worlds he believes in- the world of light, and the ‘evil world’. He makes sure to stress and enunciate upon the fact that he strictly belongs to the world of light, but is however fairly curious about the evil world he so greatly fears.

There is a constant mention of religion throughout the entire text, guiding, aiding but also disabling the protagonist. This book is almost not a book, but instead a part of Sinclair’s soul, almost Horcrux-like.

Sinclair is a vessel, moulded initially by his parents, and hardened by societal norms, but overall empty, waiting to be filled with knowledge. He seeks out the latter, in various forms. The author, Hermann Hesse, documents Sinclair’s life and experiences, and also allows the reader to tag along in this fictional journey of self-discovery. 

Emil Sinclair is shown to be a part of the very high-brow upper class in the ‘light world’, who soon begins to question and explore its darker counterpart. He makes his first mistake while interacting with a member of the evil world, as he describes it, and ends up indebted to a person described as being as haunting as the Devil. This however, directed a demented Sinclair to the person he would remember for the entirety of his life, his future idol-like and teacher figure, Max Demian. 

Demian is described to be as most intriguing, who looks young but also mature and refined. He was feminine and masculine, human and god-like to Sinclair, who was enamoured at his sight. 

It was Demian who assists Sinclair in his journey of the discovery of the other world and allows him to learn about himself. Sinclair is taught about the realm where both good and evil is questioned. He also enlightens Sinclair and introduces him to ideas where both angels and demons, good and evil are considered. This was quite the revelation for Sinclair, as his very thoughts were being recited back to him, confirming his interests and theories.

His journey, however, becomes stagnant, and even takes a hit as he gets older and drifts away from Demian. However, he manages to keep his faith, despite a few hiccups, through introspection. He remembers that Demian drives home the fact that one must destroy their pre-existing world in order to be free.

The journey of self-discovery continues for our protagonist as he goes on to learn passion for faith and experiencing failure in life. Sinclair understands balance and harmony.

After a few years, he finds himself becoming obsessed with a figure from his dreams, a feminine but masculine, young but mature and older than time, human but god-like being. He is overcome with the feeling to reunite with Demian for more answers in this path towards discovering himself. He sets out on a pilgrimage of sorts to find what he had been searching for, yearning for. Emil Sinclair wishes to finally feel like he has found himself. He wishes for collectively making a new religion, while destroying the existing world, like an egg being broken by a bird. His future endeavours dictate whether he succeeds in doing so.

This novel shows the reader how one young boy makes his way through life towards his self-discovery, while facing hurdles and assistance throughout the way. It also shows how one can get extremely carried away and adopt the wrong morals while believing they were doing it for the greater good. Confusion and clarity are constants. 

We are shown the abstaining Sinclair search for a person, or persons he is passionate about, with a cause he believes in. However, this cause that pertains to only a minority, can carve Sinclair out to be a creator or a destroyer.

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