"On good days, when my conscious did not trouble me, it was often delightful to play with them, to be good and decent as they were and to see myself in a noble light. That's what it must have been like to be an angel! It was the highest state one could think of. But how infrequent such days were! Often at play, at some harmless activity, I became so fervent and headstrong that I was too much for my sister; the quarrels and unhappiness this led to threw me into such a rage that I became horrible, did and said things so awful they seared my heart even as I said them. Then followed harsh hours of gloomy regret and contrition, the painful moment when I begged forgiveness, to be followed again by beams of light, a quiet, thankful, undivided gladness."
Emil Sinclair is the main character in this struggle to self-hood written so poetically by Herman Hesse. Sinclair finds himself in the personal ambiguity of his conventional family lifestyle and being drawn to a life of crime and revolt against convention. His meeting with Demian further stimulates his questions about his inner self and his outside environments constantly battling one another. Demian actually facilitates many of the perspectives that Sinclair finds himself pursuing and further delving into the path of self-realization. Written in the elements of the existential traditions of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, Herman Hesse is the Freud of his era. This novel debates the story between good and evil character as well as experiments the depths of a one's own destiny and self-fulfillment.
There is no doubt this novel has a philosophical style. It is narrated from Sinclair's perspective, as a sort of reflection of his person and his life. There is much dialogue between Sinclair and his family, between Sinclair and Demian, as well as other additional characters, but what ultimately determines the tone of this novel are the philosophical discussions. It's the story of Cain and Abel; the inner struggle to belong in a world that makes sense and coincides with Sinclair's personal inclinations without guilt or fear of committing sin; the battle of his guilty conscious and coming to terms with who really is and realizing the perspective he's been taught isn't necessarily the only one.
I almost read this book in one sitting because the way it develops is so easy to understand. It begins with Sinclairs battle between the two realms he knows: the good life of his family and the sinister and dangerous involvement with Kromer. He then begins to see a new side of Cain, as told to him by Demian, who by the ways is a genius influence in his growth, teaching to always question and doubt the absolute conventions of life. Demian, in fact, says something really powerful to Sinclair:
"People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest. It was a scandal that a breed of fearless and sinister people ran about freely, so they attached a nickname and a myth to these people to get even with them, to make up for the many time they felt afraid - do you get it?"
Well, and the novel further develops into other angels of the process towards his self-realization. Among Thieves is an improtant chapter that helps him realize that he isn't alone in this kind of path and process, that almost all of us must go through the process of realizing and coming to terms with our true selves.
"Everyone goes through this crisis. For the average person this is the point when the demands of his own life come into the sharpest conflict with his environment, when the way forwards has to be sought with the bitterest means at his command. Many people experience the dying and rebirth - which is our fate - only this once during their entire life. Their childhood becomes hollow and gradually collapses, everything they love abandons them and they suddenly feel surrounded by the loneliness and mortal cold of the universe. Very many are caught forever in this impasse, and for the rest of their lives cling painfully to an irrevocable past, the dream, of the lost paradise - which is the worst and most ruthless of dreams."
The bulk of the book is about his interactions and reflections with the people in his life, and slowly sorting all of his questions to his growth. He becomes aware he has shed his cynic ideals and has attained new convictions about his life. He learns the importance of being aware of one's humanity within himself and in the context of the world around him.
The plot of the novel and the development of Sinclair's development go very much hand in hand, in almost perfect unison. What happens determines how he transforms, and how he transforms later determines the next sequence of events and conversations. Herman Hesse, seems like, painted this novel as if he was creating a painting, every stroke and every color purposely made to create a synchronized perspective of self-realization.
Have you read 'Demian?' Was it as powerful to you?