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For the album by L'Aura, see Demian (album).
Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth
Demian Erstausgabe.jpg
First edition (German)
Author Hermann Hesse
Original title Die Geschichte von Emil Sinclairs Jugend
Translator Hilda Rosner
Country Germany
Language German
Publisher Fischer Verlag
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 176 pp (1962 English edition, paperback)
ISBN 0-06-093191-4 (first English edition, paperback)
OCLC 40739012
833/.912 21
LC Class PT2617.E85 D413 1999

Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth is a Bildungsroman by Hermann Hesse, first published in 1919; a prologue was added in 1960. Demian was first published under the pseudonym "Emil Sinclair", the name of the narrator of the story, but Hesse was later revealed to be the author.

Plot summary[edit]

Emil Sinclair is a young boy raised in a middle class home, amidst what is described as a Scheinwelt, a play on words that means "world of light" as well as "world of illusion". Emil's entire existence can be summarized as a struggle between two worlds: the show world of illusion (related to the Hindu concept of maya) and the real world, the world of spiritual truth. In the course of the novel, accompanied and prompted by his mysterious classmate 'Max Demian', he detaches from and revolts against the superficial ideals of the world of appearances and eventually awakens into a realization of self.


  • Emil Sinclair is the protagonist of the novel. Sinclair is confused as to what his life is, and is going to be, and constantly seeks mentorship throughout the novel. He tends to need validation by an older figure, and finds mentors in figures such as Pistorius, Demian, and Eva.
  • Sinclair's mother and father are the symbols of safety toward which Sinclair first finds refuge, but against whom he eventually rebels.
  • Franz Kromer is a bully, whose psychological torture leads Sinclair to meet Demian.
  • Max Demian is a childhood friend and a mentor of Sinclair. Demian leads Sinclair to his eventual self-realization, and may be considered Emil's daemon.
  • Alfons Beck is the "sarcastic and avuncular" oldest boy at the boarding house where Sinclair enrolls after his confirmation. Beck serves as a minor mentor to Sinclair, and introduces Sinclair to the joys and pitfalls of alcohol.
  • Pistorius is a rector, an organist at a local church, and a temporary mentor for Sinclair. Pistorius teaches Sinclair how to look inside himself for spiritual guidance.
  • Frau Eva is Max Demian's mother. She steadily becomes Sinclair's ideal characterisation in life, first in his pictures and visions, then in person.

Jungian Influence[edit]

Since at least 1914, if not 1909, Hesse had been encountering the newly growing field of psychoanalysis as it moved through the German intellectual circles. During the 1910s Hesse felt that his psychological difficulties which he had had as a youth and which he still felt torn by needed to be dealt with through psychotherapy. In 1916–17 he underwent treatment through psychoanalysis with Dr. Josef Lang, a disciple of Carl Jung. Through his contact with Lang and later, in 1921, from having psychoanalysis done by Jung, Hesse became very interested in Jungian analysis and interpretation. Demian is replete with both Jungian archetypes and Jungian symbolism. In addition, psychoanalysis helped Hesse identify psychological problems which he had experienced in his youth, including internal tension caused by a conflict between his own carnal instincts and the strict moralism of his parents. Such themes appear throughout Demian as semi-autobiographical reflections upon Hesse's own exploration of Jungian philosophy.[2]


Embracing duality[edit]

One of the major themes is the existence of opposing forces and the idea that both are necessary.

Spiritual enlightenment[edit]

The novel refers to the idea of Gnosticism, particularly the god Abraxas, showing the influence of Carl Jung's psychology. According to Hesse, the novel is a story of Jungian individuation, the process of opening up to one's unconsciousness.

Women in Demian[edit]

Women play a vital role in the Jungian interpretation of Demian. At the beginning, Sinclair looks up towards his sisters and mother, and even his house maid. While he was in school, he sees a beautiful woman whom he calls Beatrice, and towards the end of the novel, when Sinclair is an adolescent man, he discovers Demian's mother, Frau Eva. These women do not have major roles in the story, but Hesse uses them symbolically as facets of the depths of Sinclair's mind.


The God Abraxas[edit]

The Gnostic deity Abraxas is used as a symbol throughout the text, idealizing the interdependence of all that is good and evil in the world. Demian argues that Jehovah, the Jewish God, is only one face of God; it rules over all that is wholesome, but there is another half of the world, and an infinite god must encompass both sides of this world. The symbol of Abraxas appears as a bird breaking free from an egg or a globe.

Notable passages[edit]

These passages are segments of the novel that best demonstrate themes and lessons to be learned when reading Demian. They are a couple of the central ideas and morals of the book.

"Der Vogel kämpft sich aus dem Ei. Das Ei ist die Welt. Wer geboren werden will, muß eine Welt zerstören. Der Vogel fliegt zu Gott. Der Gott heißt Abraxas."
(The bird struggles out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird then flies to God. That God's name is Abraxas.)
"Schicksal und Gemüt sind Namen eines Begriffs." Das hatte ich nun verstanden.
("Fate and temperament are two words for one and the same concept." That was clear to me now.)
"Ich habe nichts dagegen, daß man diesen Gott Jehova verehrt, nicht das mindeste. Aber ich meine, wir sollen Alles verehren und heilig halten, die ganze Welt, nicht bloß diese künstlich abgetrennte, offizielle Hälfte! Also müssen wir dann neben dem Gottesdienst auch einen Teufelsdienst haben."
("I have no objection to worshiping this God Jehovah, far from it. But I mean we ought to consider everything sacred, the entire world, not merely the artificially separated half! Thus alongside the divine service we should also have a service for the devil.")
"If today you had to choose one of the two thieves as a friend or think about which of the two you could sooner put your trust in, it's certainly not that whimpering convert. No, it's the other one, he's a real man with character. He doesn't give a hoot about converting, which in his situation can only be pretty speechifying; he travels his path to the end, and doesn't act like a coward at the last minute, renouncing the Devil, who must have helped him up until then. He's a man of character, and people of character generally get short shrift in Bible stories. Maybe he's a descendant of Cain. Don't you think so?"

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Korean Kpop-Band BTS (band) (Bangtan Sonyeondan) used Demian as the topic of their album Wings which was published in October 2016.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hermann Hesse, Stanley Appelbaum. Demian: A Dual-Language Book.Courier Dover Publications, 2002, p.xiv.
    The first English translation by N. H. Priday was published in 1923 in New York by Boni & Liveright; it was re-issued in 1948 by Henry Holt.
  2. ^ Timms, Edward (1990). Peter Collier and Judy Davies, ed. Modernism and the European Unconscious. Oxford: Polity Press. ISBN 0-7456-0519-2. 

External links[edit]