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One of the great writers of the 20th century tells the dramatic story of a young man's awakening to selfhood.
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.
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 a road toward himself, an 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. Each man carries the vestiges of his birth—the slime and eggshells of his primeval past—with him to the end of his days. Some never become human, remaining frog, lizard, ant. Some are human above the waist, fish below. Each represents a gamble on the part of nature in creation of the human. We all share the same origin, our mothers; all of us come in at the same door. But each of us—experiments of the depths—strives toward his own destiny. We can understand one another; but each of us is able to interpret himself to himself alone.
Writing in the existential tradition of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky and drawing on the teachings of Carl Jung, and upon his own experiences as a child and adolescent, Hesse presents a compelling portrait of an individual who finds within himself the means to resolve anxiety and inner conflicts and to perceive in the turmoil of his world the promise of a new, enlightened order. Hesse's classic novel has transfixed generations of readers with its dynamicvision of individual and social transformation.Discussion Topics
2. What characterizes the two realms that Sinclair identifies at the novel's beginning--the realm of light and the forbidden realm? How do the two realms interact throughout the novel, in terms of Sinclair's experience of them and in terms of what we learn about them? How does Sinclair's relationship to each change?
3. What is Max Demian's relationship with each of the two realms? In what ways does he embody elements of both?
4. Sinclair insists that "my interest centers on the steps that I took to reach myself." What are those "steps"? What specific incidents and stages mark Sinclair's movement from innocent childhood to self-aware adulthood?
5. What is the importance of the biblical story of Cain and the mark of Cain? How would you describe the repeatedly cited "sign" that is so important to Demian and his mother? What endows Sinclair with that sign?
6. What function do Sinclair's dreams serve? How does each relate to the stage of personal development during which it occurs?
7. What is "the dream of the lost paradise" to which Sinclair refers in Chapter 3 ("Among Thieves")? Why does he call it "the worst and most ruthless of dreams"?
8. What are the most important lessons that Sinclair learns from Demian? How do they affect his character and his life? Are all of the lessons learned beneficial? How relevant are they to living in today's world?
9. What is Pistorius's role in Sinclair's progress? What are the similarities and differences between his influence on Sinclair and Demian's influence? Why does Pistorius's influence come to an end while Demian's continues?
10. What is the importance of Sinclair's three paintings of the heraldic bird, "Beatrice," and Frau Eva? What purposes and consequences are associated with each? What is the significance of the fact that they seem to contain opposites (male and female, for example)?
11. What are the implications of Pistorius's statement to Sinclair that "You aren't allowed to be afraid of anything, you can't consider prohibited anything that the soul desires"? How does this reinforce advice received from Demian? Is such a guide for individual behavior workable in everyday life?
12. After his break with Pistorius, Sinclair experiences the "sharp realization" that "each man has his 'function' but none which he can choose himself, define, or perform as he pleases. . . . Each man had only one genuine vocation--to find the way to himself. . . . His task was to discover his own destiny . . . and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself." To what extent is the novel a dramatization of this realization?
13. What are the rewards and costs of discovering one's "own destiny" and living that destiny?
14. What is Frau Eva's role in the novel? Why do Sinclair and we meet her only near the end of the novel, even though she is mentioned much earlier? How would you explain Sinclair's attraction to her?
15.The novel ends with Sinclair looking into "the dark mirror" and beholding his image as "completely resembling" Demian--"my brother, my master." Does this indicate Sinclair's success in achieving a realization of his own self or his ultimate submersion in a more powerful personality?
Written by Hal Hager, Hal Hager & Associates, Somerville, NJ.About the Author
"Hesse is not a traditional teller of tales but a novelist of ideas and a moralist of a high order... . The autobiographical undercurrent gives Demian an Existentialist intensity and a depth of understanding that are rare in contemporary fiction."Hermann Hesse was born in 1877 in Calw, on the edge of the Black Forest. In 1919 he moved to Switzerland, where he lived until his death in 1962. He is the author of many highly successful novels, including Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, Journey to the East, and Magister Ludi, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1946.
Posted May 14, 2014
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