Demian is the story of a man looking back on his childhood and the friend who shaped his thoughts and helped him break free of his innocence and social constraints.
The story begins with Emil Sinclair as a ten year old boy who is shown no love at home by his strict father and blackmailed and humiliated by a local bully. It is at this time that he meets another boy only a year older but seemingly much more mature. He stops the problem with the bully and he and Sinclair instantly become friends.
It is Demian’s philosophies and ideals that shape Sinclair’s thinking and ultimately his future. They attend school together for some time and discuss all aspects of life. For a period of time they are separated and Sinclair falls in with a rowdy crowd. Demian sees him one day and is ashamed. It is an eye-opener for Sinclair. He reforms his ways and soon becomes obsessed with a woman he saw in the park.
Sinclair takes up painting as a hobby and paints the woman in the park. He notices she has both masculine and feminine features which he finds ideal. Some time later he reunites with Demian and Demian takes him to him home where Sinclair is introduced to Frau Eva, Demian’s mother. She is the woman he has been dreaming about and painting. They have a connection and their relationship turns into one of love and admiration from afar.
Demian speaks of a war coming and tells Sinclair he is now a Lieutenant and will most likely be leaving soon. He does and soon after Sinclair is drafted as well. Sinclair is wounded while on duty and is taken to a facility for wounded soldiers where he once again sees Demian. Demian is not doing so well and tells Sinclair that he must go but whenever he needs him he’ll be with him, he just has to close his eyes and will it. Demian then asks Sinclair to close his eyes and give his mother a kiss for him.
Demian Character Analysis
The narrator and protagonist of the story. He begins as a young boy of about ten and by the end of the story is in his university age years. The narrator, however, is a much older Sinclair reflecting back on his youth and how his experiences with Max Demian shaped his thinking and transformed him from a shy, conservative school boy to an independent thinking fully realized man.
Sinclair’s childhood friend. He is a social outcast but appears outwardly as a normal adolescent. He is extremely mature and intelligent for his years and serves as Sinclair’s inspiration to break free from social constraints.
Demian’s mother. The woman Demian paints and idolizes. She has both feminine and masculine features and therefore is Sinclair’s ideal woman. She shows him love and acts as both a distant lover as well as a mother.
A man who plays the organ at a church near Sinclair’s boarding school. He acts a mentor and friend while Demian and Sinclair are separated.
A god that has both good and evil qualities. He is thought to be the connection between the divine and the satanic.
A bully who blackmails Sinclair as a child and forces him into humiliating situations. Demian takes care of him.
Demian Chapter Summaries
Our protagonist, Emil Sinclair, tells us, the readers, that we will be sharing events in his life starting at the age of ten. He speaks of how it was at this time that he realized there were two worlds; one of darkness and one of goodness. He associates good and evil with night and day. In the day everything is good, moral and straight-laced. But at night deceit, murder, and mystery overpower. Although raised with parents and sisters in the world of light Sinclair became strangely interested in the world of darkness.
The story begins with Sinclair as a child sitting around with a group of boys one day telling stories about the worst things they had done. Each boy tries to outdo the previous boy with the bully Franz Kromer of course outdoing everyone except Sinclair because he creates a tall tale about stealing a bunch of apples from a local orchard. Kromer makes him swear it’s true, he does and when the other boys leave Kromer confronts him about it. He says he heard someone had stole a bunch of apples from the orchard and the owner was offering a reward for anyone who turned the culprit in. Kromer tells Sinclair he won’t turn him in if he pays him two marks, the amount of the reward. Sinclair argues that he doesn’t have that kind of money. Kromer sets up a time and place for them to meet the following day.
Sinclair goes home and feels like an outsider. He regrets the fact that he allowed himself to be influenced by Kromer. He considers confessing his misdeed to his father but decides against it when he is harassed and punished by his father simply for having muddy boots. In an odd way he sees himself as actually better than his father despite the fact that is the real criminal.
Luckily Sinclair becomes sick the next morning isn’t well enough to go to school. But, he decides to try to save face and meet Kromer with the sixty-five pfennigs he found in his piggy bank. Although angry Kromer takes the money but insists that Sinclair pay the remaining debt. Unable to come up with the money, Sinclair is forced into humiliating tasks as a form of payment to Kromer.
A new students comes into Sinclair’s school. His name is Max Demian and although only a year older than Sinclair he seems very much like an adult. Demian is intrigued by this man so he approaches him after school and talks with him a bit. Demian oddly knows some history of Sinclair’s house and tells him the arch outside the doorway bears a coat of arms that looks like a sparrow hawk, a bird of flight.
Soon they begin talking about the story of Cain and Abel that they had been lectured on in class. Demian tells Sinclair that there is another perspective to the classic tale. He believes that Cain’s mark was not a sign of evil but an air of greatness. He says that men interpreted it incorrectly and were fearful of his differences, his superiority, and had instead created his value into a form of evil. He says that it was truly a sign of ignorance of those who thought him evil. Sinclair is fascinated with Demian’s notion and think about it long after the conversation ends.
Terrible Kromer forces Sinclair to perform horrible crimes of theft and then blackmails him repeatedly as he knows of the situation ahead of time and is in the position of power. Demian notices Sinclair’s interactions with Kromer and asks him about their relationship. Sinclair is quite but Demian suggests that Kromer must have something on Sinclair for otherwise their relationship would be not existent. Without admitting to anything Sinclair asks what should be done in such a situation. Demian suggests murder. Sinclair does not take kindly to this idea but Demian promises that things will soon be better.
Soon after Sinclair sees Kromer on a street and Kromer quickly looks down and walks away, scared. Sinclair finds Demian to thank him and asks what he did to produce such a reaction. Demian provides no answer. That night Sinclair visits his parents and admits the entire predicament. He stays with his parents and doesn’t see Demian for quite some time but continues to think about him and his ideas. He asks his father about Demian’s interpretation of Cain and Abel. His father dismisses the concept as silly.
As the narrator an elder Sinclair reflects upon those things that took him from the world of goodness and propelled him into darkness. He realizes that he failed horribly when it came to exploring his sexual desires and remain connected to his family values.
Back in the story a few years have gone by and Sinclair has not had contact with Demian. Then as Sinclair begins his confirmation classes he sees that his old pal in back in his class. At first he avoids interaction with Demian because he feels indebted to him for whatever it was he did to send Kromer packing. But one day during class the pastor began teaching about the story of Cain and Abel and the boys shared a knowing look. Sinclair switched seats the following day so that he would be next to Demian and their relationship picked up right where they had left off.
Sinclair starts to enjoy class by watching Demian play puppet master in influencing other students and even the teacher. Demian says that he can read other people’s minds and eventually make them act as he wishes. Sinclair slowly loses his faith in religion but still respects the values it creates and attempts to instill. The boys discuss various interpretations and Demian provides a radically different look at God. He says that people should believe in and praise the almighty God but that they should also looks to the devil or a god who represents both good and evil as that is what man is truly made of. Sinclair refuses to believe this but is interested in his thinking because it touched upon Sinclair’s thoughts about the dark side. Sinclair wants to continues the conversation but Demian doesn’t want to further it.
The boys don’t really speak much after that incident and confirmation comes and goes. Sinclair finds out that he is to be sent off to a boarding school.
Sinclair goes off to boarding school and although glad to be away from home he has trouble being happy due to the watchful eye of his parents. He also misses Demian but at the same time resents him for he contributed to his corruption and altered state of mind.
After a year of being at the boarding school he wanders out into town one afternoon. He is greeted by Alfons Beck who take him to a local bar for some wine. Sinclair quickly becomes drunk and begins spouting off about the other side of the Cain and Abel story as told to him by Demain. Beck talks about his escapades with and the delights of women. This first drunken outing continues to repeat itself and Sinclair finds himself hanging out with a group known for their antics. He never takes part in the sexual parts of these gatherings however for he wants to find a true love, not just something physically satisfying. But hanging out with this crowd lends Sinclair to a world of trouble. He is nearly expelled numerous times and his father even comes to visit him a couple times and threaten expulsion himself. He soon finds that he cares less and less about everything and accepts his place as what he believes he will be, a failure.
But then one day while in the park Sinclair spots a girl that captures his eyes. He becomes infatuated with her but never engages her in conversation or even approaches her. He simply watches her almost worships her in a sense. He gives her the name Beatrice. His behaviors change. He is more serious and put together. He stops hitting the bars and causing trouble with his old crowd. But most importantly, he starts to paint. One day he paints a picture of Beatrice’s face. After looking at it for several days he realizes, that although not entirely, the face looks like Demian.
The older Sinclair narrating talks about how this paining made him miss Demian. He admits that he ran into him while back at home during Christmas break. Sinclair invited to go to the bar with him but Demian gave him a lashing of disapproval regarding his new hobby of drinking and they parted.
Then one night Sinclair has a dream about Demian and the coat of arms above the doorway at this parent’s house. He paints the sparrow hawk and mails the painting to Demain.
In class one day Sinclair finds a note that has been left for him. It is unsigned but he knows it is from Demian for he talks about a bird’s flight and it’’s relation to Abraxas. His teacher then goes on to talk about Abraxas, the godhead that unites the divine world and the satanic.
Sinclair begins to have a recurring dream. In his dream he returns home and sees the arch above the doorway and then the door opens. His mother comes out to hug him except it isn’t his mother. It’s someone who looks similar to Demian and the painting of the woman.
Sinclair starts to really think about his future as he prepares to enter university. While everyone else seems to know exactly what they want to do he simply wants to be his “true self”. As the months pass he becomes more confident with his peers but ultimately lonelier and lonelier.
During his walks through town Sinclair begins to take note of a small church. He hears an organ playing and occasionally stops to listen to the music. One day he follows the organist from the church to a bar. He sits with him and discusses Abraxas. The organist, Pistorius, is interested in Sinclair’s thoughts and asks him where he heard these things. Pistorius invites Sinclair to come listen to him play, later they go to his home. There Pistorius explains that he was once a theology student. They start into a discussion about human personalities. Pistorius says that our personalities contain all “that once was alive in the soul of men.”
Our narrator, the older Sinclair, suggests that he did not learn anything new from his many meetings with Pistorius but that the man opened his eyes a little more and helped him in demystifying his dreams.
Sinclair and Pistorius continue to meet and discuss whatever is on their minds. They begin to in a sense, worship, Abraxas. Sinclair is struck by the similarity in thinking between Pistorius and Demian. Pistorius acts as a role model to Sinclair during this time.
One night while walking home Sinclair runs into a classmate, Knauer. Knauer engages Sinclair in a discussion about spirituality. He says that he is celibate but is having an increasingly difficult time remaining so because he is constantly thinking about sex. But, he says, he must remain celibate to live a spiritual life. He asks for Sinclair’s advice. Sinclair tells him he should accept himself for who he is and indulge in his desires because they will make him happy. Knauer calls him a pig and leaves.
Sinclair goes back to his room and has the recurring dream about the sparrow, his mother and the woman in the painting. Unable to sleep he paints another picture of the woman. This time he notices it looks somewhat like him as well. He is restless. He takes a bath and then goes out for a walk where he sees Knauer alone in an alleyway. Knauer says he’s not quite sure how he got there, but he was about to commit suicide.
Sinclair spends more time with Pistorius but Sinclair starts to see through him. He is no longer the old wise man who knew all and could help him with any problem. He has limitations. He tells this to Pistorius and Pistorius takes it as a personal insult. Later Pistorius admits he does have limitations, he’s not the one to actualize Abraxas. Sinclair decides he’s going to enter the university and study philosophy.
Sinclair decides to go back to the house where Demian once lived. He no longer lives there and the current owner doesn’t know where he or the family went but he does show Sinclair a photo album they left behind. Sinclair sees a picture of Demian’s mother and realizes that she is the woman he has been painting and dreaming about. He attempts to find her but fails to do so before has to start at the university.
Sinclair hears Demian’s voice one night while wandering around town. He follows him and is reunited. They walk around all night and talk, catching up on all that has happened and getting back to their discussions about life philosophies. Demian shows Sinclair to his new home and tells him to stop by anytime. Sinclair is thrilled.
The next day Sinclair returns to Demian’s house. He meets his mother and she recognizes him and they instantly develop a bond. She invites him to be one of her closest friends and call her Frau Eva. Demian tells Sinclair that he is the first person his mother has ever let call her Frau Eva after only one meeting. Sinclair and Demian spend a lot of time together. Sinclair is constantly at Demian’s house. He is there as a friend and a man in love. He and Demian talk about the people they meet and laugh about their religious affiliations and beliefs. They discuss that the world cannot continue on the path it has taken, that it was simply lead itself into war.
Demian’s mother and Sinclair grow closer. She asks him about his love for her and tells him that he must wait until his heart is fully engulfed in her in order to win her over. Sinclair goes home for two weeks over Christmas and spends his time thinking of her. When he returns he goes to Demian’s house and finds him passed out in the floor. He goes outside and it’s stormy weather but he looks up and sees the sparrow hawk of his dreams up in the clouds. He goes back in the house and Demian tells him he had an ominous sign appear to him in a dream but he refuses to tell Sinclair what it was.
Sinclair stays at the university during the summer and spends his days with Demian, Eva and the others that live nearby. His emotions are mixed, at times he is overjoyed and at other times he is sad for he does not have the relationship with Eva he wishes he had.
The one day Sinclair finds himself melancholy. He tries with all his might to will Eva to him. Demian comes in and tells him the war with Russia is near. He then tells him he’s a Lieutenant and will most likely head off to war. Sinclair is excited when Demian informs him that he came to him upon the urging of his mother. Sinclair assumes this meant she heard his call to her. Demian says that his mother told him that Sinclair could visit or call her anytime and someone like her would be there for him.
Demian goes off to war. Sinclair soon after goes off to war as well. Then one night while on duty Sinclair goes into a day dream. He sees Frau Eva in the sky and the mark of Cain illuminated on her forehead. Suddenly stars come out from the mark and one hits him. He is later found unconscious on the battlefield with a gunshot wound.
Sinclair is sent to a facility for wounded soldiers. He ends up in a bed beside Demian. Demian asks Sinclair if he remembers Kromer. They share a smile in memory of that first encounter. But then Demian tells him it’s his time and that he knows sometime Sinclair will need him again. He tells him that when that time comes he just has to close his eyes and he’ll be with him. He then asks him to give Frau Eva a kiss for him. The end.