Hermann Hesse: Demian

December 23rd, 2013

Hermann Hesse is another one of my favorite writers.

Most of his work was written in the first half of the 20th century and deals with the relationship between opposites: the secular and the religious, light and dark, knowledge and ignorance.

One particular book, Demian, struck me on a very deep level. I read it as a freshman in high school, around the same age as its main character, Emil Sinclair.

Oddly, it took me half the book to realize the name of this character. I believe this was not a mistake: the word "Emil" only comes to be used as this character begins to develop a self identity. These two ideas create an interesting parallel between the plot and the story's written structure.

The book deals largely with the relationship between the "world of light" (pure, childish, uninformed) and the real world (dark, unforgiving). At the time of reading, I could still remember when these two worlds were still separated. As adults, we don't realize the difference, and what was so profound was the fact that Demian depicted this difference so accurately.

You knew all along that your sanctioned world was only half the world, and you tried to suppress the other half the same way the priests and teachers do. You won't succeed. No one succeeds in this once he has begun to think.

Demain sits in a list of things that have touched me on a deep level. It is of course, fiction, but that doesn't mean its ideas are any less real. We've all experienced the tension between naïveté and knowledge, and the little inner struggle that comes with. Maybe Demian will help you navigate that struggle, like it helped me.