Daniel T. Richards
A trait nearly definitional of “artist” is the urge or need to define/portray emotion. The painter attempts to create images that evoke emotion similar to reality, the musician to express the unspoken through melody, harmony and rhythm. In turn, the writer strives to describe reality though a personal lens, hoping to bring clarity to emotion and, perhaps, enlighten. Arguably, the most common theme in art, especially the written word, is the abstract idea of love and the emotions associated with the ethereal word. A seemingly ineffable concept, love inspires the artist to a level of mastery transcending every other muse including, perhaps, concepts and general belief of a higher being.
In Demian, Hermann Hesse gives his account of love through the physical, mental and spiritual growth of Emil Sinclair. Guided by Jungian archetypes, Hesse presents love through a psychologist’s eyes, analyzing the development of the abstract idea from pre-puberty through college. Even through such an analytical lens, Hesse remains the artist, brilliant with wit and remarkable dialogue, making his account of love unique and quite thought provoking. Examining Hesse’s account of love through the male/female relationships in Demian provides a possible groundwork from which to examine one’s philosophy on the subject. Additionally, Sinclair’s idea of love develops in a manner that allows for a better understanding of other themes in Demian such as Abraxas, dreams, painting and the worlds of light and dark.
Before I continue, please note that much consideration went into how I should interpret Demian, Beatrice and Frau Eva as characters and influences on Sinclair.
Taking the characters as literal flesh and blood might have cheapened Hesse’s intended use of Freudian projection while assuming they are simply part of Sinclair’s mind might have eliminated much of the romance and bond between reader and character. Psychologist Carl Jung, through Johanna Neuer’s essay Jungian Archetypes in Hermann Hesse’s Demian, provided an excellent frame on which to examine said characters. “The central characters […] can be interpreted as archetypal material contained in Sinclair’s psyche and as flesh-and-blood people (10).” Jung believed that archetypes—realizations of the unconscious thought independent of experience—are sometimes personified (Neuer 10); thus, assuming they are both literal and part of Sinclair’s psyche is reasonable.
Sinclair’s first relationship with the opposite sex, a relationship with which many humans can relate, is with his mother. While no specific mention of her is made toward the beginning of the novel, one observes Sinclair’s basic concept of parents as rulers of order and all that is pure. They stay in the realm of light, neither faulting toward nor considering the dark realm. “This realm was familiar to me—mother and father, love and strictness, model behavior, and school. […] If one wanted an unsullied and orderly life, one made sure one was in league with this world (Hesse 5).” The only way for Sinclair to lead a life of the highest moral value was to be like his mother and father, clean, pure, unadulterated. He constantly doubted his ability to reach that level, but he continued to strive, citing his sisters as example. “My sisters, too, belonged to the realm of light. It often seemed to me that they had a greater natural affinity to my father and mother; they were better, better mannered, had fewer faults than I (Hesse 7).”
Donald Nelson in his essay Hermann Hesse’s Demian and the Resolution of the Mother-Complex argues that Hesse’s “male-female relationships reflect heterosexual immaturity (57)” a trait very visible, and very expected, in Sinclair’s early relationship with his parents and sisters. His view of his sisters, though, is especially interesting. At a very young age, Sinclair begins putting woman on a higher moral plain than himself or men in general. “Sisters, like parents, were to be comforted and respected…(Hesse 7).” I am fairly certain Sinclair would not have thought this away about a brother or male cousin. His adoration and over-respect for his sisters is foreshadowing of his general view of woman in early to mid-puberty.
In direct contrast to Sinclair’s naïve approach to women, Hesse presents Demian and Franz Kromer. Demian seems to be the man every young boy strives to become. Demian, for now, exists in that moment just before puberty when the opposite sex is still obtainable but equally fascinating. Demian seemed more grown up and “…some boys reported that Demian was intimate with girls and that he ‘knew everything (Hesse 28).’” The ambiguous nature of “knew everything” is a wildly intriguing concept for Sinclair whose view of women is still that of a delicate being, beautiful and pure.
Kromer pushes Sinclair’s realization of women as sexual when he asks Sinclair to bring his sister as a payment for his debt. At first, Sinclair is confused. “I failed to get his point and made no reply. I only looked at him, surprised (Hesse 30).” As Sinclair finally realizes the “horror” of such a request, he is stunned.
After he had left, something of the nature of his request suddenly dawned on me. I was still quite ignorant in these matters but I knew from hearsay that boys and girls when they grow older were able to do certain mysterious, repulsive, forbidden things together. And now I was supposed to—it suddenly flashed on me how monstrous his request was! I knew at once I would never do it. (Hesse 30-31)
Arguably, Kromer’s request is “repulsive” and his approach to women is no more mature than Sinclair’s, but consider the manner in which Kromer asked Sinclair to bring his sister. After Sinclair refuses the request Kromer says, “Well, anyway, think it over. I’d like to meet your sister. We’ll find a way one of these days. You could simply take her along on a walk and I could join you (Hesse 30).” Sinclair admits that his refusal did not bother Kromer, a very unusual break in pattern from previous refusals. While Sinclair still sees the act as horrible, Hesse wants the reader to examine an interesting side of Kromer. Admittedly, Kromer’s intentions may not be lofty, but the manner in which he presents his intentions is, at least, acknowledgment of the sexual nature of love. Sinclair witnesses said acknowledgement but does not know how to examine and actualize the concept. The process of actualization and application slowly begins at puberty.
“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 (Hesse 40).” Hesse’s description of puberty is masterful, giving insight to a period of life on which most people do not want to reflect. For Sinclair, puberty is confirmation that the realm of dark is a problem with which he must deal. “These impulses always came from the ‘other world’ and were accompanied by fear, constraint, and a bad conscience. They were always revolutionary and threatened the calm in which I would gladly have continued to live (Hesse 40).” Sinclair desperately clings to the world he knows, respects and strives to emulate. The “impulses” he feels seem to him more fitting of Kromer or anyone else who is morally corrupt. He struggles desperately to separate himself from the lustful world of sinners.
As he begins to view women in a sexual nature, his belief in their purity and fragile nature intensifies, creating a shell of his childhood that allows him to nurture his strongest pre-pubescent belief. Sinclair reinforces his philosophy when he is informed about Mrs. Jaggelt, a seemingly middle-aged owner of a stationary store with whom “one could talk business, and all the things that had happened behind her counter wouldn’t fit into a book (Hesse 60).” Sinclair, shocked by the discovery, exclaims that he could never love such a woman, and the fact that other boys/men would seek such pleasure seemed “less appealing and more ordinary than love (Hesse 60).” Sinclair’s statement about loving Mrs. Jaggelt seems slightly random unless one assumes that he is under the impression the boys/men who sleep with her are, in fact, in love. Indeed, when he confirms that his idea of love is less ordinary, his thoughts become more clear. Sinclair is still confusing purely sexual encounters, in most cases meant strictly for quick physical pleasures, with spiritual/mental connections of which the latter, according to Sinclair, are the only situations that can be, or lead to, love. The idea that humans seek sex without bothering to consider love is completely outside of the norm for him, an impure idea resulting in the dark side of life. Sinclair’s idealization of women reaches its peak when he sees the first actualization of his ideals in a park one afternoon.
Hesse’s primary female characters are essential in Sinclair’s realization of his anima—inner being, self (Nelson 58)—and confronting self-imposed societal based facades. In this manner, the woman Sinclair sees in the park, with whom he becomes obsessed, acts first as a guardian of Sinclair’s shell, but soon becomes the catalyst through which he transcends his restrictive ideals. Sinclair’s encounter with this woman in the park starts, or so it seems on one level, as a purely sexual attraction. “She was tall and slender, elegantly dressed, and had an intelligent and boyish face (Hesse 66).” Never having spoken to the woman, Sinclair decides to name her Beatrice after a young pre-Raphaelite woman in an English painting whose representation is that of Beatrice from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. One must wonder how much of an impact Beatrice’s physical beauty actually had on Sinclair. He claims to have named her after the painting, but quickly finds himself contradicting his reason. “My beautiful young woman did not quite resemble her…(Hesse 66).” More so than her physical beauty, something about her boyish face triggered in Sinclair the state of consciousness leading to the a better understanding of self (Nelson 58) and how the self plays a part in love.
His “relationship” with Beatrice begins like his relationships with other woman; he immediately places her above reproach. “She raised her image before me, she gave me access to a holy shrine, she transformed me into a worshiper in a temple. […] I had come home again to myself, even if only as the slave and servant of a cherished image (Hesse 66-67).” Again feeling like a lowly sinner, Sinclair attempts to change. He quits visiting bars and pays his debts not for his own betterment but to impress or at least make an influence on his ideal woman. “My sexuality, a torment from which I was in constant fight, was to be transfigured into spirituality and devotion by this holy fire. […] My goal was not joy but purity, not happiness but beauty, and spirituality (Hesse 67).” He is the epitome of worthless in the presence of his ideal.
As his worship reaches a peak, the inspiration to paint her image grows into an unstoppable force, the need to see her through his eyes overcomes concerns about talent or worth as an artist. Sinclair must paint his feelings. “It was a dream face that emerged and I was not dissatisfied with it. Yet I persisted and every new sketch was more distinct, approximated more nearly the type I desired, even if it in no way reproduced reality (Hesse 68).” Sinclair is not concerned with reality. Whether or not he is aware, he is trying to paint his subconscious, his anima’s definition of a lover. His final product is face with characteristics of man and women, ageless and god-like. The androgynous nature of the painting is very telling from a Jungian perspective. “[Androgyny] symbolizes a wholeness resulting from a psychological fusion of both sexes in one person, a union whereby each sex receives something of the powers of the other (Nelson 58).” Essentially, the painting is a representation of Sinclair’s anima; thus, he sees Demian, the man he wants to become, his lover and himself in the picture. Sinclair’s conscious mind is at the point of meltdown. He wants to hold onto this concept of purity, the shell that shields him from adulthood. At the same time, his anima drives him to a different, a more carnal, ideology.
“Beatrice, however, can serve only as a temporary guide to Sinclair. She must be transcended. Her role is limited to that of a muse, of inspiring Sinclair to artistic creativity, which initiates the quest of wholeness and of self. As an object of love, she does not represent fulfillment (Nelson 58).” After wrestling and suppressing his feelings that come from the dark realm, desperate to stay “good,” Sinclair finds the philosophy through which he can merge the ideas of light and dark, his feelings of purity and sexuality. He discovers Abraxas, “…a godhead whose symbolic task is the uniting of godly and devilish elements (Hesse 78).” As Sinclair makes his first realizations that the “dark” side of life he feared as evil does not necessarily imply immorality, his ideal, Beatrice, takes a back seat to a new infatuation. Learning as much about this new deity consumes his being.
The figure of Beatrice with which I had occupied myself so intimately and fervently gradually became submerged or, rather, was slowly receding, approaching the horizon more and more, becoming more shadowy and remote, paler. She no longer satisfied the longings of my soul. (Hesse 78)
A new urge to manifest his sexual desires becomes a comfort instead of a nuisance. “My sexual drive, which I had sublimated for a time in the veneration of Beatrice, demanded new images and objects (Hesse 79).” But Sinclair still refuses the “easy way” for sexual release, the way of his friends. Turning to a prostitute or finding a one-night stand is simply deception of the sexual urges, not fulfillment (Hesse 79).
Through Abraxas eyes Sinclair’s view of the morality, sensuality and the world changes for what Hesse portrays as better. A turning point for Sinclair, a moment in which his childhood shell cracks, ready to shed, is a profound dream. He returns to his father’s house to see his mother, “…as I entered and wanted to embrace her, it was not she but a form I had never set eyes before, tall and strong, resembling Demian and the pictures I had painted; yet different, for despite it’s strength it was completely feminine (Hesse 79).” The most striking aspect of the dream is the realization of femininity in the new figure. For the first time, Sinclair recognizes his ideal was a female. A new sense of love begins, a duality of spirituality and intellectual attraction with sensuality and pure carnal behavior. Using Abraxas as a means to an end, Sinclair willingly connects love with physical sensation in addition to spiritual and emotional attraction (Nelson 59). The literary reflection of his new realization is actualized in his conversation with Knauer, an anti-sensualist, during which Sinclair says, “…I don’t understand why someone is supposed to be more pure than another person if he suppresses his sexual urges (Hesse 98).” This drastic change in thought leaves Sinclair ready for his final self-realization dealing with love.
The ultimate representation of Sinclair’s ideal woman, the one through which he can realize his anima, is none other than Demian’s mother, Frau Eva. After seeing Eva’s picture, Sinclair remarks:
I could hardly remember what she looked like, but now as I saw the small likeness my heart stood still; it was my dream image! That was she, the tall, almost masculine woman who resembled her son, with maternal traits, severity, passion; beautiful and alluring, beautiful and unapproachable, daemon and mother, fate and beloved. There was no mistaking her! (Hesse 111)
Once Sinclair finds Eva, he wants no part of any other woman. He relates a story in which a girl “approaches” him in Zurich. “I would rather have died on the spot than have paid attention to another women, even for an hour (Hesse 112).” Sinclair’s infatuation is sincere and complete. Jung would consider Frau Eva Sinclair’s representation of “the Great Mother,” an archetype composed of a nearly perfect mixture of the ideal women, real or fictional, in his life: “It represents neither the object of sublimated adoration, as in the case of Beatrice, nor the purely primitive drives of Sinclair’s earlier school days (Neuer 13).” Frau Eva is totality for Sinclair as expressed in his androgynous description of her (Neuer 15). The fact that Sinclair sees Demian in Eva and earlier saw Demian in himself further points to Eva as Sinclair’s ultimate mate.
Unlike past male/female relationships, Frau Eva is to Sinclair both lover and mother. She strives to change his concept of “woman” so that he may “transcend the level on which he had previously been fixed: passivity, worship from afar, inhibition, fear of women, looking upon love as a gift that women (other) offers as a kind of reward for being good (Nelson 60).” Eva forces Sinclair to risk contentment, to stop living in world where love is never expressed but to one’s self and the epitome of sin is impurity. In a moment of unrivaled emotional monologue and profound philosophy, Frau Eva says to Sinclair, “Love must 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. Sinclair, your love is attracted to me. Once it begins to attract me, I will come. I will not make a gift of myself. I must be won (Hesse 126).” Sinclair’s final goal is that of self-confidence, a goal he and many other men struggle with to the end.
Sinclair’s journey from pre-pubescence to maturity is one with which every male can relate at one point other another. Hesse’s reflection on the journey is the unique aspect of Sinclair’s story. Whereas many men cannot or chose not to remember their hardships and emotions through the almost invisible yet difficult stages of growth, Hesse remembers and presents them in an analytical novel, a story of morality and love, a story through which we may begin to examine our concepts of both. Demian is one of few novels where a creative, while wholly unremarkable, story and a scientific understanding of the human mind combine to create a work of genius and a truly remarkable account of the concept “love.”
Hesse, Hermann. Demian. Bantam Book: New York, 1985.
Nelson, Donald. “Herman Hesse’s Demian and the Resolution of the Mother-Complex.” Germanic Review 59.2 (1984): 57-62.
Neuer, Johanna. “Jungian Archetypes in Hermann Hesse’s Demian.” Germanic Review 57.1 (1982): 9-15.