As a child most people grow up with the idea of being connected to an imaginary friend. From a psychological stand point, imaginary friends reveal the child’s fear, anxieties and perceptions; basically, they are a part of the child’s subconscious. Often a child is able to act out repressed feelings or thoughts through their imaginary friend, much like the relationship between Emili Sinclair and Max Demian. After reading Demian, the question arises whether Demian is real or if he is Sinclair’s “imaginary friend”, his subconscious.
Looking at it from a Jungian stand point, Demian is not a real character but rather a character of Sinclair’s unconscious realm. Throughout Demian Hesse uses a collection of psychological themes to connect with the themes and style of the novel. Because of this, Hesse is able to create his fictional story but, without his many influences, this would not have been possible. Hesse was influenced by the idea of Eastern Mysticism. This philosophy is composed of the idea that there are constant contrasts in the world.
For example, the yin-yang symbol, the small white dot in the black and black dot in the white represents the idea that there is good in bad and vice versa. Along the same lines, another one of Hesse’s influences is Carl Gustav Jung. He is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as by nature religious. Jung is best known for his research on dream analysis and symbolization. Jung’s most famous concept, the collective unconscious, has had a deep influence not only on psychology but also on philosophy and the arts.
Though some may argue this, the collective unconscious was not Freud’s personal and repressed theory. With the collective unconscious, it is believed that thought patterns are inherited from the independence of both body and mind. Because he was influenced by these two concepts, Hesse was able to convey the themes of individuation and the duality of the universe throughout his novel. Ultimately, these themes help create the style of the book. Most of the novel is told in first person flash back, because of this, the book has a certain level of ambiguity which the reader must interpret.
One of the most pressing questions throughout Demian is whether Max Demian is in fact real or Sinclair’s inner self. Hesse ends the book without providing many details or answers to this question. Demian simply leaves and Sinclair seems to truly find his “true Self” (83). Throughout the book, Demian appears whenever Sinclair is in need. For instance, the first time Sinclair meets Kromer he is his usual timid self, allowing Kromer to walk all over him. The next day, on his way home Sinclair realizes he cannot “escape [Kromer]” (27) as he yet again confronted by his “shadow” (20).
As soon as their confrontation is over Demian magically shows up and talks to Sinclair about options for eliminating Kromer. Going off of the idea that Demain is Sinclair’s inner self, Demian’s sudden appearance makes sense. After the confrontation with Kromer, it is obvious that Sinclair would be upset, like most people it seems logical that these sinister thought about “kill[ing]” (34) Kromer would come from Sinclair himself, just as in real life. If a person were in the same situation, they too would release all the bottled up anger through thoughts.
The next meeting with Demian occurs at Sinclair’s confirmation class. After Sinclair debates the multiple meanings of “Cain” (34) it is clear that Sinclair no longer wants to believe in the traditional version of a strict divide between good and evil. At confirmation, they ironically discuss the story of “Cain” (44). As time passed and the teacher attempted to describe the traditional story, Sinclair became less interested and began to focus on “Demian”, allowing his blossoming side to be revealed.
He then continues to describe his radical version of “Cain” (44), although Sinclair knows he should follow the traditional version instilled by his parents, his subconscious pushes him into believing that there is a duality to the story. The confirmation scene also provides another example of how Demian represents Sinclair’s inner self. When Sinclair is described as talking to Demian, Demian comments that the concept of Demian, “a D, sit[ting] way in back with the S’s” (49) “never penetrates” (49) the Priests awareness. Again this makes sense sine Demian and Sinclair are one in the same, the Priest only sees Sinclair in his class.
As the novel continues, the examples of Demian being Sinclair’s inner Self continue to get stronger and more frequent as Sinclair travels along the path to find himself. One of the major ways Sinclair expresses himself is through art. At one point, he attempts to paint his ideal woman, “Beatrice” (73) however, due to his subconscious; his vision turns into something unexpected. He paints a figure with a face “more like a boy’s” [… with] dark brown [hair and a] strong and determined” (70) face. Sinclair continues to look at this painting trying to figure out whose face is before him, until he is faced with an epiphany that
it is in fact Demian. Sinclair’s ideal woman actually represents Sinclair’s ideal self, that being said, the fact that he paint Demian suggest that he wishes to be more like him, in turn, more like his inner self. Lastly, one of the most significant examples of Demian’s nonexistence is the end of the book. After being sent into war Sinclair gets wounded and is found unconscious on the battlefield. He is taken care of but is left to lie around in a state of semi-unconsciousness in a facility for wounded patients where he describes laying next to Demian.
After talking for a while, Demian tells Sinclair that he must “go away” (144) but if Sinclair ever needs him he will have to “listen within [himself] and [he] will notice that [Demian] is within [him]” (144). This closing paragraph symbolizes that Sinclair has completed his transition into an individual. As for Demian’s closing line, this goes to prove that Demian is in fact Sinclair’s inner self. Even though Demian is not directly with him, because he is Sinclair’s subconscious, at anytime Sinclair can channel him.
While there are plenty of examples throughout Demian that the character Max Demian is a symbol of Sinclair’s subconscious, there are many instances where this does not seem logical, adding to the ambiguity of the story. As soon as Demian is introduced one is led to believe that he is a real person. When Sinclair describes him he mentions how right away he “won the admiration” (21) of both the teachers and students. If Demian were a part of Sinclair’s inner self, it would be hard to understand why teachers would love Sinclair so much.
At this point, Sinclair has not even begun his transformation; therefore, he is still that shy child, unaffected by Demian. Another example of the existence of Demian is the logistics of the note Sinclair found. One day in class Sinclair discovers a random note, describing how he must break free, in his desk. After reading the note Sinclair discovers that it was from Demian. If Demian were not a real person there would be no logical explanation of how Sinclair got the note. Demian is more than just a book of Sinclair’s youth; it is a psychological journey following a young boy on a path to discover his individuality.
In order to complete his journey, Sinclair befriends his subconscious, who acts somewhat as his imaginary friend, guiding him through life. It is clear throughout the book that Demian is not a real character but an extension of Sinclair’s inner self, whom of which has not broken out of the “egg” (78) as he only appears when Sinclair is in need of help. Through connecting with his subconscious on a personal level Sinclair was able to discover who he truly was, allowing him to grow as a person and discover where he stands as an individual.