Demian Study Guide

Demian by Hermann Hesse

Demian is the story of Emil Sinclair, son of a bourgeois family whose life is a struggle to determine the difference between illusion and truth. The story is one of self-discovery and growth to awareness. It follows Emil as, guided by his classmate Max Demian, he learns to distinguish the falsehoods of the world from his own essential spiritual nature. Emil's journey takes him to true self-awareness and then to enlightenment.

Hermann Hesse (July 2, 1877– August 9, 1962) was a German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. His most famous works include Steppenwolf , Siddhartha , and The Glass Bead Game (also known as Magister Ludi ) all of which explore an individual's search for spirituality.

Demian (1919)

Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth (1919), first published under the pseudonym "Emil Sinclair"

  • I wanted only to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?
  • "You must not give way to desires which you don't believe in. I know what you desire. You should, however, either be capable of renouncing these desires or feel wholly justified in having them. Once you are able to make your request in such a way that you will be quite certain of its fulfillment, then the fulfillment will come. But at present you alternate between desire and renunciation and are afraid all the time. All that must be overcome."

  • I cannot tell my story without reaching a long way back.
    • p. 9. Prologue
  • Novelists when they write novels tend to take an almost godlike attitude toward their subject, pretending to a total comprehension of the story, a man's life, which they can therefore recount as God Himself might, nothing standing between them and the naked truth, the entire story meaningful in every detail. I am as little able to do this as the novelist is, even though my story is more important to me than any novelist's is to him— for this is my story; it is the story of a man, not of an invented, or possible, or idealized, or otherwise absent figure, but of a unique being of flesh and blood. Yet, what a real living human being is made of seems to be less understood today than at any time before, and men — each one of whom represents a unique and valuable experiment on the part of nature — are therefore shot wholesale nowadays. If we were not something more than unique human beings, if each one of us could really be done away with once and for all by a single bullet, story telling would lose all purpose. But every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again. That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of every consideration. In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each man the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed to the cross.Few people nowadays know what man is. Many sense this ignorance and die the more easily because of it, the same way that I will die more easily once I have completed this story.
    • p. 9. Prologue
  • I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me. My story is not a pleasant one; it is neither sweet nor harmonious, as invented stories are; it has the taste of nonsense and chaos, of madness and dreams— like the lives of all men who stop deceiving themselves.Each man's life represents the road toward himself, and attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path. No man has ever been entirely and completely himself. Yet each one strives to become that— one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best he can.
    • p. 9 Prologue
  • You must find your dream, then the way becomes easy. But there is no dream that lasts forever, each dream is followed by another, and one should not cling to any particular one.
    • p. 94
  • Love does not entreat; or demand. Love must have the strength to become certain within itself. Then it ceases merely to be attracted and begins to attract.
    • p. 94
  • People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest. It was a scandal that a breed of fearless and sinister people ran around freely, so they attached a nickname and a myth to these people to get even with them, to make up for the many times they had felt afraid.
    • p. 123
  • I realize today that nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself.
    • p. 134
  • Then came those years in which I was forced to recognize the existence of a drive within me that had to make itself small and hide from the world of light. The slowly awakening sense of my own sexuality overcame me, as it does every person, like an enemy and terrorist, as something forbidden, tempting, and sinful. What my curiosity sought, what dreams, lust and fear created— the great secret of puberty — did not fit at all into my sheltered childhood. I behaved like everyone else. I led the double life of a child who is no longer a child. My conscious self lived within the familiar and sanctioned world; it denied the new world that dawned within me. Side by side with this I lived in a world of dreams, drives and desires of a chthonic nature, across which my conscious self desperately built its fragile bridges, for the childhood world within me was falling apart. Like most parents, mine were no help with the new problems of puberty, to which no reference wasever made. All they did was take endless trouble in supporting my hopeless attempts to deny reality and to continue dwelling in a childhood world that was becoming more and more unreal. I have no idea whether parents can be of help, and I do not blame mine. It was my own affair to come to terms withmyself and to find my own way, and like most well-brought-up children, I managed it badly.
    • p. 135
  • Only the ideas that we actually live are of any value. You knew all along that your sanctioned world was only half the world and you tried to suppress the second half the same way the priests and teachers do. You won't succeed. No one succeeds in this once he has begun to think.
    • p. 146
  • Certainly you shouldn't go kill somebody or rape a girl, no! But you haven't reached the point where you can understand the actual meaning of "permitted" and "forbidden." You've only sensed part of the truth. You will feel the other part, too, you can depend on it. For instance, for about a year you have had to struggle with a drive that is stronger than any other and which is considered "forbidden." The Greeks and many other peoples, on the other hand, elevated this drive, made it divine and celebrated it in great feasts. What is forbidden, in other words, is not something eternal; it can change. Anyone can sleep with a woman as soon as he's been to a pastor with her and has married her, yet other races do it differently, even nowadays. Each of us has to find out for himself what is permitted and what is forbidden— forbidden for him. It's possible for one never to transgress a single law and still be a bastard. And vice versa. Actually it's only a question of convenience. Those who are too lazy and comfortable to think for themselves and be their own judges obey the laws. Others sense their own laws withinthem; things are forbidden to them that every honorable man will do any day in the year and other things are allowed to them that are generally despised. Each person must stand on his own feet.
    • p. 147
  • Now everything changed. My childhood world was breaking apart around me. My parents eyed me with a certain embarrassment. My sisters had become strangers to me. A disenchantment falsified and blunted my usual feelings and joys: the garden lacked fragrance, the woods held no attraction for me, the world stood around me like a clearance sale of last year's secondhand goods, insipid, all its charm gone. Books were so much paper, music a grating noise. That is the way leaves fall around a tree in autumn, a tree unaware of the rain running down its sides, of the sun or the frost, and of life gradually retreating inward. The tree does not die. It waits.
    • p. 149
  • One of the aphorisms occurred to me now and I wrote it under the picture: "Fate and temperament are two words for one and the same concept." That was clear to me now.
    • p. 162
  • The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird flies to God. The God's name is Abraxas.
    • p. 166
    • Variant translation: The bird is struggling out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever wants to be born must first destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The name of the God is called Abraxas.
      • As translated by W. J. Strachan
  • We ought not to consider the opinions of those sects as naïve as they appear from the rationalist point of view. Science as we know it today was unknown to antiquity. Instead there existed a preoccupation with philosophical and mystical truths which was highly developed. What grew out of this preoccupation was to some extent merely pedestrian magic and frivolity; perhaps it frequently led to deceptions and crimes, but this magic, too, had noble antecedents in a profound philosophy. As, for instance, the teachings concerning Abraxas which I cited a moment ago. This name occurs in connection with Greek magical formulas and is frequently considered tobe the name of some magician's helper such as certain uncivilized tribes believe in even at present. But it appears that Abraxas has much deeper significance. We may conceive of the name as that of the godhead whose symbolic task is the uniting of godly and devilish elements.
    • p. 167
  • Abraxas was the god who was both god and devil.
    • p. 168
  • I had grown a thin mustache, I was a full-grown man, and yet I was completely helpless and without a goal in life.
    • p. 169
  • I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?
    • p. 170
  • If nature has made you a bat, you shouldn't try and be an ostrich. You consider yourself odd at times, you accuse yourself of taking a road different from most people. You have to unlearn that! Gaze into the fire, the clouds and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak - surrender to them. Don't ask first whether it is permitted or would please your teachers or your father or some God. You will ruin yourself if you do that. That way you will become earth bound, a vegetable.
    • p. 180
  • Our god's name is Abraxas and he is God and Satan and he contains both the luminous and the dark world. Abraxas does not take exception to any of your thoughts, any of your dreams. Never forget that. But he will leave you once you've become blameless and normal. Then he will leave you and look for a different vessel in which to brew his thoughts.
    • p. 180
  • Wenn wir einen Menschen hassen, so hassen wir in seinem Bild etwas, was in uns selber sitzt. Was nicht in uns selber ist, das regt uns nicht auf.
    • Translation: If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.
      • p. 182
  • I live in my dreams— that's what you sense. Other people live in dreams, but not in their own. That's the difference.
    • p. 183
  • We aren't pigs as you seem to think, but human beings. We create gods and struggle with them, and they bless us.
    • p. 188
  • You, too, have mysteries of your own. I know that you must have dreams that you don't tell me. I don't want to know them. But I can tell you: live those dreams, play with them, build altars to them. It is not yet the ideal but it points in the right direction. Whether you and I and a few others will renew the world someday remains to be seen. But within ourselves we must renew it each day, otherwise we just aren't serious. Don't forget that!
    • p. 181
  • Each man had only one genuine vocation— to find the way to himself
    • p. 193
  • The world, as it is now, wants to die, wants to perish— and it will.
    • p. 199

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