This contribution discusses the third extended reference to the Bible in Hermann Hesse’s ‘Demian’: Jacob’s struggle with the angel from the Book of Genesis.
The following contribution discusses the second extended reference to the Bible in Hermann Hesse’s ‘Demian’: the Story of the Good and Bad Thieves from the Gospel of Saint Luke.
Emil Sinclair’s exemplary coming-of-age, as portrayed in ‘Demian’, requires the disruption of the well-ordered world of Christian morality. One of the narrative ploys used by Hesse to this end is the counter-reading of passages from the Bible.
After 1965, when a new English translation was published, Hermann Hesse’s ‘Demian’, together with ‘Siddartha’ and ‘Der Steppenwolf’, came to be associated with America’s burgeoning counterculture. There followed a surge of interest in Hesse which lasted well into the 1970s. In exploring this phenomenon, the Christian notion of ‘conscience’ is of great help.
When Hesse’s ‘Demian’ comes to an end, European civilization has become a wasteland. A bird-of-prey circles on the edge of the reader’s mind. This is the Gnostic deity, Abraxas, who is looking for another Emil Sinclair foolish enough to give him bodily form. In the following, an attempt is made to examine the significance Hesse ascribes to Abraxas in his novel.
Abraxas, the presiding deity of ‘Demian’, is not an invention of Hermann Hesse. Well known to antiquarians and students of Gnosticism, the name ‘Abraxas’ or ‘Abrasax’ can be found on decorated stones dating from the early Christian era which were used for magical purposes
In Demian, Hermann Hesse draws on a wide range of cultural allusions. One of the most recognizable is the figure of Beatrice, the heavenly beloved familiar from the works of Dante Alighieri. Less recognisable, because carefully hidden, is what Hesse, through his protagonist, makes of the beloved. Strange as it may seem, Emil Sinclair’s quest for himself, which is the theme and purpose of the novel, requires her murder.
Germany in the first half of 1919. Disgruntled soldiers trudge home from a war they cannot believe they have lost. The Kaiser is in exile. The reigning noble houses have vanished, swept into history by the so-called November Revolution. Coups d’etat are in open preparation. Violence is everywhere. In this volatile climate, Hermann Hesse’s ‘Demian’ found its first readers.
“I wanted only to live the life that was struggling by itself to come out of me. Why was this so very hard?” Thus reads the motto prepended to Hermann Hesse’s coming-of-age novel, ‘Demian’, which was first published in 1919. More a cry than a question, these fervent words must have established for Hesse the central issue of the story. In fact, living that life wasn’t so very hard, at all.